President Mikhail Gorbachev celebrated his 60th birthday Saturday with little of the official adulation accorded previous Soviet leaders. Some of the "greetings," in fact, were downright irreverent.
There was no mention of the anniversary in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda, a marked contrast to the old Soviet Union in which leaders' birthdays were occasions for fawning praise on the front pages of the official newspapers.Rabochaya Tribuna, the communist workers' paper, did carry a fairly traditional birthday greeting to Gorbachev on its front page Saturday and printed several letters from readers praising the Soviet president.
But the liberal evening newspaper Vechernaya Moskva used the occasion to poke fun at Gorbachev with a not-too-reverent look at years past - something unthinkable before Gorbachev's glasnost reforms.
The paper's Friday evening edition was dominated by a box at the top of the the front page with brief excerpts of Gorbachev speeches, beginning in 1972 when he praised the "advances" of the Soviet economy under Leonid Brezhnev during what is now commonly referred to as the "era of stagnation."
At Gorbachev's ascension to power in 1985, the new Communist Party general secretary was shown painting a rosy picture of what he called the "highly developed" economy and declaring the "biggest social problems have been resolved."
The obvious contrast was drawn to current assessments of the Soviet economy, which, ruined by 70 years of communism, is in a dangerous downward spiral.
Vechernaya Moskva illustrated the shift from Gorbachev's optimism before he took power to his current gloomy speeches with three pictures. The first shows a youthful-looking Gorbachev and wife Raisa. The second depicts the Soviet leader dwarfed by a huge bust of Vladimir Lenin at the Kremlin.
The final picture shows a tired and dejected-looking Gorbachev, holding his hands to his head as if fighting a migraine headache.