Ai Weiwei Is Making a Monument to Mikhail Gorbachev, the Liberalizing Final Leader of the Soviet Union, in Berlin

The Chinese artist calls the Soviet leader a visionary.

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei attends the announcement of a project for an artistic monument in honor of the final Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, at Borchardt Restaurant in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images.
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei attends the announcement of a project for an artistic monument in honor of the final Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, at Borchardt Restaurant in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is dropping a major hint to the leaders of his home country by creating a monument to Mikhail Gorbachev, a major force in the collapse of the Soviet Union some three decades ago.

“Gorbachev is one of the most important thinkers, visionaries, who helped establish a new possibility for society,” the dissident artist told Reuters, which visited him at his new home in the countryside in Portugal, outside Lisbon.

Gorbachev was the eighth and final head of the Soviet Union, from 1988 to 1991. He worked with President Ronald Reagan on deals to limit nuclear arms and to put an end to the Cold War. His policy of “glasnost,” or openness, increased freedoms of speech and of the press.

“Gorbachev is always symbolic for people seeking freedom,” said Ai, who was imprisoned, beaten, and surveilled by Chinese Communist Party officials in 2011 in retribution for his artworks critiquing the state and his investigations into state malfeasance.

A democratizing Russia could provide a model for Communist China, the artist told Reuters.

“To this day we don’t see anyone like Gorbachev in China,” he said. “But if China doesn’t have political reform like what Gorbachev initiated, there will be no good result of China’s economic development.”

The artist made a preliminary announcement of the monument in Berlin on October 2, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the reunification of Germany.

The monument is in the works for the center of Berlin, the city that was cut in half by the Berlin Wall. The artist is working with Slovene activist Jaka Bizilj’s Cinema for Peace foundation.

Ai Weiwei has continued to indicate his sympathies toward Chinese dissidents, including in his new documentary, Cockroach, which was filmed in Hong Kong at the height of the protests against the Chinese Communist Party’s moves to take away the city’s autonomy.

“I really think I am one of them,” Ai told the Guardian. “They are heroes because they were fighting for democracy and civil society with no real hope that they would achieve their aims.”


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