Interview With Medvedev: Russian President Reflects On Fall of the Wall

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, you are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with other world leaders in Berlin. Where were you on Nov. 9, 1989?

Dmitry Medvedev: I don't remember, but I still recall very precisely how suddenly our lives changed. I was a teaching assistant at the University of St. Petersburg at the time, and I realized that this development would affect not only the Germans, but all of Europe and, ultimately, also the destiny of our country. The Scorpions' hit "Wind of Change" became an anthem of the times. The Berlin Wall was a symbol of the division of the continent, and the fall of the Wall united us again. Some of our hopes from back then have been fulfilled, others have not.

SPIEGEL: The fall of the Wall made former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a respected figure in Germany and throughout the West. How would you judge his historical accomplishments?

Medvedev: As the head of state, it is not my place to pass judgment on my predecessors. Germany and other European countries give Gorbachev credit for the fall of the Iron Curtain. There are differences in opinion about his accomplishments for our country. The collapse of the Soviet Union occurred during his term in office. A great many Russians have the feeling that they lost their country back then, and they hold him responsible for this. Whether or not this is justifiable is something for historians to decide.

SPIEGEL: Your predecessor Vladimir Putin was not so reserved in his remarks. He called the collapse of the USSR "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century.

Medvedev: He didn't connect this with the name Gorbachev, so in that sense he was as reserved as I am. The collapse shocked everyone who lived in the Soviet Union, regardless of whether they perceived the disintegration of the state as a personal catastrophe or as a consequence of the rule of the Bolsheviks. And it was really very dramatic: A people who had been united for decades -- and in some cases for centuries -- suddenly found itself in different countries again. Contacts with family and relatives were cut off.

SPIEGEL: It was certainly a tragedy, but was it really the greatest?

Medvedev: In my opinion, World War II was no less of a catastrophe. Tens of millions of people were killed. And wasn't the Russian Revolution of 1917 also a catastrophe? It sparked a civil war where friends and relatives shot at each other. The collapse of the Soviet Union certainly ranks among the most dramatic events of the 20th century, but it didn't have such bloody consequences.

SPIEGEL: A few days ago, you pointed out in a video message posted on the Internet that "millions of people died as a result of terror" in the Soviet Union before the war, but 90 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds knew practically nothing about this. What does this say about the state of Russian society, when you, as president, have to remind your citizens that Josef Stalin was a mass murderer?

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