What finally turned you against the Soviet system?
We could no longer tolerate the disdainful attitude of official powers towards the common people. The people spent over half a century under total control. A country with abundant natural resources, vast fertile plains and powerful industries could not provide its people with the things necessary for life. We had to spend hours standing in line to buy things like toothpaste. All these things were a result of total control — everything was decided by a big boss.
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Why didn’t you fulfill all that perestroika promised?
It was really because of the bureaucratic party machine. The Communist Party that initially backed perestroika ended up dragging the whole project down. Also we made several mistakes. We increased salaries for teachers and medical personnel, made the retirement allowances higher. We should have waited a while with social projects, because oil prices had dropped to eight to 10 dollars a barrel. I think we didn’t have enough experience. No one in the world knew how to switch from communism to capitalism.
A lot of people thought you were to blame for the harsh times the country faced — how did that make you feel?
I had pretty harsh times too. However, I am absolutely convinced that you could only rule the country and survive if you were persistent both physically and morally. I was strong enough.
What were the real accomplishments of the perestroika years?
First of all, people became free. I couldn’t say that we live in a democratic country now — we are only halfway there — but the market economy is developing, there is no Cold War anymore, we have got rid of most nuclear weapons, and central and eastern Europe have gained independence. I think we all have accomplished a lot.
What emotions do you get when you hear the word perestroika?
Only positive ones. I am proud to have initiated this reformation.