Internationally famous music and movie stars, political personas and public figures congratulated ex-president of the USSR, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mikhail Gorbachev on his 80th anniversary. Strangely enough, the celebration did not take place in Mr. Gorbachev's motherland. The pompous party took place at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
The theme song for the evening was performed by German rock band The Scorpions. The song, titled "Wind of Change", personified the fall of communism in Eastern Europe - the event, in which Gorbachev played the key role.
Well-known artists from the West and the East appeared on the stage of the packed Albert Hall to congratulate Gorbachev on his anniversary. The hosts - Sharon Stone and Kevin Spacey - unveiled little-known facts about Gorbachev's life and activities to the British audience.
In the speech to his guests, Mikhail Gorbachev confessed that he was hoping to live up to 90. He also said that despite all contradictions of his era, he hoped that he could give people an understanding of freedom. He eventually realized that the fate of a reformer does not have to be necessarily unhappy.
"I have to admit that I am a happy man," the ex-president said.
Gorbachev's "The Man who Changed the World" awards were presented to prominent contemporary figures during the gala show too. Three nominations of the award were named "Perestroika," "Glasnost," and "Uskorenie."
"Perestroika" was awarded to the inventor of the world wide web, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee. The laureate was unable to attend the ceremony, and the award was presented to his brother Michael.
The "Glasnost" award was presented to the founder of CNN and Goodwill Games Ted Turner for his unique contribution in the development of the open world culture.
The "Uskoreniie" award (for the development of modern science and technology) was presented to 25-year-old engineer from Kenya, Evans Wadongo. In 2004, when Evans was 18, he invented a solar-powered lamp for impoverished regions of his country.
"Today, we honor the people who changed the world. This award has more of the moral, rather than the material significance," Mikhail Gorbachev said.
It may seem strange that Mikhail Gorbachev held the gala concert and the award show in London, not Moscow. In Russia, it is very hard to find those people who approve and praise his role in world history. Many Russians believe that it was Gorbachev who triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union. The superpower broke up, although millions of people expressed their wish to preserve the Soviet Union at the national referendum.
TVC channel conducted a poll in 2005 to find out how the Russians estimated the results of Gorbachev's perestroika. The answers were the following:
Democracy and glasnost - 1.5%
Poverty and lawlessness - 70%
The collapse of the USSR - 28.5%.
Many Russian experts blame Gorbachev for the fact that the foreign debt of the USSR increased 5.5 times during the years of his rule, whereas the nation's gold and currency reserves dropped 11 times. As a result, many Soviet citizens found themselves living below the poverty line.
The attitude of the majority of Russian (Soviet) people to Mikhail Gorbachev was changing speedily. When Gorbachev came to power in the USSR, many people hoped that the new leader would bring democratic freedoms for the whole nation. Many were hoping that they would soon achieve European and American living standards. This period of dreamy hopes ended very quickly. Gorbachev began to evolve into the national anti-hero by 1990.
Nowadays, the majority of Russians associate Gorbachev with the collapse of the soviet Union in the first place. The people do not link his name to the fall of communism, the anti-alcohol campaign, the end of the Cold War. It is the break-up of the USSR that comes to the minds of the majority of Russians when they think of Gorbachev. For them, it was Gorbachev's "biggest achievement" and it remains so 20 years later.
This epoch-making event of world history divides Russians and citizens of other former Soviet republics into two camps - the big and the small one. Those who are older, those who experienced the Soviet lifestyle to the utmost, treat Mikhail Gorbachev very negatively. His fans, or at least those, who give him credit, are in the absolute minority. This attitude has not been changing for years. Many people still believe that the Soviet Union would have continued its existence if Gorbachev had not come to power in the country. To put it in a nutshell, the Russians do not believe in the historical predetermination of the break-up of the USSR.