Mikhail Gorbachev the whipping boy of disciples of lost Soviet empire

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 11:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 11:08pm

Still radiant over their annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, some members of Russia's parliament are more nostalgic than ever for the Soviet Union - and on the prowl for someone to blame for its loss.

Why not 83-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev?

Five deputies of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, have asked the prosecutor general to investigate Gorbachev, who was the president of the Soviet Union when it collapsed in 1991, and bring him to account.

Many Russians - especially the older and the poorer - have long harboured wistful feelings about their Soviet past. The acquisition of Crimea, however, has begun to change the national narrative, whetting the appetite for restoration of empire among the well-educated and informed, and even making the concept respectable.

Yevgeny Fyodorov, a Duma deputy who belongs to the dominant United Russia party, told the Izvestia newspaper that the end of the Soviet Union had been a troublesome but unexamined issue for 23 years.

The situation in Ukraine, he said, meant the effects of the Soviet demise could no longer be ignored, a reference to Moscow's assertions that Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine are under threat.

An investigation, he said, would shed light on "fifth columns" at work today. "And, finally, this will give an impetus to national liberation movements on the territory of the former Soviet Union," Fyodorov said.

Gorbachev, a hero in the West for allowing the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall, has not been so loved at home, with many people holding him responsible for the loss of empire.

But talk of prosecution was more than the former president, who has had periodic health problems, was prepared to tolerate.

He called Novaya Gazeta, a liberal newspaper he has helped support financially, and offered caustic comment on the investigation request.

"Since all problems in Russia have apparently been solved, only one little case remains," he said. "That is to jail Gorbachev."

There is little likelihood that Gorbachev will be prosecuted. President Vladimir Putin has shown scant interest in the idea of going after former presidents. One day, after all, he will become one himself.

Still, the deputies' demand tapped into a not-insignificant national sentiment.

In a survey published by the independent Levada polling centre in January, 86 per cent of respondents over 55 regretted the Soviet Union's collapse; 37 per cent of those aged 25 to 39 did so.