Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-2022) is dead. The man to whom Germans largely owe their political unity had almost completely disappeared from public view in the last years of his life: the Nobel Peace Prize winner lived a secluded life in a dacha in a suburb of Moscow. For a long time it was said that his health was not particularly good. At a book launch, one of his last public appearances, witnesses described an aged Gorbachev leaning on his cane and the hand of a co-worker. Gorbachev was absent from the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2019 for health reasons.
He was once one of the most powerful men in the world. The son of a combine harvester driver in the North Caucasus will go down in history as one of the great reformers and reconcilers with the West. The last general secretary of the CPSU and first president of the Soviet Union initiated perestroika (German: "restructuring") and thus the end of the cold war between the west and the east. The long-time German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1927-2016) said about him: "Gorbachev initiated a revolution with the policy of perestroika. He is a real revolutionary. He started a freedom revolution."
Above all, Gorbachev encouraged German reunification as early as 1989; months before this was considered completely utopian. In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this. Ultimately, his opening to the west also meant the end of the Soviet empire, which many in his Russian homeland are said not to have forgiven him for.
A few months after a failed coup attempt in August 1991, Gorbachev resigned as President of the USSR. The presidents of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine had previously contractually agreed on the official dissolution of the Soviet Union. This ended Gorbachev's political career. For the Germans, the Russian was and is a political hero. Gorbachev's wife Raissa (1932-1999), who was suffering from cancer, was also treated in Germany. The charismatic sociology professor was his great love and was always at his side.
Before the military coup in 1991, she had leukemia. More health problems followed. Nevertheless, rumors were spread in Russia that Raisa Gorbacheva only wanted to distract from her husband's weaknesses - intrigues that her husband had not coped with for a long time, as he told "Stern": Shortly before her death, she said a sentence "that always etched in my mind: 'Do I really have to die for people to believe me?'".
Raisa Gorbacheva died on September 20, 1999 at the age of 67 in the University Hospital in Münster, leaving behind a widower who was completely in despair. Raisa was buried in the cemetery of the Moscow Novodevichy Convent. Her tomb is decorated with a sculpture of a flower girl, which her husband always had fresh flowers decorated.
After the death of his wife, Gorbachev visited Germany frequently. Daughter Irina had bought the stately Hubertus-Schlössl in Rottach-Egern am Tegernsee, where the former head of the Kremlin liked to vacation and go for walks by the Tegernsee.
Despite his ailing health, the ex-president repeatedly spoke out politically. He wrote books, gave interviews, took care of his Gorbachev Foundation, supported by his daughter Irina, fought for human rights.
Gorbachev has now died in a Moscow clinic after a long and serious illness, the Central Clinical Hospital (ZKB) announced on Tuesday. He is to find his last resting place in the New Maiden Cemetery in Moscow - next to his wife Raissa.