The hero’s reception granted Gorbachev when he accompanied the German leader across the Bornholmer Street bridge to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the city’s division was credit long overdue. As The New York Times reported: “More than 1,000 people lined the bridge Monday night under gray skies and a steady drizzle to hear the chancellor speak, but their loudest cheers came when she thanked Mr. Gorbachev for the reforming attitude he brought to the Soviet leadership that helped make the events of that historic night possible.” The crowd, chanting “Gorby, Gorby, Gorby,” understood that he had done something unique for a world leader: He admitted the error of his system’s ways and radically reversed its course.
The surrender of immense political power, personal as well as international in scope, is something we never expect from leaders, but Gorbachev set a model of self-sacrifice for a larger purpose that one wishes others would follow. How rare in history for a leader of such great standing to surrender his position, along with its abundance of personal perquisites, for the larger common good. How unexpected for the leader of a military colossus to turn swords into plowshares.