Gorbachev’s marriage, like his politics, broke the mold

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When Mikhail Gorbachev is buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery on Saturday, he will once again be alongside his wife, Raisa, with whom he shared the world stage in a visibly close and loving marriage unprecedented for a Soviet leader.

“They were a real couple. She was part of him, almost always by his side,” then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said at Raisa’s funeral in 1999, where Gorbachev wept openly. part of what he has accomplished is simply unimaginable without his wife.”

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Gorbachev’s very public devotion to his family broke the stifling mold of former Soviet leaders, as did his openness to political reform.

“He loved a woman more than his job. I don’t think he could have kissed her if his hands were stained with blood,” wrote Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, editor of Russia’s leading independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. Co-owned by Gorbachev, it was forced to close under official pressure after Moscow invaded Ukraine.

“We should always remember,” Muratov continued, “he loved a woman more than his job, he placed human rights above the state, and he valued a peaceful heaven more than personal power.”

Gorbachev’s open attachment to his family also contrasts sharply with the secrecy surrounding the private life of the current Russian leader, President Vladimir Putin.

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For her part, Raisa Gorbacheva made a bold figure for the Soviet first ladies – more visible, with a direct way of speaking, a polite manner and fashionable clothes. A sociologist by training, she had met Mikhail at a Moscow university where they were both studying.

“One day, we took each other by the hand and went for a walk in the evening. And we walked like that all our lives,” Gorbachev told Vogue magazine in 2013. Raisa accompanied him on his travels, and they discussed politics and politics together.

His confident demeanor and prominent public role did not sit well with many Russians, who had also embittered Gorbachev and blamed his policies for the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union. The couple won sympathy, however, in 1999, when it was revealed that Raisa was dying of leukaemia. Her husband spoke daily with TV reporters, and the sometimes haughty politician of old was suddenly seen as an emotional and grieving family man.

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For more than two decades after his departure, Gorbachev kept Raisa’s memory alive and embraced his status as a lonely widower.

He released a CD of seven romantic songs, “Songs for Raisa”, in 2009 on which he sang with famous Russian musician and guitarist Andrei Makarevich. The sales went to the charities that Raisa had founded. A few years later, he published a book dedicated to him, “Alone with myself”.

Their marriage even became the subject of a popular theater play in Moscow in 2021, “Gorbachev”. His point was remarkable for Russia: the ruler of the country was a human being who prioritized family, friends and personal obligations. One scene recounted a key moment in Gorbachev’s career when he returned to Moscow after the failed communist coup against him in 1991. Raisa had suffered a stroke, and instead of immediately returning to the political scene, he went to the hospital to be with her. .

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“I was not married to the country – Russia or the Soviet Union,” Gorbachev wrote in his memoirs. “I was married to my wife and that night I went with her to the hospital.”

At the Moscow cemetery, a life-size statue of Raisa has stood for many years now on the grave intended for them both.

The Gorbachevs had a daughter, Irina, two granddaughters and a great-granddaughter. Despite his attachment to his family, Gorbachev lived his life in Russia while they live in Germany.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an early post-Soviet businessman who now lives in exile in London, tweeted this week that one of Gorbachev’s great strengths was his ability to wash away ‘fear of the person on the throne’ , and that his care for the family was part of it.

“With that, he changed my life. And also by his attitude to Raisa Maximovna – a second important lesson, ”said Khodorkovsky, using the surname of Gorbacheva. “He went to her. Rest in peace.”

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