All families fight even the Gorbachevs, feuding with pop star over house, mom

November 22, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

PRIVOLNOYE, Russia -- Even Andrei Razin's friends say they don't quite understand what the former pop singer and promoter was up to when he bought the four-room house of Mikhail S. Gorbachev's 82-year-old mother.

The saga of his ownership, the conflict it aroused, and the suspicion that Mr. Gorbachev's younger brother may have pocketed the proceeds of the sale has been strange and provocative. There is even a hint of greater scandal: that young Razin may be an embarrassing relative.

And as with so much that goes on in Russia, the antagonists see conspiracies against them.

Mr. Gorbachev, who was more than a little miffed to find this impulsive and flamboyant young man rummaging around in his family's affairs, says he thinks the whole episode is a setup concocted by his political enemies.

Mr. Razin, who says he only wanted to find a quiet country home and help an old woman at the same time, now claims there are plots against his life.

And the former Soviet leader's mother, Maria Panteleyevna Gorbacheva, today is in a Moscow hospital. (Like almost all Russian women, she uses the feminine form for her last name.)

But her ducks, her dog Charlik, her oak furniture and her many framed photos of the one-time leader of the Soviet empire remain here, where she left them, waiting for her to return to a house that's no longer hers.

There's some mystery to this. Why did Mr. Razin decide last spring to buy this house? Why did he agree to allow Mrs. Gorbacheva to continue living in it? And why on Earth did he try in September to get himself appointed her legal guardian?

That was too much for Mr. Gorbachev, who made one of his rare visits to the village where he was born and grew up. Furious with Mr. Razin, who he thought was trying to embarrass him, Mr. Gorbachev told his younger brother, Alexander, to arrange for their mother to come to Moscow.

"I am not going to give the house of my parents to anybody," he said at the time.

But now Mr. Razin lives in the house. He has already installed a new kitchen, with dark red laminated cabinets and Whirlpool appliances. Out back, he keeps a pit bull terrier, although well away from Charlik.

Mrs. Gorbacheva, he says, is welcome to come back when her health improves.

But for now, this is where the 30-year-old entrepreneur conducts his business and plots his campaign for the governorship of Stavropol district. Here he and his friends drink champagne beneath the serious gaze of Mikhail S. Gorbachev and his photogenic wife, Raisa.

Misha Gorbachev, as everyone here knows him, was born in Privolnoye, a dusty farm village in the warm, fertile south of Russia, in 1931.

His father and his grandfather were both dedicated Communists, and in 1949, the young Misha was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor for doing an outstanding job driving a combine. He left Privolnoye the next year.

By the early 1960s, his mother had settled into a new, one-story house, white with light-blue trim, on Shkolnaya Street (or School Street). There was nothing fancy about it, but it was solid and had indoor plumbing.

Here she raised ducks and chickens and grew grapes and chrysanthemums. She kept a well-trimmed hedge out front. There, Alexander Gorbachev, or Sasha, who is 16 years younger than his brother Mikhail, was born.

"Sasha's simpler than Misha," says next-door neighbor Raisa Kratenko, who played with him when they were both children. "He was the younger brother, and she loved him more. I think they were closer.

At one time, a KGB guard had occupied a booth across the street from the house. There was talk of a Gorbachev monument or museum in Privolnoye. But Mr. Gorbachev's political stock fell drastically in 1991 and has collapsed since.

And here, all is quiet again.

In recent years, as Mrs. Gorbacheva's high blood pressure and arthritis worsened, Mrs. Kratenko began stopping by every day to look after her.

Then, a year ago, Sasha, now a bureaucrat in Moscow, came down for a visit and broke his leg. He spent five months living with his mother, recuperating.

It was right after that that the house was sold.

Mysterious sale

Today, Sasha is back in Moscow, and he won't talk about what has happened. "I'm sick and tired of the whole business," he said on the telephone, bringing the conversation to a quick close.

Among the many questions is this one: Official records show that Andrei Razin bought the house at No. 1 Shkolnaya for 30,000 rubles, or about $30. Even in Privolnoye, houses sell for more than that. Rumor has it that he actually paid about 6 million rubles.

On this issue, too, Alexander Gorbachev doesn't want to talk to the press, but the village gossips assume most of the money went his way.

For several months, his mother denied that she had sold the house at all, Mrs. Kratenko says, but finally admitted it.

But who was this buyer?

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