A Different Perspective – Scotsman Article – 9 December 2021


It’s fascinating to get a different perspective on historical events. Reading the biography of Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuanian President who led them out of the USSR, his take on Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev was significantly different from the orthodox take. That’s of the former being a drunken buffoon, the latter a great statement who sought to steer the Soviet Union towards democracy. One’s almost reviled, the other glorified.

To be fair I bought into the image. I went to see Werner Herzog’s movie on Gorbachev which I enjoyed and portrayed him as facing down the totalitarianism of the regime, until overwhelmed by the last remnants of Stalinism. His biography similarly suggested he’d foresworn repression and the Baltic States were but a sideshow and a nuisance.

But seen from a Lithuanian perspective Gorbachev was no innocent and Yeltsin quite the hero. Landsbergis narrates early discussions as “perestroika” was unveiled. Gorbachev was far from embarking on democracy but simply seeking to keep the Soviet Union together. Changes were to be made but none that would allow real challenge to the regime, and certainly not the secession of a Republic, even if it had been invaded and incorporated against its will.

Such was Gorbachev’s intransigence that he initially espoused the denial of the hidden protocols in the Molotov Ribbentrop pact where Stalin and Hitler carved up eastern Europe. Then when a referendum was to be conceded it was only on terms that frankly were laughable in their distortion of a democratic process.

When Soviet troops attacked killing innocent civilians and surrounding the Lithuanian parliament the idea that the Soviet leader played no part is ludicrous. Meanwhile it was the drunken buffoon who immediately condemned the atrocity and spoke out for the right of Lithuania and other Baltic States to decide their own destiny.

Most fascinating was the suggestion that Gorbachev might have been no innocent in the failed coup that finally toppled him and the regime and when Yeltsin climbed on a tank showing his opposition. Was he involved, awaiting a call? I’d never thought of that but now I’m not so sure.