England’s Queen Elizabeth II and the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union’s General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, have died within two weeks of each other. Neither figure’s death in and of themselves are likely to lead to any serious political change. The queen served as a figurehead while alive and Charles has taken her place as king. Gorbachev served in a much more serious capacity, overseeing the reforms that would eventually lead to his status as the Soviet Union’s last leader. However, after his death, his legacy within politics became limited to the publication of educational resources and the hosting of forums via his foundation, appearing in commercials and the occasional op-ed piece. For both of these grand figures, the relevance of their deaths is embodied more in their status as symbols.

To some extent, both figures represent the decline of the political entities they oversaw. Queen Elizabeth II witnessed the independence of more than 20 formerly colonized countries while Gorbachev oversaw the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, while Gorbachev represented the possibility of peace between two superpowers, Queen Elizabeth II had come to represent the final rearing of one of the last great imperial powers. Under her rule, the British Empire oversaw the use of concentration camps in Kenya and the South African people’s uprising against the segregation that they had been left with until the 1990s — more than 30 years after their independence from Great Britain.

The Soviet Union was not without its share of abuses. Stalin’s regime saw the death of millions due to starvation, and his arrests and execution of all perceived dissidence and the brutal invasions of countries within the Soviet Union that did not conform to the same model of socialism as Russia would continue after his death. Gorbachev, however, spoke in favor of self-determination for countries within the Soviet Union, most notably for Germany, strongly supporting the reunification of East and West while he was in power.

But, despite Gorbachev’s attempted reforms, he too would fail to bring the Soviet Union the changes that it needed. His reforms would end with the Union’s collapse, culminating in the employment of “shock therapy” under Boris Yeltsin, the first post-Soviet Russian leader, and lead to the collapse of the Soviet economy and to massive inflation. The degradation of the British Empire left many of its former colonies reeling from the effects of the oppression that they were subjected to. For example, the extractivist economic model that colonialism left behind in Africa continues to both harm developing African economies and prevent ecologically sustainable development. Both leaders represent the collapse of political entities that ultimately could not be sustained.

A difference worth noting, however, is that Gorbachev worked toward ensuring that the inevitable end to the Cold War would be peaceful and continued to advocate against nuclear weapons for decades after his removal from power. In contrast, although the queen expressed some displeasure with Margaret Thatcher’s refusal to sanction South Africa, the queen rarely expressed any sympathy at all toward the countries affected negatively by British imperialism. On these issues, Gorbachev stood the most in contrast with the queen as relatively progressive compared to a traditionalist.

While the Soviet Union is long gone, the monarchy is still very much intact. However, the last few decades have seen a surge of anti-monarchist sentiment even within England. Heightened by Prince Andrew’s association with Jeffery Epstein, Republican protests erupted in England following the Queen’s death, with protestors in Oxford chanting, “Who elected him?” in regard to the newly appointed King Charles III. The Queen represented an institution that is gradually losing its popular mandate, as the English people become disenamored with even symbolically autocratic institutions, as was the case with the Soviet Union that Gorbachev inherited.

The deaths of both these leaders represent the end of political entities who dominated the course of the past two centuries. The fallout, attributable to their expansion and collapse, is still tangible today as evidenced by the domination by oligarchs, autocratic rule in Russia, the economic turmoil and continued economic exploitation in England’s former colonies. They represent the end of the 21st century, the shift into our new postmodern present and, to some degree, a shift away from previous ideas surrounding leadership established long ago.

Desmond Keuper is a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law.