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As I remember the 1980s and the Perestroika epoch, the reforms were advertised to the people as "return to Leninist principles", even deeper implementation of Socialism. The posters claimed it was "duty of every Communist to be in the vanguard of the perestroika".

Yet many Russian internet sites claim that when speaking abroad Gorbachev admitted that his aim was actually to combat Communism. For instance, often cited his undated speech in American university in Turkey with a reference to Slovak newspaper "Usvit", No 24, 1999.

In the speech Gorbachev makes some notable confessions:

The aim of the whole my life was the destruction of Communism (...) my wife understood the necessity of it even before me. For this goal I used my position in the party and in the country. That's why she emphatically pushed me to occupy higher and higher positions in the party and government (...) When I myself accustomed with the West, I understood that I cannot give up this aim. (...)

In the speech he admits that he created a conspiracy with A.Yakovlev and E. Shevardnadze in pursuit of this goal.

If the speech is true it would mean at least a dishonest betrayal of his voters who voted for the "return to Leninist ideals" as it was declared, not to say of his party who trusted him and put in the highest position.

Yet the speech very much resembles the confessions of the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s where some higher officials confessed in wreckage conspiracies and plotting to restore Capitalism.

So my question is whether the speech is authentic?

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What kind of voters that would be possibly "dishonestly betrayed" do you mean, referring to USSR? –  Darek Wędrychowski Mar 23 '13 at 13:33
@Darek Wędrychowski those who supported Perestroika because it was advertised as "return to Leninist principles" and as a "left" change. Up to the mid-1990s nobody admitted that they want to restore Capitalism. Various euphemisms were introduced. If somebody admitted it in 1980s he would be very unpopular. –  Anixx Mar 23 '13 at 13:55
Of course Gorbie would tell the westerners who he wanted money and help from that he was against Socialism. It's called being a politician. You tell your audience what they want to hear and believe. That has no bearing on whether he was or wasn't. –  DVK Mar 23 '13 at 18:29
@jwenting it is asking, not postulating what you said. –  Anixx Mar 25 '13 at 8:30
-1 for your free interpretation again. "In the speech he admits that he created a conspiracy with A.Yakovlev and E. Shevardnadze in pursuit of this goal." - No, he does not. There is no such thing in that text, it is your invention, just like in this question: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/982/… –  Lennart Regebro Nov 30 '13 at 12:35
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

As I see it, there are two different aspects here:

  1. Is the speech itself authentic?
  2. Are its contents true?

To answer 1 negatively, one could demonstrate, for example, that there is no American University in Turkey or that Gorbachev never visited Turkey in 1999.

To show why 2 is different from 1 even if 1 happens to be true, consider the option that Gorbachev, a consummate career politician, could have been describing in 1999 his own past thought and actions in terms and ways he thought his audience there and then would appreciate, not necessarily giving a true representation.

For now let me focus on 1, which is the easier question. This answer is not final yet so I'll be updating it as I find out more. For now:

  • First of all, it's not clear that USVIT, the alleged source, exists. We are told that it's a Slovak newspaper. Immediately one wonders: why would a Slovak newspaper be reporting on this? And if the event were newsworthy enough to reach Slovakia, can mention of it be found in other sources?

The Wikipedia list of Slovak papers does not mention an Usvit but this is not conclusive at all, of course (wiki is not 100% reliable, the paper could have been closed or renamed since) but nevertheless it does give some pause.

Also, there is a Czech political party called Usvit - Czech, not Slovak.

On the balance, the Usvit source is really fishy.

So I googled it a bit in English and found a translation of the alleged speech to English - and there its credited to "the 'Dialog' newspaper in the Czech Republic".

To sum up, unless somebody finds an actual copy of N.24 of the Slovak Usvit newspaper, I tend to think that it never existed as such and makes the whole text quite suspect.

  • Is there an American University in Turkey?

Once again, wikipedia has a helpful list and according to it there is no such institution! We still cannot rule out closure or renaming since 1999 but it does seem likely that the whole thing is made up at this stage.

There is however, an American University in Northern Cyprus which is a Turkish fief. But it does not seem to have a branch in Ankara or anything.

So, the venue seems to be made up as well.

  • I am not qualified to perform a proper lexical or philological analysis of the alleged speech or even an ngram search (like we did here), but one point sticks out as a sore thumb: the mention of Gorbachev's wife as the propelling power for his rise in the party. Is it a sensible thing for a politician to say in a speech? Does it make sense for him to say that his actions and his very ideas were actually his wife's?

If on the other hand, we recall that Gorbachev's late wife is particularly reviled in certain communist/nationalist/antisemitic circles in Russia, then her inclusion makes sense: the forgers could not help including a shot at their favourite target, even at the expense of the whole thing's veracity.

To sum up: the "speech" is with %99.9 probability fake.

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Two notes: 1. There is a Slovak political party also called Usvit, which also publishes a magazine called Usvit. If this existed in 1999 I don't know. In any case it's a communist-orthodox fringe party with no national representation so it wouldn't change the conclusion. 2. The English translation does in fact not match what Anixx is describing. This has happened with him in another question. The quotes does not indicate any "conspiracy" and does not mean a betrayal of anything Leninist. –  Lennart Regebro Nov 30 '13 at 11:47
@LennartRegebro Actually, the translation seems to be quite ok. I don't quite see why you think it doesn't match with the original. (Of course, the original itself is a bunch of crappy lies invented by Gorbie's enemies to smear him but that is not the point, is it?) –  Felix Goldberg Nov 30 '13 at 13:25
I didn't mean to imply that the Russian text matched what Anixx was saying. Just that the English text didn't. Google translate does indeed indicate that the Russian text also does not match Anixx claims. –  Lennart Regebro Nov 30 '13 at 14:37
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I trust David Remnick's Lenins's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire as a source, which includes this passage:

To begin with, Gorbachev himself was still convinced of what he called the "rightness of socialist choice." He continued to see Lenin as his guiding intellectual and historical model. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Gorbachev was out to undermine, much less destroy, the basic tenets of ideology or statehood of the Soviet Union. Certainly not in 1987.

