Remembering Reagan from the 'Evil Empire'

It seems it is possible to make history without even paying much heed to what you are doing, without even being aware of the implications, and without taking any pride in what has been achieved, as if everything that happens does so naturally.

And yet, Ronald Reagan was the man to whom the Soviet Union owes its demise, and Eastern Europe for the end of what it called "the Soviet occupation" and its accession to quite a different Europe.

The Soviet people owe him for the emergence of the great reformer Boris Yeltsin, whose rule brought about the advent of the great stabilizer Vladimir Putin and life as we know it today.

Of course, Mr. Reagan was no Nostradamus and, during the reign of Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov, could never have foreseen the advent of Mr. Putin. And yet there is something symbolic about the fact that Ronald Reagan died a natural death at the age of 93 in his bed surrounded by his loved ones. He died at a time when Putin rules Russia, just sworn in for his second term as president.

I am deeply convinced that none other than Reagan - the former Hollywood actor who, to paraphrase Putin, wiped out bandits and swindlers in the Wild West, and did exactly the same with the left-wingers and communists among his colleagues, and who later became a president whose mental faculties were openly derided both in the Soviet Union and in the US - was the one who triggered all the changes that befell the Soviet Union and, subsequently, Russia.

For the sovok, as the Soviet people used to contemptuously refer to their compatriots, Reagan was a kind of American Ivan the Simpleton, who either inadvertently or by some ingenious intent pushed the first domino in a long row, collapsing the empire and ushering in the changes. All that happened because Reagan, in spite of his simplicity, was so ingenious that he was destined to succeed in fulfilling his most complicated task.

Reagan once joked that he wasn't able to have summits because Soviet leaders "keep dying on me." Three decrepit Soviet rulers were buried while Reagan was in office - Premiers Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko.

He defeated and outwitted them all by inventing - especially for the Kremlin dotards - the exciting and terrifying fairy tale "star wars." They had almost all certainly watched George Lucas's film at closed performances organized for them in great secrecy.

And the secrecy surrounding those screenings inevitably intensified the impact of a film on those who deemed themselves men of genius. And since many others had not seen those films and hadn't known what was going on in the Soviet leaders' heads, the Kremlin moviegoers had no one with whom to consult.

The Kremlin was afraid of the prospect of star wars - leaders suddenly realized that the nation they ruled was underdeveloped technologically and militarily.

They were so scared, in fact, that they opted for the young Mikhail Gorbachev.He came to office, like all of his predecessors, with no clear agenda and no definite plans. But to Kremlin elders he seemed tough enough to modernize the country, even if the concept of modernization was somewhat unclear in their heads.

No one in Russia, neither the people on the whole nor the establishment, sincerely sought radical change or reform. Mr. Gorbachev was not the only one to have no plan of action. Nobody had one.

They daydreamed, harboring illusions and believing it was possible to "improve" the Communist Party, to build socialism with a human face; they believed that the planned economy could be efficient, provided the planning was done more thoroughly; they believed the friendship between the brotherly Soviet peoples would last forever, that eradicating alcoholism and boosting labor productivity was possible by forcing a Russian worker to abstain from drinking before 2 p.m. And only today does everyone realize how absurd all those ideas were.

After hearing too much about Reagan's star wars, the Kremlin geriatrics panicked. Today many of the steps taken then, in the mid-'80s, seem to some to be the first steps away from the legacy of Soviet-era idiocy. But the tragedy for the country is that by embarking on the road of change, our leaders were never guided by sincere convictions or a true awareness that something needed to be changed, that the Russian people deserve a better, happier life. They embarked on change because they were scared.

They were forced to take those steps, at first out of the fear that Reagan's West was stronger militarily, and then upon realizing they had lost the historic race against another superpower that had proven more powerful. Nonetheless, the Soviet leaders never felt guilty for what they'd done; no, they claimed they'd done everything right, but the other side was pushing harder and that our allies had walked out on us. They were scared to death! By Ronald Reagan.

Now that the man is dead, we will have to wait for another Reagan to come and scare us into new, more or less decisive changes. And that is the way we live - from one scare to another.

Georgy Bovt is editor in chief of the Russian daily newspaper, Izvestia. This article, published first by the Russian news website www.gazeta.ru, is reprinted here with permission of the author.

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