Gorbachev was a leader who offered ‘hope’, says President Higgins

Last Soviet leader remembered for his political reforms and efforts to end arms race

President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union who died on Tuesday, as a figure whose political reforms were seen as “instruments of hope”.

Mr Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War with the United States without bloodshed, was 91 and had been undergoing treatment at a Moscow hospital.

During his time leading the Soviet Union he forged arms reduction deals with the US nd partnerships with western powers to remove the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since the second World War and bring about the reunification of Germany.

His policy of “glasnost” – free speech – allowed previously unthinkable criticism of the Communist party and the state. It also emboldened nationalists who began to press for independence in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and elsewhere, leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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In a statement, Mr Higgins said the former Soviet leader “seemed to recognise the power” of diplomacy.

“Among the expressions of sadness at the passing of Mikhail Gorbachev, most painful perhaps will be those who, living in conditions of Cold War, saw his ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’ as instruments of hope,” he said.

“Concerned citizens all over the world who saw hope in the agreements he pursued with others on the reduction, rather than the production and dissemination, of the instruments of war when so many global problems of hunger and poverty prevailed,” he said.

Mr Higgins said Mr Gorbachev himself had lamented later in life that he had underestimated the influence of institutional forces, “including military-industrial complexes without borders”, which acted against his reforms.

“There were internal and external forces who would never allow the radical reforms to come to be,” President Higgins said. “He was a man of good instinct who offered hope and who will be rightly remembered by so many for that most human of instincts.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of the death of Mr Gorbachev, who he described as “one of the most significant political figures of the late Twentieth Century”.

“At a time when the threat to the world of nuclear destruction was very real, he saw the urgent need for rapprochement with the west and for greater openness and reform - glasnost and perestroika - in the then Soviet Union,” he said.

Mr Martin said his leadership had “helped to end the arms race between the east and west, end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since the second World War.

“There are very few figures who can be said to have truly changed the world. Mikhail Gorbachev was one,” he said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he was sorry to hear of the death of Mr Gorbachev, who he said gave the world “a glimpse of what a free Russia might look like”.

“By his life, he took actions that brought down the Berlin Wall, pulled back the iron curtain and brought freedom, democracy and independence to most of Central and Eastern Europe,” he said.

Cllr Caroline Conroy, Lord Mayor of Dublin, said the city flag would be flown at half-mast at the Mansion House in remembrance of Mr Gorbachev, who was awarded the freedom of Dublin city in 2002.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times