By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
MOSCOW (Worthy News) – Russians in Moscow were lining up near the Kremlin for the funeral of the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was admired in the West for his reforms but lived long enough to see Russia’s leadership roll back much of that change.
Gorbachev, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event that Russia’s current President Vladimir Putin called the “biggest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century”.
Yet the West praised him for allowing eastern Europe to shake off more than four decades of Soviet communist control, letting East and West Germany reunite. He also forged arms-control treaties with the United States.
But when the 15 Soviet republics seized on the same freedoms to demand their independence, Gorbachev couldn’t prevent the collapse of the union in 1991, six years after becoming its leader.
For that, and the economic chaos that his “perestroika” liberalization program unleashed, many Russians could not forgive him.
Even Putin said his schedule doesn’t allow him to attend Gorbachev’s funeral, which was given without all the state honors granted to other former Soviet leaders.
THOUSANDS ATTEND FUNERAL
Yet realizing that many still wanted to pay their respects, the Kremlin allowed his body to lay in state in the grand Hall of Columns in central Moscow in the tradition of previous Soviet leaders, including Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.
Flanked by an honor guard of two rifle-wielding members of the elite Kremlin Regiment with the hall’s 54 chandeliers emitting only a dim glow, the former president’s body lay in an open casket with his face and upper body visible.
His daughter Irina and her two daughters sat nearby with close family friends.
Russians of all ages filed through the hall and laid flowers on a plinth at the foot of the casket. They stole a brief and final glance as somber music played and a giant black and white portrait of Gorbachev on the wall looked down.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a hardline nationalist and one of the few European leaders to have good relations with Putin, attended Saturday’s service.
He was a young man and then liberal politician who demanded Soviet troops leave Hungary, which later happened under Gorbachev’s rule.
MANY STAY AWAY
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA news agency that Putin had no plans to meet with Orban during his visit to Moscow.
Many other Western heads of state were kept away due to tense relations between Moscow and the West by Putin’s move to send troops and invade Ukraine in February.
In the final months of his life, Gorbachev was stunned by the invasion, said his longtime aid and interpreter Pavel Palazhchenko.
“It’s not just the operation that started on February 24, but the entire evolution of relations between Russia and Ukraine over the past years that was really, really a big blow to him,” he said.
After several hours the coffin was taken out of the hall in a procession led by Dmitry Muratov, the Nobel Peace prize-winning editor-in-chief of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which Gorbachev helped found.
The coffin was taken to Moscow’s prestigious Novodevichy cemetery, where it was lowered into the grave to the sounds of a military band playing the Russian national anthem and a gun salute.
GORBACHEV’S MIXED LEGACY
Gorbachev was buried next to his beloved wife, Raisa, who died from cancer in 1999.
Though criticized by citizens recalling the painful chaotic collapse of the Russia-led Soviet Union in the early 1990s, he is remembered as a hero by liberal Russians.
“I am here to pay tribute to a great man,” said Galina Ivanchenko, who carried a bouquet of carnations.
“He took on a burden that none of us could have, and he should be remembered for that, despite what everyone says.”
She said she hoped, with time more Russians would remember him more fondly in the future.