The last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, recalled his love for his wife Raisa, from their first kiss to her death from cancer, in an intimate memoir that he presented Tuesday.
Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev (2L) signs autographs during the presentation of his new book "Alone with Myself" in Moscow on November 13, 2012. Photo: AFP / Natalia Kolesnikova
Gorbachev, 81, signed copies of the book, "Alone with Myself," at a central Moscow bookstore. Dedicated to his late wife, it shows him sitting in front of his wife's portrait on the cover.
Unlike the wives of other Soviet leaders, Raisa Gorbacheva refused to remain in the background. Her elegant outfits and active public appearances irritated many in the Soviet Union but made a good impression in the West.
Gorbachev has always stressed that his love for his wife was the driving force in his life and he experienced deep grief at her death in 1999 after a short battle with leukaemia.
"When Raisa was alive, I used to often say half-joking, half-seriously, that she got lucky with her husband. She was of the opposite opinion: that I got lucky with my wife," he wrote in Russian.
The course of their true love did not run smoothly, Gorbachev revealed in the book. He and Raisa met at Moscow State University, where she at first paid him little attention.
"I felt I was losing my head. I wanted to see Raisa and be wherever she was," he wrote, but Raisa was getting over a painful breakup and told him she did not want to date him.
"I told her that I could not fulfil her request, that for me it would just be a catastrophe. That was my confession of love," he said.
They first kissed in a Moscow park, when they went swimming in a lake and a thunderstorm suddenly struck.
"I remember Raisa's face in a flash of lightning, her scared, questioning eyes. I hugged her and clumsily but passionately started kissing her."
Even then Raisa stood out from other students with her love of nice clothes, including a hat with a little veil, Gorbachev wrote.
"She had a natural aristocratic manner. She was a person with a great sense of her own worth," he wrote.
After their marriage they moved to Stavropol, where he began a rapid rise in the Communist Party that made him the youngest member of the Politburo, at age 49, by 1979.
In 1985, Gorbachev was elected general secretary of the Communist Party, taking over the world's biggest state and second superpower.
"All my life, wherever I was, Raisa and I did not stop our dialogue. When I became general secretary and president, I would call Raisa two or three times a day or she would call me."
Gorbachev said he still could not forgive himself for his wife's death and wondered if he could have done anything differently.
"I return again and again to the last days in Raisa's life and the tortures that she had to go through. What more could I have done, or not done, in my life to avoid this terrible fate?"
After she died in a German clinic, he wrote: "I had never felt so lonely in my life."
"I hope that we will meet again... We were happy together."
Gorbachev is revered in the West for triggering the demise of the USSR and allowing Eastern Europe to peacefully exit Soviet rule. He was awarded the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.
But he is widely despised in Russia for presiding over the breakup of an empire and has never regained any significant political influence despite continuing to support liberal causes.