'Forgotten' Gorbachev plods to his exit poll

Russian election: Lukewarm response for former Soviet leader on campaign trail as Yeltsin comes under fierce attack from liberal opponent

The hall was ready. The crimson roses were on the podium. The crowds, mostly students, teachers, and pensioners, were cramming the aisles. All that was missing was the star attraction, Mikhail Gorbachev. Then, just before he swept in an hour late, the lyrics on the sound system aptly summed up his quandary: "It must have been love, but it is over now."

These were not surroundings to which the architect of glasnost and perestroika, Time magazine's former Man of the Decade, was accustomed during his years on the world stage, when the only better- known leader on the planet was Ronald Reagan. Here he was, 500 miles from the glittering halls of the Kremlin, campaigning like any other hack politician in a provincial civic building in the autonomous republic of Tatarstan.

Russian politicians have a patchy record in this place, with its 3 million population, mostly Russians and Tatars descended from Genghis Khan. But on this, his first shot at running for office through the ballot box, Mr Gorbachev, 65, was looking remarkably relaxed.

It was not always thus. Over the past few months his baffling campaign for the Russian presidency has been interspersed with humiliating moments. He has been spat on, jeered at, and karate-chopped on the head by an angry onlooker.

During a swing through St Petersburg, local officials scuppered his plans to visit three factories, claiming that they were closed to visitors. On a Victory Day visit to Volgograd last month, he was greeted with shouts of "Traitor" as he wandered beneath the statue of Mother Russia that towers over the city from a hilltop.

But these moments have been incidental irritations, and are the exception rather than the rule. True, most Communists will never forgive him for the destruction of the party and the Soviet empire. And true, many supporters of market reforms blame him for failing to finish the job, plunging Russia into economic chaos, and worsening living standards. Others still resent his candidacy, believing it will split the anti-Communist vote.

Yet, for the most part, those who gather to listen to Mikhail Gorbachev are more curious than hostile. "You have to agree that he has left his mark on history," said Rudi, a middle-aged schoolteacher, after watching him arrive in Kazan. "One simply can't be indifferent to him."

But nor can one stop wondering why he has embarked on this lonely odyssey round a huge slice of the land that he once governed, being greeted by embarrassed local officials and lukewarm applause. Although he disputes the polls, most of which show him with a miserable rating around 1 per cent, even he would agree that he stands not a snowball's chance in hell of winning. His wife admits she tried to talk him out of running. Yet on he plods, the Ancient Mariner of Russian politics, compelled to tell his story.

Why? One principal reason appears to be that he is simply desperate to avoid the worst fate that can befall any politician - obscurity. "People seem to have forgotten Gorbachev," he said recently: his campaign for the presidency would be a "break-through from oblivion".

In the years since Boris Yeltsin unceremoniously ousted him from the Kremlin, Mr Gorbachev claims to have been repeatedly denied access to the Russian media. He says that the "information blockade" is continuing in the run-up to the first round of the election on 16 June.

Yet his main platform is face to face with the people, arguing his case in a slow, occasionally witty, often painfully long-winded, way before audiences in the heart of Russia. Here, he is away from the cruel intelligentsia of Moscow and St Petersburg, amid friendly folk - many of whom are pleased to see him merely because he is a celebrity.

His message is much the same wherever he goes. Russia faces a Hobson's choice, he explained to the audience in Kazan. It is asked to choose between Mr Yeltsin, "a disaster" who is responsible for "destroying science, education, and culture", and the Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, who is no better.

"The people around Mr Zyuganov are the ones who poked their sticks into the wheels of reform during perestroika, who cobbled together the 1991 coup, producing terrible results."

The audience seemed sympathetic, but unconvinced. Roman Popkov, a student, put it succinctly: "He is a political corpse."

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Infrastructure / Network Engineer (VMware, Windows, LAN/WAN)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Primary teaching jobs in Thetford

£1036224 - £1513056 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Educatio...

Primary teaching jobs in the Swaffham area

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Are you a fully quali...

Year 1 Teachers needed for day to day roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week