Gorbachev, the man who changed the world

Nov 6 2014

By Federico Mayor Zaragoza*

Twenty-five years ago the initial dismantling commenced at the Berlin Wall, that symbol of cold war, separation and confrontation for over twenty-eight years. And with its fall, shortly thereafter, the immense Soviet empire was transformed practically overnight into a Commonwealth of Independent States, whose member countries began a long march toward achieving public liberties? And all of this was accomplished without shedding even one drop of blood, thanks to Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, the ?magician of the unexpected?.

I had the opportunity to closely observe his formidable capacity for creating and putting perestroika and glasnost into practice, appearing on television with actresses, actors, singers and athletes who were well-known in and outside of the USSR. In addition to this effective awareness-raising campaign, Gorbachev entrusted the great Kyrgyzstani dissident writer Chinguiz Aitmatov with the task of organizing the Issyk-Kul Forum that included a dozen well-known international figures from literature, science and the arts, including Arthur Miller, Alvin Toffler, Alexander King, Claude Simon, James Baldwin, Augusto Forti, Zulfu Livanelly, and which I had the honor of presiding from October, 1986 to 1992 when the Forum considered that the task for which it was created had been achieved.

We met later numerous times, particularly at the Green Cross Foundation and the World Political Forum in Geneva, both of which Gorbachev founded. In 2011, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, an extraordinary and massively-attended celebration was held at London?s Albert Hall.

In this spacious venue there was a large banner that read ?The Man Who Changed the World?. I think it is worth remembering what he was able to accomplish between 1985 and 1992. But let?s also remember what he has continued to persistently demand concerning world governance, priorities and the re-founding of the United Nations?

During the long-standing arms race the superpowers have accumulated immense arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, overshadowing and undermining all of the other excellent projects that had been developed at the end of World War II. President Ronald Reagan took this potential for confrontation to galactic levels. With Republicans dominating Congress, the Pentagon provided the most effective war machines ever. Those leaders failed to learn the lesson of a system that, based on equality, had forsaken liberty and decided under its new leadership to change the course of events of the latter part of the century and millennium. We could have expected that the United States, based on liberty but having evidently forsaken equality ?and both justice? would also change its course.

But instead of contributing to a ?new beginning? with its own transformation, its ambition for domination intensified and democratic principles were replaced by the laws of the marketplace, and the United Nations system for groups of oligarchs from the 6, 7, 8? or 20 wealthiest countries.

Production was also outsourced and certain plutocracies continued to be favored over the democracy that the UN demands from the very first sentence of its Charter: ?We, the Peoples? have determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war?. ?The Peoples?, not the states or governments.

In 1989 everything pointed to peace, everything pointed to change. Together with the rare transformation of the Soviet Union, there was the exemplary lesson from President Nelson Mandela, who after 27 years in prison and with his policy of conciliation and outstretched arms was able to quickly eradicate the odious racism of Apartheid. The peace process in Mozambique ended in success. And another point of reference is El Salvador, because today the constitutional president of the country is the former leader of the Farabundo Mart? National Liberation Front, Salvador S?nchez Cer?n. And in Costa Rica, where as Director General of UNESCO and at the behest of Secretary General Javier P?rez de Cu?llar I reinitiated the peace process in Guatemala, begun by the President of the Esquipula?s Accords Vinicio Cerezo?

Everything pointed to conciliation and a change of course. The reunification of the two Germanies should have given us reason for reflection. But instead of promoting concord and agreement among the protagonists of 9-N, the neoliberals continued to calmly promote their ambitious agenda.

In that regard I remember a phone call from German Chancellor Genscher who wanted the Director General of UNESCO to accompany him on his first visit to East Germany, where he intended to visit Halle, the city of his birth. That was the Luftwaffe?s first flight to Leipzig? And from there, after a quick look at the areas best known for their Bauhaus architecture, as was to be expected, he visited his birthplace unaccompanied. We returned discussing the role of a reunited Germany in the invention of a ?new Europe?, as recommended by one of its most lucid founders, Robert Schuman, in 1949.

But this has not been achieved. The union is a monetary, not a political one. The European Union?s excellent Charter of Fundamental Rights, adopted in 2000, has now been forgotten? and by way of Germany the markets have imposed their rules of conduct, having the audacity to impose governments upon Italy and Greece (the cradle of democracy) without holding elections.

On November 9 in Berlin the leaders at that time (Mikhail Gorvachev, Genscher,?) and the present ones will evoke that moment that could have been a crucial turning point. I truly hope that they firmly rectify the attitudes that then progressively eroded democracy in favor of plutocracy, placing the reins of the destiny of mankind in so few hands.

But very soon, the power of citizens will prevail. For the first time in history, people can at last express themselves freely, be aware what is really happening in the world as a whole and progressively rely on the participation of women, the cornerstone of this ?new beginning?. Democracy and not plutocracy will provide the rationale and motivation, genuine democracy at the international, regional, local and personal level. I sincerely hope that the effects that 9-N failed to have in 1989, when everything pointed to peace and change, can finally be realized from this moment forward.

(And I take this opportunity to express my wish that ?the other November 9? may serve to choose an increased level of self-government, typical of a well-designed federal system in which walls are torn down rather than erected. The best way to fulfill the Constitution?s mandates is to adapt it when necessary. On 9-N the Berlin wall fell as the result of much wisdom and foresight. That is how the government could even further promote Spain?s fantastic diversity, instead of adopting the role of a passive and imperative spectator.)

*Spanish scientist, scholar, politician, diplomat and poet. Chairman of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace. He served as Director-General of UNESCO from 1987 to 1999. Article provided by the author

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