Dear Friends of ELIANT,
"We are all players on board the ship of our earth and we cannot allow it to be destroyed. There will be no second Noah's Ark", said Mikhael Gorbachev in his book Perestroika (restructuring), that he wrote after becoming the general secretary of the communist party in 1985.
The sub-title of his book held great promise: The Second Russian revolution, a new Political Framework for Europe and the World. For the generation that experienced how Gorbachev's words were immediately put into practice, it was little short of a miracle – the Cold War with its remorseless arms race, which for years had held Europe in the grip of fear was brought to an end. The path was then open for a possible re-unification of Germany and a new European order. The soviet state collapsed, restriction-free travel to Russia became possible and enthusiastic Russian tourists could be encountered throughout Europe
When reporting his death on 30th August 2022 the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit called Gorbachev "an exceptional historical phenomenon". While the west profited greatly from Gorbachev's political engagement, in his own country it brought few lasting benefits and at the end of his life he was obliged to watch as the chasm between West and East was deepened and further ripped apart.
How did Gorbachev try to bridge this chasm during his period in office? What was his vision?
In his book Perestroika Gorbachev addressed himself to his compatriots and to citizens across the world with the words: "I have written this book because I believe in your healthy common sense". Building a bridge between East and West, a common European home that is self determining and at peace – that was his vision! And then he opened the gates unbelievably wide. This was so unexpected and sudden that that politicians in Germany and the USA could at first not believe it. Will he really allow the Germans to decide for themselves whether to join the western alliance or after unification to become a neutral state like Austria and Finland – the option which Gorbachev recommended but did not demand? During negotiations in Moscow and the US, Helmut Kohl and his foreign secretary Genscher as well Bush senior and the then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, thought they had not heard aright – he had to repeat himself three times! Only then did they believe that he meant what he said and would grant strategic autonomy to Germany and eastern Europe – unconditionally!
The new way of thinking
He truly wanted the Cold War to end and have no new fronts. He sought a new way of thinking, a form of democratic socialism without enemies, a new social order that would allow the world's peoples and especially European countries to live together peacefully: "The countries and peoples of the world are very diverse and it is good that they are. It is an incentive to compete. If the dialectic unity of opposites is understood, this belongs to the concept of peaceful coexistence".
No more war
He saw that the only way to escape the arms race and the danger of war was to "develop international relations in a more humane way".
His hope was: "If leading politicians could recognise and then implement this approach it would be a great triumph for reason (….) In the approaching 21st century we want freedom to rule everywhere in the world (….) We have set out on this road and encourage other countries and nations to follow suit". He was not deflected from this goal despite all the resistance and humiliation that he met also in his home country, in the years that followed. In 2017 he thus called upon the world once more to "See reason and renounce war!" And again in September 2019 with his best seller What is at stake now – my Appeal for Peace and Freedom. In 2014 his autobiography Everything has its time – my life appeared and in 2001 and 2015 the two books he dedicated to Russia with the hope that his own people could be won over to the new way of thinking.
In his deliberations on Christendom or Europe Novalis wrote: "Just have patience, it will, the holy age of eternal peace must come." The enthusiasm for such an ideal can be experienced with Gorbachev but also patience and the recognition that such a goal can only be reached when it is living and actively realized in many people. In relation to the war in Ukraine such ideals may seem childishly naive. The unbearable consequences of war however demonstrate that an 'exceptional historical phenomenon' like Gorbachev is needed – someone who from a place of inner freedom, decides to step out of the games of power and retribution. Negotiations leading to peace – inspired by human values – then become possible.
In the hope that Mikhail Gorbachev's thoughts regarding our common European home continue to live on.
With warm greetings from the ELIANT Team
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