MOSCOW – Thousands of Russians filed past the open casket of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, on Saturda, with many saying they wanted to honour his memory as “a peacemaker” who dismantled totalitarianism and gave them their freedom.
The man affectionately known as ‘Gorby’ in the West and who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his role in ending the Cold War was then buried at Moscow’s famous Novodevichy cemetery alongside his wife Raisa, who died in 1999.
Earlier, flanked by two rifle-wielding members of the elite Kremlin Regiment and with the hall’s 54 chandeliers emitting only a dim glow, the former president’s body lay in an open casket with his face and upper body visible.
Best known in the West for helping end the Cold War, reducing his country’s nuclear stockpile, and for unwittingly presiding over the demise of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev’s legacy still divides opinion inside and outside Russia.
But those who lined up to say farewell recalled the late politician, who died in Moscow after an unspecified illness, with gratitude.
“He was a peacemaker, he was one of God’s sons,” said Tatiana, 80, who said she had come despite poor health.
“He wanted to give us democracy and freedom and we turned out to not be very ready yet,” said Alexander Lebedev, a tycoon and close friend.
“That’s most unfortunate but we will still be a European country. This part of history will be over one day.”
President Vladimir Putin paid his respects to Gorbachev on Thursday, but stayed away from Saturday’s memorial event with the Kremlin citing his busy schedule.
Nor was Gorbachev granted a state funeral unlike his nemesis Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet president and the man who named Putin as his successor, who died in 2007.