Pain of politics leaves its scars

Missing Persons No. 2: Raisa Gorbachev
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Reviled for so long as pushy, spendthrift and self-indulgent, Raisa Gorbachev has sorely disappointed her many enemies. There is no "Raisa" perfume, no Raisa Remembers or any other attempt to cash in on what remains one of the few Russian names s till instantly recognised at home or abroad.

Raisa's Cold War rival, Nancy Reagan, waited barely a year after leaving the White House to market her memoirs. Mrs Gorbachev, now 60, has shunned this lucrative rite of passage from celebrity to obscurity (her only book, written in 1967, was never destined to be a best-seller: New Characteristics in the Daily Life of Collective Farm Peasantry (Based on Sociological Investigations in the Stavropol Territory).

Throughout her husband's six years in the Kremlin, Mrs Gorbachev was caricatured as a Tsarina: a strong-willed Alexandra to Mr Gorbachev's dithering Nicholas II. But Mrs Gorbachev's real sin was her public intimacy with - and it was assumed power over - the Secretary-General of the Communist Party and then President of the USSR. Mrs Gorbachev never tried to hide her influence.

She remains Mr Gorbachev's closest adviser. Scorned - or worse, ignored - in Russia, they spend more and more time abroad, where they still command respect. Last year they took their roadshow to the United States, Britain, Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Italy. Reshaping the world has given way to the more modest mission of drumming up support for his think-tank, the Gorbachev Foundation, and ecological lobby group, the International Green Cross Society. Last week they were in Tokyo, this week in South Korea.

Mr Gorbachev seems to see himself as a Slavic De Gaulle waiting for his second summons from destiny. Raisa, though, has clearly had enough. The main reason is what a spokesman for the Gorbachev Foundation refers to delicately as "some consequences of thebad experience in Foros" - the three days incarcerated with her family in their Crimean holiday villa during the bungled putsch of August 1991. It was a trauma from which she never fully recovered. She is thought to have suffered a stroke - a diagnosis based largely on the testimony of journalists who noticed that she could not move her left hand during the flight back to Moscow. Two years later she was admitted to a US hospital; doctors spoke only of a history of high blood-pressure.

Larissa Vasilieva, author of The Kremlin Wives, says that Raisa suffered "deep psychological and physical shock that has snuffed out any enthusiasm she may have had for politics".

When in Moscow Raisa still appears at meetings of theatre directors, actors and other members of the Soviet-era intelligentsia but avoids political intrigue. Though the Gorbachevs still have a Moscow flat, they prefer the quiet and security of a dacha outside the city.

Andrew Higgins