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Gorbachev calls for global restructuring

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By Roger Snodgrass

SANTA FE – Mikhail Gorbachev gave a lecture and held a press conference here Monday about saving the world – “one step at a time.”Winston Churchill memorably called the Russia of the “iron curtain” and the gulag archipelagos “a riddle  wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” But there was very little of the mysterious about the former President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Apart from the signature red birthmark above his forehead and a flicker of a Mona Lisa smile, he seemed as real and planted as a boxer ready to go another round.As it happened, there was a humanist wrapped inside the riddle, living proof that an individual could make a difference in the world.“I don’t believe history is preordained,” he said. “It is made by real people.”In his talk and answers to questions, he enfolded the themes of peace and security, glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) that were central to his career and place in history.“Perestroika means overcoming the stagnation process, breaking down the braking mechanism, creating a dependable and effective mechanism for acceleration of social and economic progress, and giving it greater dynamism,” he wrote in his book on the subject.His analysis of the social paralysis of his country in the moribund age of his predecessors led to two breakthrough disarmament treaties in negotiations with President Reagan.Gorbachev acknowledged that the two leaders thought poorly of each other at the beginning.“Reagan was at the very right wing of American politics,” he said. “As someone said, beyond that is the lunatic fringe.” In return, Reagan called him “a die-hard Bolshevik.”But after their second day of talks, they agreed that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”Together, they came to an historic conclusion.“We declared the Cold War was over,” Gorbachev said. They went on to fulfill what many thought was an impossible dream, a treaty that backed away from the nuclear abyss.At the same time, Gorbachev added, “Only a small part of those expectations were fulfilled.”In calling for renewed courage and change, the former soviet leader and winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize spoke of new global challenges, and new sources of tension, including American military buildups and imperial ambitions that threatened the world’s security.He called attention to the have-not nations who have lost out in the globalizing economy, now visible in food riots, environmental degradation, water conflicts and forced migrations around the world.“This is a time bomb,” he said.Finally, he pointed to global climate change, as serious a set of problems as any other in the world right now.These are all matters he said that would not be solved without the courage to bring about real change.“There are too many promises and declarations, and too little action,” he said.Action would require a strong stand by people of civil society, he said, as well as international dialogue and some form of global governance – not international governance –leadership, not force; partnerships, not pressure. In his introduction, Gov. Bill Richardson praised Gorbachev for having led “the most significant and peaceful democratic transition in history.”Richardson quoted from Russian novelist Tatyana Tolstaya profile in Time magazine about the 1.5 million Russians who voted for Gorbachev in the 1996 elections, even though he didn’t have a chance against Boris Yeltsin. Gorbachev’s supporters were, she wrote, “people who hadn’t forgotten that bright if short period of time when the chains fell one afer another, when every day brought greater freedom and hope, when life acquired meaning and prospects, when it even seemed, people loved one another and felt that a general reconciliation was possible.”The lecture at the Lensic Theater of Performing Arts and a fundraising reception were hosted by Kathleen and Gerald Peters and the Peters Art Foundation on behalf of the Santa Fe Institute.Gorbachev began an American speaking tour with his first visit to New Mexico.