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An Astonishing Eclipse

Mikhail Gorbachev's remarkable term of office as President of the former Soviet Union came suddenly to an end when he was overtaken by political developments which only his boldly imaginative reforms had made possible.

Historians will doubtless confirm the vital role played by Gorbachev in the revolutionary changes which swept over Eastern Europe in recent times. It was he who initiated the policies of glasnost and perestroika within the Soviet Union. This new political philosophy encouraged freedom of expression and democratic rights. It led to a reversal of Soviet policy towards the long-time satellite countries of the old Warsaw Pact. When popular feeling in these countries called for self-1etennination and democratic institutions there could no longer be military intervention from Moscow to preserve the status quo. East Germany and Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Rumania, all in due course went their own way to independence. The levelling of the Berlin Wall seemed to symbolize the revolutionary changes flowing from Gorbachev's liberating political doctrines.

It was also Gorbachev who brought about a change from the traditional stand-off between the Soviet and American super-powers. This led to unprecedented reductions in both conventional and nuclear arsenals. Certainly economic strains in the Soviet economy were making it impossible to keep up the same expenditure on arguments; but Gorbachev's popularity on the international stage was an important factor in speeding the process of change.

Last year an upsurge of ethnic and nationalistic sentiment within the Soviet Union gave fresh momentum to far-reaching political change. Openness of thought and the right to self-determination gave rise to the demand for independent republics, rather than continuing control from the Kremlin. Gorbachev vainly strove to maintain a centrally controlled Union. Rival leaders finally organized the establishment of a Commonwealth of twelve independent republics. Gorbachev was left without power at the centre, and for the time being at least withdrew from a major political role. The world looked on astonished at his sudden eclipse.

How true the Psalmist's word:

Neither from the east,

nor from the west,

Nor yet from the south,

cometh lifting up.

But God is the Judge:

He putteth down one,

and lifteth up another.

(Ps. 75:6,7).

A similar thought is expressed in Rom. 13:1, "... there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God". We can assess the various factors which contribute to the rise and fall of world leaders; but in the last analysis their position is determined by divine sovereignty. Gorbachev apparently shares the atheistic ethos of the old Soviet regime. Denying the existence of God, they build an empire in self-reliance. With dramatic swiftness they have now seen it disintegrate under pressure of economic failure and ethnic rivalries.

From the Christian standpoint, a welcome bonus from the Gorbachev era was the gradual restoration of religious liberties throughout the old Soviet Union. This was thankfully recognized by Christian believers as a most welcome answer to prayer. Persecution had been long and grievous. Many had spent years in prison or labour camp for the sake of the Name; some had died for their faith. How welcome the freedom now to worship without official interference, and to witness to others about the Lord Jesus.

In the light of the prophetic Word another significant aspect of Gorbachev's policy was the easing of restrictions on the emigration of Jews to Israel. Many thousand have already arrived in Israel; it is expected that in total about a million Russian Jews will take the opportunity to return to the promised land. If this expectation is realized, it will add greatly to the nation's human resources.

It remains to be seen whether the twelve governments of the new Commonwealth of Republics will all continue to follow the Gorbachev line regarding religious liberties and Jewish emigration. The need for economic aid from the West may well constrain similar policies, to avoid Western criticisms about human rights. Christian observers of the new Commonwealth regimes have certainly much cause for continued intercession.