This book – now nearly 25 years old – is in one sense a relic of a different era. A time when the idea that the Soviet Union would cease to exist would have been treated as fantastic and even that its basic “socialist” character would crumble as unlikely.
But it is also a reminder of other things – that hopes were high, of when Boris Yeltsin was a heroic reformer and not a corrupt drunk, when a whole country began to step into the light of historical truth for the first time in more than sixty years, when people were allowed to tell the truth about their suffering in the Great Patriotic War and not just salute “the victors” in that most desperate and yet so necessary fight.
A friend suggested to me that the reason I loved this book so much is not because it takes me back to a time when every new day brought an exciting revelation and when we could dream of the end of the threat of imminent nuclear confrontation, but because it just reminded me of being 23 again… maybe there is some truth in that, but I think there is more to it.
The days since “the end of history” was proclaimed with the collapse of the Soviet Union have hardly ushered in peace and plenty – perhaps there were other routes that could have been taken – not least the Gorbachev-sceptics in the west could have been dismissed as what they were – leftovers from the Cold War. One doesn’t have to regret the passing of the Soviet Union to regret the manner of its passing – the collapse into a void that means that of all the successor states only three – in the Baltics – have emerged as fully successful liberal democracies and only another three – Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine – have even seriously tried to follow that path.