A 'Traitor'? Wave of Hate Follows False Story of Gorbachev's Death

Mikhail Gorbachev was pronounced dead on Wednesday evening -- in an erroneous news story. It is not the first time it has happened and it unleashed a wave of hateful comments aimed at the father of Perestroika.

Mikhail Gorbachev (image from November 2012) has been pronounced dead in the media several times in recent years.

Mikhail Gorbachev (image from November 2012) has been pronounced dead in the media several times in recent years.

By in Moscow

It was Wednesday evening when the state-run news agency RIA Novosti in Moscow announced the death of Mikhail Gorbachev on its German language micro-blog and on one of its Twitter accounts.

The news was unexpected. While Gorbachev is now 82 years old, he is not at death's door. And it didn't take long before it became clear that the story was wrong. Gorbachev himself said in a statement that he is "alive and well" and that his blood pressure and blood-sugar levels are normal. On the day his death was announced, Gorbachev even commuted into the city from his dacha to work, an employee of his foundation told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

For RIA Novosti, the incident is embarrassing. The agency said that the story was deleted after a mere five minutes and blamed hackers for the problem. Furthermore, RIA Novosti notified FSB, Russia's domestic intelligence agency, and was also launching an in-house investigation of its own.

But it has become notable just how often Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, has been pronounced dead in the Russian media in recent months. Similar rumors of his demise swirled through the country in June. And in May 2012, his death was posted on Gorbachev's English-language Wikipedia entry, from which it rapidly spread through social media and made it into the news.

'Political Circles'

Outwardly, Gorbachev took the news calmly on Wednesday. But the serenity is far from genuine. The 82-year-old is unhappy about being pronounced dead every few months -- and he also believes that "political circles" might be behind the incorrect reports of his demise.

Gorbachev's health, to be sure, is far from pristine. He has suffered through three serious operations in the last decade -- one on his carotid artery, another to remove his prostate and a third on his spine. He is now bloated, he has difficulties controlling his blood sugar and is a regular visitor to the hospital. But he suffers more from the bad reputation that he has in his own country. Gorbachev, after all, sees his own political accomplishments in a different light than do many in Russia.

"Why do so many Russians hate you?" Gorbachev was asked in a SPIEGEL interview exactly two years ago. He thought for almost an entire minute before finally answering: "People will probably stop hating me only after my death." But then he shook his head and corrected himself. "I don't have that impression. On the contrary: I've felt supported during all these difficult years."

That, though, is not entirely accurate as was made clear once again on Wednesday. Despite the erroneous story of his death being quickly deleted, it triggered a wave of comments across the country -- a wave of hate. It was a mixture of political contempt, hostile invective and incomprehensible insults.

Most of them centered on Gorbachev's central political accomplishment: Perestroika. As the general secretary of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev spent six years trying to open the country to the West and modernize its economy. But in 1991, the Soviet Union quietly collapsed -- an event that many in Russia still find painful. And Gorbachev, many believe, is to be blamed. Not a few think that he was acting on orders from the Americans.

A Soul Full of Hate

Almost every second entry on the site mail.ru included the word "traitor" in reference to Gorbachev. One woman wrote that he sold the Soviet Union for "30 pieces of silver" and that he is richer than oligarch billionaire Roman Abramovitch.

Another contributed a rhetorical question. "Is it easy to live as a traitor who is hated by the entire country?" A third, at least, wished him a longer life -- so that "the people can pass judgement on him in a court of law." And a fourth showed a sense of humor. Gorbachev will never die, he wrote, because the devil is afraid that "hell would then collapse as well."

Most of the rest of the comments were below the belt. "What a shame he didn't really die," for example. "He should be run over with a steamroller." Or: "Die, you dog, die as quickly as possible." Another read: "His days are numbered and his death will be a celebration." Still another: "We will come to his burial to spit on his coffin."

Not all of the entries were insulting. One message read: "I wish you many long years of life, Mikhail Sergeyevich. It is great that you brought the hollow USSR to collapse." But it was almost completely drowned out by the vile.

It wasn't long before the comments, just like the news story, were deleted. Comments on erroneous news stories are forbidden, read a message on the site. But for just a few hours, a window opened up through which one could see into the Russian soul. And it is a soul full of hate for Mikhail Gorbachev.


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4nd.you.know.this 08/09/2013
1. Haters Gonna Hate
Many men are loved by their enemies, and hated by their friends, and are the friends of their enemies, and the enemies of their friends. -PLATO
Jim in MD 08/09/2013
2. Gorby as Mirror
He played a bad hand well. The generation that trashed their opportunity now want to blame someone else for ruining the country. The West respects Gorbachev. It is not the same as love. The Russians would do better with a leader they could respect, rather than love or fear.
fung.pee 08/09/2013
3. Compared to former leaders ...
Gorbachev was a refreshing change. He started the conversion of Russia, for which many on both sides of the political divide should be grateful.
TheOligarch.Com 08/09/2013
4. Plato Myth of Err
Plato of course believed in both reincarnation and heaven and hell. In the Rebublic he proposes a philosophical utopia and he fights against the sophists of democracy and the tyrants of tyranny who follow them. His arguments are intellectual not emotional, but the Rebublic ends with a frightening warning- hell is filled with orators and journalists. With great power comes great responsibility and the great danger, those whose ignorance destroyed their country die hated by thier people and the gods burn.
tagphoto 08/09/2013
5. Mephisto or Faust?
It's a pity that the socialist baby was thrown out with the Stalinist bathwater - and it happened on Gorby's watch. Did the Soviet experiment fail completely? Did it offer nothing to its people? I don't see how Putin's Russia is much of an improvement over the previous regime. Economic restructuring and political freedom were needed in the USSR but with steady, principled leadership. But like his counterpart, Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev was apparently asleep at the wheel. Did Gorby nod off or did he believe his own hype - the way Reagan did - recounting scenes from films as if they were actual events - during those periods where he was awake if not alert? Perhaps. Did Gorbachev make a Faustian bargain, knowingly, or perhaps believing himself as clever and powerful as Mephisto? A balanced biography would be useful...it would be enlightening to hear how Mr G felt about what he was unleashing - at the the he did so. It's hard to imagine he is without regret.
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