Gorbachev : Words of Unity

Apr 142005
Authors: Sara Crocker, Joanna Larez

Two decades after the Cold War, and more than one decade after resigning from the highest level of power in Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev urged CSU students and members of the community to continue expanding relationships within the global community.

Gorbachev, assisted by an interpretor, addressed about 8,600 people in Moby Arena Thursday night. About 2,000 additional seats were made available after the overwhelming response to Gorbachev's visit, according to Brad Bohlander, CSU's director of communications and marketing.

Gorbachev, 74, was leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991. Gorbachev was born in the Stavropol province and attended law school at Moscow State University. He joined the Communist party in 1952.

He played a major role in helping improve relations with the West, signing two disarmament agreements and ending communist rule in Eastern Europe.

In 1990, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward ending the Cold War.

CSU President Larry Penley introduced Gov. Bill Owens, who then welcomed Gorbachev. Owens had a special affection for the guest and his country.

Owens has visited Russia more than 20 times, has served as a tour guide and devoted much time to studying the country. After Gorbachev's speech, Owens was pleased with the presentation.

"I have met Putin and Yeltsin," he said. "It was a real honor to meet President Gorbachev. I am old enough to remember that it (Soviet Union) was an Evil Empire."

Owens, like many other people worldwide, has witnessed the evolution of Russia through Gorbachev's leadership. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an Evil Empire, but later developed a friendship with Gorbachev. The Russian attended Reagan's funeral in June 2004.

Improving relations with the rest of the world could be summed up in two words that became synonymous with Gorbachev's policy: perestroika and glasnost. Perestroika, or reconstruction, and glasnost, openness, reflected his desire to end the isolation of the Cold War and reintegrate Eastern Europe with the rest of the global community.

"He has foresight that is so rare," said Dana Daldos, a sophomore history major, who attended the speech. "He's been an agent of history. His views are definitely more mature than Americans experience."

In 1991 Gorbachev resigned from his position as leader of the Soviet Union, the same year the USSR was dissolved.

"We spent almost a century in a totalitarian system," Gorbachev said.

In a press conference prior to the speech, Gorbachev expressed disapproval of the war in Iraq.

"I believe that … more mistakes are being made, including by this administration, and one of those mistakes is the war in Iraq," he said in response to a question about Reagan and his involvement with the Cold War.

Gorbachev and many other countries around the world still are in opposition to the U.S.'s stance on Iraq, even two years later.

"After the war in Iraq, we have seen anti-Americanism growing in Russia and in the world," Gorbachev said. But this does not change his support for America as a leader of the global community.

"We want America to play a very important role."

In the press conference, Gorbachev expressed a pressure to build a stable democracy in Russia in a short amount of time.

"The advantage that does make it possible for the United States to claim leadership is the democratic experience," said Gorbachev. "Despite all the drawbacks and flaws, it's the democratic experience that allows the United States to claim a position of leadership in the world. But it took you 200 years to build this system, and we are just beginning. We've had 10 years or a little more. And you probably think that Russians are so talented that they can succeed in creating democracy in just a few years, the kind of democracy you created in 200 years. But that cannot happen; it's not that simple. We are just like you; it takes time."

Gorbachev recognized that while democracy is necessary, certain growing pains are to be expected as his country transitions from a socialist state. While Americans have been critical of current Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gorbachev recognized that realizing perestroika might take time.

"The government of Russia has taken recently the wrong approach," Gorbachev said. "The government has made some very significant mistakes and the Russian people have reacted to that. I continue to support our president, but I would be disappointed if he used his mandate in his second his term only in order to strengthen his power. That would be a mistake."

The long-term implications of perestroika still linger in his life.

"Had I been given another chance I would take the same risk for my country and for myself," he said.

Since leaving this position, Gorbachev has founded organizations that address social questions.

The International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Structures, or the Gorbachev Foundation, was created in 1992 to examine and educate people about the post-Cold War era and its effects on the rest of the world.

The other organization, Green Cross International, an environmental group that cleans up military toxins, works to create environmental policy and foster an awareness of the environment.

Even during his speech, Gorbachev emphasized environmental awareness. He said that the expansion of free trade had come at cost of sustainable development.

The ceremony began with the Russian and American national anthems and a brief video depicting Gorbachev's accomplishments throughout his life.

"He's history personified," said Kathy Rivera, sophomore political science major. "He's one of the most prominent historical figures of our time."

Although Gorbachev was only slated to speak for half an hour, he spoke for one hour. Rivera said she enjoyed the speech and was not aware that the speech ran long.

Katie Clausen, president of Associated Students of CSU also said she enjoyed the speech despite the length.

"I think he loved being here," Clausen said. "It makes it a lot more memorable for everyone who was here tonight."

The Russian leader was well accepted, even though some may still think some dissention still exists between the U.S. and Russia.

"Too many of us are still in the trenches of the Cold War," Gorbachev said. "Let us leave those trenches."

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