A Real Independent Man

By Emily Gold Boutilier / November / December 2003
June 21st, 2007
In a September 29 Ogden Lecture delivered under an enormous white canopy on Lincoln Field, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev decried the use of “preventive wars” and the “ousting of certain regimes” as a substitute for dialogue. He recalled a 1963 speech by President John F. Kennedy urging the nation away from a pax Americana imposed by military force. “It would seem that he said that a week ago, a month ago, not forty years ago,” Gorbachev said to applause from the crowd of 1,500.

Still, Gorbachev criticized those who want no part in rebuilding Iraq. At a news conference earlier that day, Gorbachev had said that stabilizing Iraq was in the entire world’s interest.

The last leader of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev introduced the reforms that resulted in its breakup: perestroika, a program of economic and government restructuring; and glasnost, which expanded freedom of expression. His strong relationship with President Ronald Reagan led to two disarmament agreements, and Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

Speaking through a translator, he began his talk by acknowledging Watson Institute professor Sergei Khrushchev, the son of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, whom Gorbachev credited with the first attempts to end Stalinism.

Gorbachev said he’d expected the end of the Cold War to lessen the polarization between rich and poor countries, “but after ten years,” he observed, “we see that there is more poverty and a larger gap.” Economic globalization in the 1980s and early 1990s did help the spread of democracy, he argued, but the public has become disillusioned with the machinations of politicians, bureaucracies, and corporations. Gorbachev warned that many people around the world are losing faith in the possibility of change through democratic means. “I agree with those who say the problem is not too much democracy, but too little,” he said.

After his speech Gorbachev flew to New York City, where the Brown Club of New York presented him with its annual Independent Award.

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November / December 2003