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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10434

Mr ANDREWS (5:35 PM) —Tonight I would like to pay tribute to Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of Mikhail Gorbachev, who died from leukemia at Munster in Germany just three days ago. Raisa Gorbachev accompanied her husband, the former leader of the USSR, on most of his journeys abroad, latterly on lecture tours for his Moscow think tank, the Gorbachev Foundation. The last public function she attended before her illness was discovered was in May of this year when she attended a lecture that Mr Gorbachev gave here at Parliament House. Raisa Gorbachev broke the mould of Soviet leaders' wives, who tended to be seen only at their husbands' funerals. Mrs Gorbachev refused to fade into the background. She was a constant presence beside her husband, and that physical proximity spoke volumes for the closeness of their relationship over 48 years. In a society in which there is no romantic tradition, companionate marriage is a novelty. Pravda was deeply shocked when Mikhail Gorbachev first confirmed on American television in 1987 that he discussed everything with his wife, including the highest affairs of state, and they cut out the offending lines.

Raisa Gorbachev was born the eldest of three children to the Titorenko family in Rubtsovsk in Siberia. Her father was a Ukrainian railway construction worker. His employment meant that the family was itinerant and she went to school in different parts of the country. She was an extremely bright and assiduous student, receiving a gold medal in her final school year. She entered Moscow University in 1949 at the age of 17, where she met Mikhail Gorbachev in 1951. They married two years later. She accompanied her husband to Stavropol in southern Russia, where he began his political career in 1955. Their only child, Irina, was born in 1957.

During the 1960s she did sociological research on the Russian peasantry, for which she was awarded a candidate of sciences degree—the Russian equivalent of a PhD. She taught in various institutes, particularly the Stavropol Agricultural Institute, rising to the rank of associate professor. She was a thoroughly modern Russian woman in combining work and family life. She wrote in her book I Hope, published in 1991:

For me work was not just a means of earning money. It was also a cause without which I would have thought my life was a failure.

She did much to enhance her husband's image in the West because of her stylishness and her intelligence, but this of course was used against him in Russia where she was deeply resented for the same reasons. Myths sprang up that she went on credit card spending sprees and bought all her clothes in Paris. At the time of the credit card story she did not know what one was, and her dressmaker was in fact in Moscow.

She suffered badly when she and her husband were detained by the putschists in August 1991, temporarily losing the power of speech and becoming paralysed in one arm. During her husband's years in power and after the collapse of the Soviet Union she was active in raising millions of dollars for good causes. Ironically, one of these good causes was for children suffering from leukemia—the disease she was suddenly struck down with earlier this year. It was only when she became ill that the Russian popular opinion began to shift in her favour. True of their relationship to the last, Mikhail Gorbachev remained at her side constantly from the time she was admitted to hospital in the middle of July. I can think of no better testimony to the strength of marriage than Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all honourable members in extending our sympathy to Mr Gorbachev and his family.