It may be relevant that 1987 is closer in time to the main transformative events affecting Soviet Communism than is 1999. I personally don't think the quoted "admission" is authentic in an objective sense.

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There are several questions in here. I'll try to address each one:

Q1: Did Gorbachev betray his voters who voted for a return to Leninist ideals?

No. The reason he didn't do that is twofold.

  1. He didn't have any voters. Gorbachev came to power in a totalitarian dictatorship. His assumption to power was completely undemocratic. Nobody hence voted for any return to Leninist ideals. (There was an election in 1989, and this election served both to legitimize Gorbachev and take steps towards democracy, but it did not bring him to power, and the election would not have been able to bring him down from power either).

  2. A "return to Leninist ideals" means primarily things like equality, and the people being in control. This means democracy, and this was what Gorbachev was working for. His aim was a socialist democracy. He believed in Marx and Lenin's ideals, but he had realized that the so called "dictatorship of the proletariat" was not the way forward. Hence he retained the ideals, but rejected the methods. Therefore it was not a betrayal of the ideals.

There therefore was no voters to betray, and he also did not betray his supporters or Leninist ideals. What he did was simply to fail. Instead of succeeding in his aim to bring democracy to the Soviet Union, his steps towards democracy instead led the Soviet Union to collapse. To his credit though, this has led to democracy in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, so his efforts wasn't a complete failure.

Q2: Is the sources for the text reliable?

No. Felix Goldberg in his answer explains well why it isn't reliable. In fact the claimed sources generally don't seem to exist. Also in one case it's claimed to be a speech, in another an interview, which casts further doubt on the text.

There is today a publication in Slovakia called "Usvit" but it's doubtful it existed in 1999, and if it did it's a one-man show by a local fringe politician. It seems highly unlikely that this guy had secured an interview with Gorbachev.

The text is variously claimed to be from the American University in Turkey. That University does not exist. There is an American University in Cyprus, though. However, the text is otherwise claimed to be from an interview in Ankara. The only reference I can find to Gorbachev and Ankara is from a 1997 publication in Turkish. The source is not reliable.

Q3: Did Gorbachev say that his intention was to destroy Communism?

No. I can't find any reliable sources on Gorbachev himself saying that he wanted to destroy communism. The text in this question seems to be the only case, and as we have seen, these texts are not reliable.

During the cold war, the word "communism" was generally associated with socialist dictatorships, while the word "socialism" was wider and included those who wanted both socialism and democracy. With that usage of the word it could therefore be claimed that he indeed wanted to destroy communism, as he wanted to make the USSR democratic. But he himself seems not to have made such a claim.

Q4: Is the text authentic?

No. Most of the things in the interview seem rather unremarkable. Gorbachev claims to want a social democracy, something he has said otherwise. He said even before the fall of USSR that he wanted a more open market. There is no mention of a conspiracy at all, that seems to be Anixx own invention.

In fact, the only remarkable statement is "The purpose of my life was the destruction of communism, unbearable dictatorship over the people". Nowhere else do we find Gorbachev claiming that he wanted to destroy communism.

We do however find him saying that he wanted democracy. As such this quote is probably an intentional distortion of what he said. He most likely said that he wanted to destroy the unbearable dictatorship over the people.

So whoever decided to wrote the original article was probably a dedicated anti-democratic communist, and decided to change the headline to something more controversial. Therefore, at a minimum we can conclude that the article as a whole isn't reliable, and that the claim that he wanted to destroy communism probably is falsified.

As the sources seem to made up, and also Gorbachev's visit to Turkey seems made up, it's likely that the whole text is made up. But it's probably largely made up from things he actually have said in other interviews and in his 1995 autobiography. The claim that he wanted to destroy communism is however most likely completely invented.

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My relatives voted for him and later regreted. By claiming he had no voters to betray, you offend those people. –  Anixx Dec 1 '13 at 6:16
@Anixx: No they did not vote for him. You probably misunderstand. They might have supported him and later regretted this, but they did not vote for him. They may also be referring to the 1989 election to the soviet congress (the only one where you ever had any choice). In that election they could not vote for Gorbachev, but they may have voted for the communist party, and later regretted it. But your relatives never ever voted for Gorbachev. –  Lennart Regebro Dec 1 '13 at 6:29
well I admit they actually just supported him, but felt betrayed. You should note that there were actually people who voted for him, both in the Congress and at his electoral district. –  Anixx Dec 1 '13 at 6:34
@Anixx Gorbachev was elected by the party, not by an electoral district, as I understand it. The members of congress who "voted" for Gorbachev as president has no one else to vote for he was the only candidate. That is not "voting" in any normal sense. It's time for you to realize that the USSR was not a democracy. It's good to see you admit that your relatives didn't vote for him. It would be better if you stopped using words as if they are mere decoration. Words have meaning, and if they didn't vote for him in a free election, then calling them voters is dishonest. –  Lennart Regebro Dec 1 '13 at 6:50
The election may well have had ballots listing his name as first candidate for the party or some such wording. Same happens in other countries. You mark the name of a candidate but the vote goes to the party (with some hybrid systems giving votes to candidates until they have enough votes to gain a seat in the assembly, then all others going to the party as a whole). –  jwenting Dec 2 '13 at 7:26
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