House debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022


Gorbachev, Mikhail Sergeyevich

12:22 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to commemorate the life of Mikhail Gorbachev and the remarkable things that happened, particularly at the end of his tenure as the chairman of the Politburo and leader of the USSR. It is in the context of the very heartbreaking circumstance in the former USSR that we see before us right now—the Russian aggression and invasion of Ukraine, and the circumstance in that part of the world, which is very disappointing. It didn't have to be that way, because the opportunity was there when the Iron Curtain fell, and then when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics disintegrated into the constituent parts and became various forms of new democracies, for Russia, in particular, to have followed the path of countries like West Germany and Japan, which, having been adversaries to the peaceful Western world order, have now joined it and are some of the strongest members of it. What a different place the planet would be right now if Russia had followed the path of the now united Germany—West Germany for a long period of time, until the fall of the Berlin Wall—and Japan. That is the great lost geopolitical opportunity that the United States, in particular, and the Clinton administration have to bear responsibility for. It is heartbreaking that that moment of excitement at the fall of the Soviet Union has resulted in a very different outcome.

Nonetheless, Gorbachev was—I was reflecting on this just a moment ago—probably the last significant global figure of the 20th century who was involved in events like the Cold War who has finally passed away. It's an opportunity to reflect on him but also on that era. I was born in 1983, so I don't remember those things in real time, but I know through studies and an interest in global politics, which we all invariably have if we end up serving in the federal parliament.

That era that Gorbachev was a part of was a remarkable period of time—a relieving period of time. A previous contribution, from the member for Solomon, pointed out the very different way in which things could have transpired if Gorbachev had been a different type of person to the one he was. He was not to be universally admired, and things happened on his watch and under the regime that he led that were deplorable and disgusting, including, clearly, acts of violence by the regime that he headed, and the death of innocent people.

But, comparatively, we're very lucky that Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Communist Party, and we're very lucky that, compared to what others in that same position could have done, he saw the peaceful destruction of that Communist regime and, therefore, the end of the Cold War-the end of a period in which the spectre of nuclear war was ever present in people's minds until that point. Even though we unfortunately still have nuclear weapons and worst-case scenarios present here in 2022, there certainly was a dramatic de-escalation, thanks to Gorbachev's engagement and involvement with President Reagan, in particular, in the nuclear stockpiles and defensive build-up of the USSR, and, commensurately, of the United States—and from us being in a situation with those two powers constantly and very closely potentially triggering one another for the unthinkable to unfold. That never happened, thankfully. Thanks to Gorbachev, the risk of those two powers ultimately triggering something like that event disappeared when one of the two potential trigger fingers was gone.

So I pay tribute to Gorbachev and the impact that he had on the 20th century. I'm very pleased that he became the leader and led, particularly through perestroika and other measures, the destruction of that Communist regime. I note the bitter disappointment that what could have come out of that—a Russian democratic republic that was a member of the Western world, seeing its future through free and open trade, economic advancement and democracy, and being a part of a responsible world order—did not manifest. That's not really Gorbachev's fault, because it could have occurred. Disappointingly and depressingly, it did not, and we see the unfortunate reality of that with what's happening in Ukraine. But we should still pay tribute to him, with the very significant caveat that there were a lot of things that he was associated with that we should also deplore and criticise. Nonetheless, he was one of the great figures of the 20th century, and I indeed pay tribute to his legacy today.

Debate adjourned.


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