BERLIN (AP) — Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose reforms emphasizing change and openness helped lead to the fall of Communism, says he sees today's protests in Egypt as "well-grounded and of vital importance."
"I am on the protesters' side," the 80-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The comments came during the third straight day of violent clashes in Cairo between protesters and security forces. Demonstrators are calling for a "second revolution" to force out the generals who have failed to stabilize the country, salvage the economy or bring democracy since the ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
More broadly, Gorbachev said that leaders across the Arab world are now faced with rising calls for democracy because they have been in power for too long, and have created situations where people's voices have not been not heard.
"It's clear no one provoked them, that this conflict appeared out of the blue," Gorbachev said of the demonstrators. "Things were building up, and it all means that democracy — the way they had it — did not really work."
He said, however, that there was not any one-size-fits-all solution for the region.
"I don't think there will be a single model for all (the protests) developing in those countries..." he said. "Each country has its own history, culture, experience — you can't ignore that."
Gorbachev, whose policies of perestroika and glasnost brought the democratic changes that led — against his will — to the 1991 Soviet collapse, was in Berlin to announce that the city would host the 2012 awards that bear his name.
The Mikhail Gorbachev Award, which is given to people who bring change to the world, will this year focus on addressing the sustainability of the world's megacities and be presented in March.
He said Russian democracy is now facing a problem with Vladimir Putin, who served two terms as president before becoming prime minister. He is running again for the presidency in the country's upcoming March election and seems certain to be returned to office.
"No matter how it formally fits the constitution, it essentially discredits democratic principles," Gorbachev said.
He said that Russia is still "very far from becoming a country with a developed, rooted democracy" and what is needed is for leaders who truly represent the people to be elected, versus those who "act based on corporate ideas and interests."
"If a true democracy (emerges) in Russia, people who enjoy respect will come to power," he said. "People who can play the role of leaders, and who can defend and express the interests of the people."
He cautioned, however, that day may still be some time in coming.
"Russia is in the middle of its way to sustainable and effective democracy," he said. "Churchill was right by saying that democracy is not the best form of government, but the rest of them are even worse."
Associated Press Writer Mansur Mirovalev contributed to this report from Moscow.