UC Irvine was very honored to host former President Mikhail Gorbachev to be the inaugural recipient of UCI’s Citizen Peacebuilding Award. This award, named in Mr. Gorbachev’s honor in perpetuity, recognizes the tremendous impact he has had on world peace. Mikhail Gorbachev served as leader of the Soviet Union from 1985-1991. He is world-renowned and admired for streamlining and decentralizing the oppressive system he inherited. In an effort to secure relations with the West, Gorbachev signed two broad disarmament pacts, and ended Communist rule in Eastern Europe. He taught the world two new words: perestroika (governmental restructuring) and glasnost (political openness). As a result of his extraordinary achievements, Gorbachev was the recipient of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.
Mr. Gorbachev was a guest of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding (formerly know as the Citizen Peacebuilding Program in the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies at UC Irvine) in partnership with Global Green USA, (the U.S. Affiliate of Green Cross International).
Since 1997, it has been the mission of the Citizen Peacebuilding Program to help citizens seek realistic ways to improve human conditions locally and globally. The Center for Citizen Peacebuilding's activities aim to prevent violent conflict and, if violence occurs, to promote reconciliation and sustainable peace. The Center engages in research, education, and action supporting citizen participation in public peace processes. The integration of all three is especially important to the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding's program in promoting knowledge about positive models for change and fostering constructive public debate.
The Center for Citizen Peacebuilding is one example of UCI’s response to the growing problems of conflict and violence. Turning research into action, the UCI program takes an integrated approach to studying the best grassroots peacebuilding methods in both domestic and international conflicts, and utilizes those findings in direct engagement in peacebuilding projects in selected communities in Northern Ireland and the former Soviet Union, as well as in neighborhoods in southern California.
“The Road to a Sustainable Environment and a Safer World: A Call for Global Glasnost”
By President Mikhail Gorbachev
Leader of the Soviet Union 1985-1991
Nobel Peace Prize Winner, 1990
University of California, Irvine, March 23, 2004
Introduction by Chancellor Ralph J. Cicerone: We are privileged to have with us the former president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, who is recognized as one of the foremost statesmen and leaders for global peace in the 20th century. And President Gorbachev continues, through different avenues, to have exceptional impact on the world into the current century.
Mikhail Gorbachev was president of the Soviet Union from 1985-1991 instituting sweeping reforms that streamlined and decentralized the governmental system in that country. He oversaw two broad disarmament pacts and the end to Communist rule in Eastern Europe. He also taught us the meaning of the words “perestroika” for government restructuring, and “glasnost” for political openness. He did this by making them more than words, but the very successful agents of social and political change in his country. For these and his many other achievements, he received the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.
Since leaving political office, President Gorbachev has devoted his efforts to organizations concerned with global issues, including Green Cross International and its U.S. counterpart Global Green. These are groups who assist people affected by the environmental consequences of wars and other violence. And he is also president of the Gorbachev Foundation.
I am very pleased that Mikhail Gorbachev accepted my invitation to come to UC Irvine and to be the first recipient of the UCI Citizen Peacebuilding Award. There is great admiration throughout the world for his realistic approach to achieving peace and disarmament. He is working to spread the message of a secure, sustainable environment for all of us as human beings who must do what we can to safeguard the Earth and its interrelated systems for future generations.
The Citizen Peacebuilding Program at UCI is an example of using research, education and public discussion as constructive ways to address the growing problems of conflict and violence, whether it’s around the world, or in our own Southern California neighborhoods.
There are many correlations between the goals of the Citizen Peacebuilding Program and the work President Gorbachev is doing, and we hope this historic event will bring those connections into clearer focus.
It is an additional honor for us to welcome President Gorbachev’s daughter Irina Virganskaya to UCI. She works within the Gorbachev Foundation heading up the Raisa Gorbachev Club, which performs charitable activities, mainly for needy children, in Russia. We are very glad for the opportunity to meet Ms. Virganskaya as well.
Now it’s time to hear from President Gorbachev who will give us his views about “The Road to a Sustainable Environment and a Safer World.” Please welcome President Mikhail Gorbachev…
President Mikhail Gorbachev: This is a good subject, an important subject, and every point that one wants to make requires at least the half hour that you have given me for the entire speech. So I will try to be brief, and you will be able to ask any questions if you want me to elaborate on some of those points. My friend Federico Mayor, the former Director General of UNESCO said that there was a diplomat in UNESCO representing an African country and when we asked him to be brief, he came out to speak and said only, “Thank you.” When he was then asked to speak a little more extensively – a big speech, he responded with, “Thank you very much.” Don’t expect me to be that brief. I will be longer.
So, a sustainable environment and a safe world: I first wanted to say based on my knowledge and based on the evaluations and estimations of scientists, that perhaps the most significant point is that we are in a world that is changing more and more rapidly. The pace of change is creating a tremendous stress, tremendous pressure on society, on politics, on the emotions, and on the minds of the human beings. We are not robots. We perceive everything that is happening around us, and the world that is changing so rapidly is creating a tremendous pressure and stress on us and on our environment.
It is now very clear that there is a gap between these accelerating processes and our readiness to live in a global and rapidly changing world. The policy makers are lagging behind the events and that’s why we are unhappy with politics and the politicians. The intellectual leaders and the intellectual centers are also behind the times, lagging behind the pace of change. That is why there is so much concern and alarm in the world. I see that in various countries that I visit. I spend about half of any given year traveling abroad and going to various conferences, seminars, and discussions. The world really is concerned and alarmed and people are asking what is in store for us, what does the future hold.
The most predominant characteristic of the world today, particularly since the final decades of the 20th Century, is globalization. After the end of the Cold War, this process became unprecedented in its rapidity, and also in its being totally blind and uncontrolled. As a result, the hopes of the international community that the resources released after the end of the Cold War could be used to address the problems that have made our world such a difficult place, have not been fulfilled. Even though the resources that were released were quite considerable and could have made the lives of many people in the world much better, the advantages of globalization, which has been mostly a spontaneous process, have mostly gone to those that had better starting conditions, that is to say, the more advanced countries. As a result, what we wanted to do, to implement major programs to fight poverty and backwardness and narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, those programs have not been implemented. Thus, the gap has grown between the rich and the poor countries and also between the rich and the poor even in the rich countries.
Another important characteristic, the third characteristic of the world today again a result of globalization, is the interdependence and interconnectedness of the world. The world has become more sensitive to what is happening anywhere in the world, in different parts of the world, in the spheres of the economy and finance, the environment, and also the phenomenon of terrorism that has become an international, a global problem. Certainly I have to say that we see this also in the sphere of information and telecommunications. So, the world today contains both problems that we inherited from the past and these new problems.
Summarizing those problems one can say that the world of the 21st Century is facing three main challenges. The first is the challenge of security including the problem of weapons of mass destruction and their proliferation and the problem of terrorism, which has become, as I said, a global problem. