Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Trouble at the Top?

Pope Francis and Mikhail Gorbachev

 Odin descended to the Underworld, seeking counsel from the Norns - those wise and ancient seers - regarding the last day, the great battle and the twilight of the gods.

Roger Lancelyn Green: Tales of the Norsemen


Watching Pope Francis give his impromptu press conference on the plane last week, I found myself thinking; "haven't we been here before?"The parallels, after all, are striking: a charismatic leader taking the reins after a long period of perceived 'stagnation', a new openness (Glasnost) in terms of communications and relations with the media, a re-structuring (Perestroika), and 'cleansing of stables'. We also have a reaching out towards constituents possibly disaffected by the former 'regime', rapturous welcomes overseas, plus a small but powerful cadre of irritated conservatives (see comments below various Catholic Herald blog posts).

The chief difference I can see between the Pope and Mikhial Gorbachev is that Francis enjoys  substantial grass-roots support within his own 'nation', a popularity which the final General Secretary of the Soviet Union' always lacked. The potential downside for the Pontiff is that his previous 'General Secreatary' did not die (unlike Konstantin Chernenko before Gorbachev), but only retired. Benedict XVI is alive and in situ, available as a theoretical, if unlikely, rallying point for disgruntled traditionalists.


When the conservative coup to oust Gorbachev failed in August 1991, pretty much all of us thought, "Great, thank goodness we're not going back to the Cold War and the days of Brezhnev and Andropov." But by Christmas Day, the Soviet Union (of which Gorbachev was supposed to be the steward) had gone - a ghost state fit only for the history books. How exactly that happened, and why, remains one of the greatest, and most mysterious, questions of our time.


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