GORBACHEV'S mesmeric charm is of a strange and mysterious kind: it works best at a distance. How else can one account for Gorbymania abroad, and Gorbyphobia at home? In the USSR, Gorbachev is cursed on every street corner. Demonstrators tear his portraits to pieces and wipe their feet on them. Reformists and minorities accuse him of indecision and inactivity. Party diehards say he's betrayed socialist ideals. The people blame him for not keeping his promises, and for an unstable life.
In fact, there is nothing mysterious in the steady drop in Gorbachev's popularity among Russians. Except for thousands of people whose careers depend on him, he no longer satisfies anyone there.
Now, against the backdrop of revolutionary changes in Eastern Europe, it is clear that Gorbachev's cautious, temperate course has not justified itself. Time has been wasted. Momentum has been lost. The country's economic situation is getting worse and worse. General animosity is on the rise. In short: The word ``crisis'' is no longer suitable; rather it should be ``agony,'' and a prolonged one at that.
The responsibility for this rests with Gorbachev. The sad result of his five years at power must be acknowledged - regardless of personal feelings. A main reason for Russia's disastrous situation lies in Gorbachev's egotism: he places his own interests above those of the state.
How else can one explain his indecisiveness in the face of repeated calls for change on the part of his supporters, who are now becoming his opponents? The explanation lies in Gorbachev's unwillingness to risk his own career in the interests of the country.
In fact, he is ready to sacrifice the country rather than his career. This is why he turned from a champion of perestroika, into its rear guard. He has been left behind - first by fellow countrymen such as Boris Yeltsin; and second, by republican party leaders, such as those in the Baltics.
But Gorbachev's growing conservatism is especially apparent against the backdrop of Eastern Europe's political revolutions. There, not only such dinosaurs from the Brezhnev era as Husak, Honecker, Zhivkov, and Kadar left politics, but so did their successors, who compromised and allowed for the painless transition from totalitarian rule to democracy. One thinks of Egon Krenz in East Germany, Imre Pozsgay in Hungary, and Ladislav Adamec in Czechoslovakia. What forced Mr. Adamec to resign his post of premier despite the fact that his own reputation was unimpeachable and that the opposition, Civic Forum, supported him (though demanding concessions)? It was Adamec's love for his country and his feeling of responsibility for it. Moreover, Adamec, like Krenz and Pozsgay, went further in their reformist policies than Gorbachev did, and, unlike him, renounced the Communist Party's guaranteed ``leading role.''
Things look quite different in Moscow. Neither the Party nor Gorbachev is in a hurry to cede power, popular demands notwithstanding. On the contrary. Now it is Gorbachev himself, the last holdover of Brezhnev's Politburo, who poses the chief obstacle to a perestroika he himself launched. It isn't the imaginary ``reactionary circles'' that threw a wrench into his works. If Gorbachev really cares about the good of his country, he should risk his career, and, if it so happens, leave - conceding his place to a democratically elected candidate. He should do what was done in Eastern Europe, not only by Brezhnev's henchmen, but also by those linked to the old regimes. Naturally, no one prevents Gorbachev from announcing his candidacy as a leader, on a par with others.
But it is unlikely that he will be elected, either as a nominee of the bankrupt Party or as an independent candidate. The latter scenario cannot be ruled out, and it is entirely possible that Gorbachev saved this script for a rainy day. That is, to jump, at the last moment, off the party train that is being derailed by history. But even without the party that placed him in a compromising position, Gorbachev has been sufficiently compromised by the five years of his own rule, with so many words and so few deeds. All the more so that he has such a strong rival as Boris Yeltsin, a folk hero.
In Europe, this quote from Schiller is well-known: ``The Moor has done his deed - the Moor may go.'' That does not mean Gorbachev has to take a menial job, as some Czech leaders had to do after '68. Gorbachev's success on the international scene makes him a viable candidate for the foreign minister portfolio - provided a better candidate is not found.