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Raisa Gorbachev died from leukemia at a hospital in Munster, Germany, on the morning of September 20, 1999
She was 67. She had enjoyed worldwide fame, but also dislike from her countrymen. The former first lady of the Soviet Union's deadly illness sparked a wave of compassion and warm reminiscences about her in Russian society. From late August 1999, Russian television reported on Raisa Gorbachev's condition almost daily. Newspaper reports were filled with compassion for Raisa Gorbachev. Russians wished for her recovery and waited for a miracle from the German doctors. Mikhail Gorbachev hoped for his wife's recovery until the very end. He received letters and telephone calls from Russian dignitaries and ordinary people and many world leaders and their wives. Their support helped him live through the hard time. Russian society was thereby expressing love and respect for the wife of former president of the Soviet Union, something it had not lavished on her in the Soviet times. Books published after her death described Raisa as one of the most prominent women of the century and documentaries were made about her. The nation finally paid tribute to her wit, character and resolve for dignity. The attitude to Raisa Gorbachev in the former Soviet Union was rather complex. Evil tongues said she had given advice to the former president on the majority of decisions he had made. Mr. Gorbachev did not hide that his wife had been his best friend and adviser. Raisa was blamed for all mistakes and absurdities of Perestroika, which was launched under Mikhail Gorbachev. People in the street disparagingly called her "Raika." The Gorbachevs' relationship was the ideal romance, which inspired envy from others. In Russia, all parties were closed with an anecdote about the presidential couple. The anecdotes were sympathetic toward the Soviet president and sarcastic toward his wife. Her enemies "rewrote" Raisa Gorbachev's biography, as they did not believe in her ordinary background and attributed non-existent relationships to party leaders to her. Cinderellas are usually popular personalities. However, that was not the case with the Soviet Cinderella, Raisa Gorbachev. It took a girl from the little town of Rubtsovsk in Altai, southern Siberia, a rather long time to become a princess and then a queen. Her first achievement was her acceptance to the philosophy department at Moscow State University (MGU), the country's most prestigious university. Her second achievement was her marriage to Mikhail Gorbachev, a graduate of the MGU law department and the future leader of the Soviet Union. However, they spent 23 years in the Stavropol territory, southern Russia, Mikhail's homeland, before "moving to the royal palace" in Moscow. Mr. Gorbachev took different senior party posts in Stavropol. Raisa worked as a school teacher and was writing a thesis. A promising politician, Mikhail Gorbachev was sent to work in Moscow in 1976. Nine years later he became General Secretary of the Communist Party's Central Committee and Raisa Gorbachev became the first lady of the Soviet Union. This is when the nation was at first bewildered and later critical of Raisa Gorbachev. The first lady was very energetic, self-confident and well educated. She stood out and sometimes overshadowed her husband. Mrs. Gorbachev was energetically engaged in public activities. She was a board member at the Soviet Culture Foundation and oversaw education and health organizations. Mrs. Gorbachev later headed the Hematologists of the World for Children association that helped children with leukemia... Raisa Gorbachev always seemed to be an equal partner with her husband, while ill wishers demanded that she keep her distance. While Raisa was standing next to Margaret Thatcher (who was a kind of family friend tothe Gorbachevs) and other European and American leaders in photographs and crowds in the West were chanting "Gorbi," dislike of her in Russian society grew. Raisa Gobachev did not seem to notice the envy and malevolence. She always wore elegant and rather bright clothes. She was a woman with a non-Soviet style. Few women in the former Soviet Union could afford to wear such clothes. Mrs. Gorbachev always had an exquisite hairstyle, she had a Hollywood smile and looked like an absolutely happy woman, wife, mother and grandmother. The American first lady, Nancy Reagan, looked sickly compared to Mrs. Gorbachev and therefore had an instinctive dislike for her. Raisa Gorbachev felt like a star, and she was a star so different from other "Kremlin wives" who kept a low profile and whose faces were unknown to the nation. Raisa's smiling face appeared on television and in newspapers. Raisa's fame and position did an ill service to her. "Cinderella" made public appearances and was in the limelight too often. Her luck seemed excessive. Raisa Gorbachev only received public support in August 1991, when she and Mikhail Gorbachev were "besieged" in their Foros residence in the Crimea. Coup leaders attempted to overthrow Mr. Gorbachev at the time. A faithful wife, Raisa did not leave the president, who was kept in captivity at his residence. Mikhail Gorbachev looked noticeably older after Raisa's death. His seeming loveliness concealed his sorrow and loss. His wife was everything to him. Society took an unbiased look at Raisia Gorbachev after her death. Whatever the attitudes to Raisa Gorbachev were when she was alive, post mortem recollections of her were full of belated admiration and warmth.
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