The Gorbachev Files: Secret Papers Reveal Truth Behind Soviet Collapse

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Raisa Gorbachova spent those post-coup days on the veranda of the president's dacha. It was on one of those days that she erased a part of her past, by burning 52 letters her husband had written to her while on official trips. They were "letters from our youth," as Gorbachev would later say, letters his wife had kept her entire life. But following her experiences in Foros, she had become fearful, including of those who would be in power in the future. She wept as she threw the carefully preserved letters into the oven, telling her husband that she wanted to prevent outsiders from peering into their lives.

Gorbachev, who was equally in the dark as to what would happen to his family and the country in the coming weeks, and who respected his wife's opinions, followed her lead and began burning other documents.

He tossed 25 notebooks into the flames. They included notes he had made while in office, details of everyday political life, descriptions of politicians and various plans. The only notebook he kept was his private diary. Almost 20 years would pass before he spoke of the incident again, in a February 2011 interview with Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper he publishes.

Archive Contains Thousands of Documents

The official papers from his almost six years in office were preserved. Gorbachev took them with him when he announced his resignation as the Soviet president at the end of the year, and donated them to the foundation that bears his name. Since then, about 10,000 documents have been in storage at the foundation's headquarters on Leningrad Prospect 39 in Moscow. They include the personal archives of his foreign policy advisers, Vadim Zagladin and Anatoly Chernyaev.

The papers illustrate the end period of the communist experiment. They include the minutes of negotiations with foreign leaders, the handwritten recommendations of advisers to Gorbachev, speaker's notes for telephone conversations and recordings of those conversations, confidential notes by ambassadors and shorthand records of debates in the politburo.

None of the issues with which the self-proclaimed reformer of the Soviet Union was confronted in those years has been left out.

There are memorandums in which the Soviet leader is advised on how to end the war in Afghanistan or how to deal with Jews seeking to emigrate, or explaining to him why he should refuse to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ("nothing real to be expected from him") or why he should avoid putting Mathias Rust, a young German aviator who had illegally landed a light aircraft near Red Square, on trial and receive him in the Kremlin instead ("there are questions as to his psychological state").

There are reports from informers within the East German Communist Party leadership, describing how bad conditions were in East Germany and detailing who could still be depended upon in the East Berlin politburo. And there are equally meticulous reports on what the French magazine Paris Match wrote about Raisa Gorbachova or what the Russian singer Alla Pugacheva told a German magazine about Gorbachev's perestroika policy.

Inefficient Bureaucracy

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