History is inevitably condensed into the bigger names that feed and shape our world.  In the context of the dissolution of the Soviet state, the names Khrushchev, Gorbachev, Yeltsin come closest to mind.  Behind the scenes, of course, is a breadth of names that shaped their actions and policies, and powerfully guided the course of history.

Matthias Rust is just one example.  A West German pilot, he gained notoriety when, in 1987, he illegally landed his plane a stone’s throw from the Kremlin building in the Red Square.  Gorbachev, who had been elected to power after a quick succession of deaths struck down a line of former Soviet leaders, is creditted for the radical change of the Soviet system from pure authoritarian to that of perestroika and glasnost.  Although his original intent was to change the country’s economic status, Gorbachev ended up decentralizing political power and liberalizing old policies.  As a result, the Soviet systen was dismantled, and the Cold War came to an end.

Matthias Rust’s illegal landing sped up many of Gorbachev’s policies; in fact, Gorbachev took advantage of the incident to fire several officials in the Soviet military, which inevitably reduced the power of the military in Russia.  This greatly aided the end of the Cold War.  

Although Rust’s actions were described as a “humorous prank,” Rust himself described it as an attempt to create a bridge between the East and West, and reduce tension between the two halves of Europe divided by the Iron Curtain.  In any case, without his landing in Moscow, it might have been difficult for Gorbachev to dismiss those officials from power, and the breaking up of the Soviet state may have taken a longer period of time.

In addition to Matthias Rust, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power station incident likewise sped up the road to glasnost.  The leaking of radioactive materials was reported only to a minimal degree within Russia.  This led the public to push for greater freedom and dissemination of information.

The interlocking events of history often act in mysterious ways.  In Rust’s case, his goal of creating a bridge between democracy and communism was met, even if he did have to serve a prison sentence for it. 

A week ago, someone asked me why I find history to be so fascinating.  If you take someone like Matthias Rust and trace his story, and in turn trace the stories of all who shaped Matthias Rust down the line, you have a kaleidoscopic array of names and faces who have given in some shape or form to that momentous event.  History is literally the story of Our People, all of us bound together by the sequence of events that move our world and define where we are today.  I ask you: How can I not find it interesting?

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