Russia: Gorbachev’s funeral will take place this Saturday, without luster and without Putin
The funeral of the Soviet Union’s last leader Mikhail Gorbachev is taking place in Moscow on Saturday, a minimal ceremony that President Vladimir Putin will not attend, a sign of his controversial heritage in Russia. A great political figure of the 20th century, Gorbachev died Tuesday evening at the age of 91 following a “long and serious illness”, according to the hospital where he was treated. He made history by precipitating, in spite of himself, the disappearance of the Soviet empire in 1991, while he was trying to save it with democratic and economic reforms, thus ending the Cold War.
Controversial inheritance in Russia
Hailed in the West as a man of peace, Gorbachev is seen by many in Russia as responsible for Moscow’s geopolitical downgrade and the years of political, economic and moral crisis that followed the fall of the USSR. A sign of this disaffection, no day of national mourning has been announced, even if “national funeral elements” will be present at the burial of Mikhail Gorbachev, in particular an “honor guard”, underlined the Kremlin. And, in a context of high tensions between Russia and Western countries over the conflict in Ukraine, no foreign leader has announced a trip to attend the funeral in Moscow.
The funeral will begin with a farewell ceremony at the House of Trade Unions, a symbolic place in the Russian capital where the remains of several communist dignitaries were exposed, such as that of Joseph Stalin, in 1953. The ceremony, scheduled to begin at 7:00 a.m. GMT, will be open to the public, the Gorbachev Foundation announced. The former Soviet leader will then be buried in the Novodevichy cemetery, next to his wife Raisa Gorbatcheva, who died in 1999 and to whom he was very close.
The list of people who will attend the funeral is not known, but the Kremlin has already announced Thursday that President Putin will be absent due, officially, to a busy “schedule”. According to images broadcast on Russian television, Vladimir Putin already went to the Central Clinical Hospital (TSKB) in Moscow on Thursday, where Gorbachev died. The Russian president placed a bouquet of red roses near the open coffin of the ultimate leader of the USSR, marked a moment of contemplation for a few seconds, then he bowed his head in deference.
The day after his death, Vladimir Putin paid him a first minimal tribute on Wednesday, in a message of condolence. In a neutral tone, he had noted that Mikhail Gorbachev had had “a great influence on the History of the world” and that he had “sought to propose his own solutions to the problems”. The relationship between the two men was complex, oscillating between marks of esteem and mutual reproaches, before giving way to cordial indifference.
By contrast, Western capitals, from Washington to Berlin, via Paris and Rome, warmly celebrated the memory of Gorbachev, hailed for having worked for East-West rapprochement and a reduction in nuclear arsenals, which had earned him 1990 the Nobel Peace Prize. Germany, whose reunification was made possible by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR, announced that the flags would be at half mast in the German capital on Saturday. But, in Russia, Gorbachev is perceived by many as the gravedigger of the great Soviet power which rivaled America and whose end, considered humiliating, gave way to a decade of crises and violence.
Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia in power during the years of painful transition to a market economy, and who had appointed Vladimir Putin as his successor, was entitled to strong honors on his death in 2007. The Kremlin had then declared a day of national mourning and organized an official funeral, in the presence of Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Gorbachev.
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