I was excited. I was going to meet who was for many of the members of my generation, and of course for me too, a true hero. He had been able to perform the feat of dismantling the outdated USSR from within, as General Secretary of the CPSU. With his open decisions he de facto ended the Cold War and laid the foundations for the imminent fall of the ignominious Berlin wall. In spite of everything, as has been remembered on the occasion of his death, a large part of Russian society ended up holding him responsible for the period of crisis that fell on Russia after his dismemberment. The old Russian leaders seemed to prefer a fearsome Russia in the global concert. That still lasts today.
What is perhaps less well known is the second life of Gorbachev. It was in that second life that my meeting with him took place. After his abandonment of active politics in Russia, Gorbachev approached the environmental movements and due to the success of the so-called Earth Summit of 1992, organized by the UN in Rio de Janeiro, he founded in 1993 the International Green Cross, an organization to which 30 countries belong today and of which he was its first president. At the beginning of this century and already with the Nobel Peace Prize under his belt, he was invited to give the inaugural lecture of the course at the emblematic Earth University based in Costa Rica. The setting couldn’t be more appropriate. This University trains agricultural engineers, especially from developing countries, with a clear vocation for sustainability in biodiverse contexts. It is a private management project financed by the Government of Costa Rica, the North American Agency for International Development and the Kellogg Foundation. It is located in an idyllic tropical setting, halfway between San José and the Atlantic coast. In the midst of this scenario, Gorbachev, surrounded by excited students, after reiterating his messages about the need to move towards sustainable economic models, took the corresponding family photo holding hands with the most devoted students.
This second life of Gorbachev has not had as much media impact as the first. Although the cases of politicians who after the necessary epiphany have converted to the “true ecological faith” are well known, the case of the former Soviet leader is particularly striking. The USSR was never known as the cradle of environmental leaders. At least not from the Western perspective. Surely, we in the West are more likely to indulge the uncomfortable truths of Al Gore (another Nobel Peace Prize winner) than to accept any kind of environmental leadership coming from the birthplace of Chernobyl. In spite of which, who was recognized by the Nobel Foundation for helping to improve East/West relations, later reinvented himself in environmentalism. His ability to identify and face the great problems of humanity from a global perspective, even despite his own political future, led him to first move away from the hypernationalist conception of Russian politics, later approaching the solution of problems of a more cross. This approach to globalism made him pay a huge reputational bill in his home country. In reality, in this second life Gorbachev was no longer, if he ever was, a Russian leader trying at all costs to maintain the character of post-Soviet Russia as a world power opposed to the West. As a consequence of this singular evolution, the logic of increasing his prestige outside his country, particularly in the West, while his reputation plummeted in Russia, was served. After all, in his second life Gorbachev was already a citizen of the world. He had become a benchmark for the generation of politicians who today play globalism around the world, as if the solution to the local problems they have to face came from the meager contributions they make on the global front. Gorbachev freed himself from the need to lead a giant riddled with inefficiency with pretensions to fairness, but in the process he lost the support of Russian society, which continued to dream of a great and strong Russia at any price. In his second life, he demonstrated what the great problems of humanity meant to him beyond the local short-termism of national policies. Today, in the midst of the flourishing of the MAGA (Make America Great Again)his figure is gigantic despite the fact that it is movements like this that win elections.
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Gorbachev’s second life