“A Spirited Defence”
There is a distinct difference between an ‘inquiry’ and an ‘inquisition’. While an inquiry is associated with a search for truth, the word ‘inquisition’ has its genesis in ancient Roman Catholic tribunals for the discovery and punishment of heresy. In modern understanding, it suggests a long and thorough investigation that involves extensive and harsh questioning.
Mikhail Gorbachev who has arrived at the Pearly Gates is suddenly coming to realize the subtle difference between the two distinct levels of probing. The journey from the hospital in Moscow to the cloudy paradise was in fact pretty smooth and quite uneventful. The angelic Security had however put his entry on hold. He couldn’t help but smile nostalgically and remember the KGB days as he was being whisked away blindfolded to a remote location for questioning.
He is allowed to open his eyes and Gorby looks around in wonder. Quite unexpectedly, the atmosphere in the cross-examination chamber appears to be a bit hostile. The room is full of reps from both hell and heaven, each laying claim quite vociferously to the newly arrived soul. It does not take much time for Gorby to realize that St Peter himself is chairing the proceedings.
As the house settles down after the gavel brought the clamour down, he hears a soft but commanding voice of the Chair, “Welcome Gorby, you have been long awaited. Very rarely do we get such a controversial soul like yours out here. And today, you can be brutally honest. No one can hurt you any which way.”
“Thank you milord. Privileged to be in your midst where I can finally open my heart out. In fact, some of my dear ones had been wondering if this blessed day will ever arrive for me. After all, I outlasted quite a few of them. Not to mention that many from the younger generation do not even know who I was, leave alone whether I was lately alive or not.”
“Gorby, we will start the proceedings without any further ado. For starters, everyone knows that you have been a real enigma for the world. What was really your intent?”, the prosecutor fires the opening salvo.
“My intent was always clearly written on the wall. I meant well for my people. There were no hidden agendas whatsoever.”
“Did you succeed in what you set about doing?
“Thinking retrospectively, I guess only in bits and pieces.”
“Some say you were far ahead of your times. What do you say to that?”
“Well that is not for me to judge milord. All I can say is that a leader has to be with the times and not ahead of it. His vision undoubtedly yes but his actions must address the current realities.”
“There are numerous accolades in the Western press today praising you for your vision, commitment and statesmanship. Do you think that you were an effective and great leader as is being made out today?”
“Well I didn’t take these accolades and awards seriously. Yes, even the Noble prize. It did feel nice once upon a time but you know that all these will be showered if their interests are served best. The Iron curtain comes down without firing a shot. Money saved towards defreezing the cold war in un-countable billions. Who would not love it? Greatness can be thrust upon you but results matter for efficacy. In any case, perceptions matter.”
“But please look at the end result at our end. The Soviet Union which was under my care broke apart causing great geopolitical instability. My people did not finally get the riches that I thought they would derive from a more open socialist market.”
“Maybe, I didn’t have the heart to exercise the ruthlessness and accept the risks that my position demanded. I was caught in a bind. What was expected of me to keep the union intact would have been an anti-thesis of what I was trying to introduce and promote. So in that vein, I would not call myself effective. You may give me grace marks for trying but that’s about all.”
“Where do you think you went wrong?”
“It was always difficult for me to accept that I went wrong. You see Leadership has four important components. The Leader, the Led, the Context and lastly the Communication which binds the first three together. While I did understand the context reasonably well, I guess I did not understand the Led very well. Elephants in chained captivity and caged parrots do not know what to do with their freedom when they are set free. Without an autocratic master in control, they feel abandoned and insecure.”
“Yes, I admit that while the external stakeholders were lapping up whatever I uttered, I could have communicated my vision in far better terms to my own countrymen. At that time, I felt that they were not understanding me. I guess I did not make myself understood when I had the chance. Strangely they needed me but did not want me”
“Although there is never a rewind button on history, what would you do differently if you are sent back in time and space?”
“Well my intent would not be drastically different but I would considerably slow down the change process. I would this time pitch for evolutionary changes rather than revolutionary ones. Habits, traditions and dug-in mindsets have a great deal of inertia which only time and doggedness can overcome.”
“Do you know how a pilot flies an aircraft? Or a sailor sails a sailboat? No? Its quite simple: Change-Check-Hold -Adjust-Trim and then keep repeating the same. When you are leading nations, you need to follow a similar philosophy. Even the smallest changes can have a big impact on apparently unrelated stakeholders and events around. You have to be alive to these responses and trim the sails accordingly.”
“As I said, my speed was too much for the traditionalists to accept. They felt threatened and insecure. I should have anticipated that and made them an integral part of the change process. Should have gently churned the system like in a cold-press juicer.”
“For the system that you grew in and eventually wanted to change, you were quite an outlier. How come you and you intentions were not discovered till the time you rose to the highest office of the Union?”
“That is a good question milord”, smiled Gorby disarmingly. “Some people can hold their thoughts and cards very close to their chest and wait till the right moment arrives. I presume I was one such ‘difficult to read’ personality. So much so, are you not still trying to discover me even after I have left the mortal world?
“Do you think that the present dispensation is doing the right thing with respect to Ukraine?”
“Well, I don’t want to be judgemental because their context is different and some of it is resulting from the legacy I left behind.”
“I mean, I trusted far more than I should have. Ideology has its place but realpolitik has its own space. Just to give an example, when the US Secy of State, Baker promised me during the German reunification time that they would never move an inch to the east. I took him at his word. How could I be so naïve not to take enforceable sovereign guarantees from them?”
“All negotiations should be based solely on a balance of mistrust and hope. The present lot is far more distrusting of the West because of the ‘once bitten twice shy syndrome’. Old jungle saying, “You have to be trustworthy if you want to be trusted.”
“Why did you choose to stay in Russia and not emigrate when you had the chance?”
“Well, that would have destroyed my credibility in one go. You live and die amongst your own. I was not ruthless but at a personal level I was not a weak person. Also, I knew that they would defang me to a level of being a toothless tiger but would never dare to harm me physically. I used to repeatedly tell the bullies to crucify me right here but they would not. They had too much to lose in terms of world opinion.”
“One last question Gorby, “What is that mark on your forehead?”
“Oh! Is it still there milord? I am sure you very well know that ‘port wine stain’ was my trademark birthmark. I can see that some stains do not go away even after your death”, replied a straight-faced Gorby, his famous dark sense of humour still intact.”
“Any parting message to the mortals before we decide your case?”
“I am at such a stage now that I can only repeat my favourite saying: If only the elderly could; If only the young understood.”
By now Gorby visibly tired and asks almost entreatingly, “Boss if you don’t mind, may I pass through the gates and meet my wife Raisa?”
St. Peter shakes his head in patronizing disapproval and remarks,
“I guess you will have to wait for some more time Gorby. You see, for you the jury is still out.”
A spirited defence no doubt!
First published at seekmediation.com on 02/09/22
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- Image Attribution: Вени Марковски, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons