It has been 10 years since the death of Raisa Gorbacheva, the beloved wife of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and arguably the first member of Russia’s political elite to achieve genuine popularity in the West. She died in Munster, Germany, of leukemia on September 20, 1999.
Although Gorbacheva was often criticized for being too visible and making too many foreign appearances with and without her husband and, particularly, for supposedly having too many fashionable outfits, she was a great ambassador for her evolving country. She was smart, articulate, outgoing, and personable, quickly becoming the human face of the Soviet Union – a stark contrast to, say, the dour personality of long-time Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.
She was known for her wide-ranging charitable work, including donations to combat cancer, support Russian blood banks, and send Russian doctors abroad for additional training. She also started a foundation to support women in Russian political life.
Raisa Gorbacheva also brought out the human qualities in her husband. She stood by his side as he returned to Moscow following the August 1991 coup attempt against him. The images of him weeping openly at her funeral are as indelible as those of him shaking hands with Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik or feuding with Boris Yeltsin in the Soviet parliament chamber.
And, apparently, that role continues. This summer, Mikhail Gorbachev, the hard-nosed politician who maneuvered his way into the highest position in the "evil empire," released a disc of seven romantic songs dedicated to his departed wife called "Songs for Raisa." Acoustic guitar accompaniment is ably provided by Andrei Makarevich of the classic rock band Mashina vremeni (Time Machine). And it isn't bad at all: you can listen to a cut here
The anniversary of Gorbacheva's death has been surprisingly widely noted in Russia, considering the criticism she endured. The Political History Museum in St. Petersburg has arranged an exhibition
devoted to the Soviet Union's first first lady featuring documents and photographs from her personal archives. A memorial service was held near her grave in Moscow’s Novodevichy Monastery. A new biography
has been published.
And, Gorbachev himself says he is working on his own memoirs of life with Raisa. He told ITAR-TASS
that he has written 500 pages and "I have already reached the point where I was elected president of the Soviet Union." The book is tentatively titled "Alone With Myself."
-- Robert Coalson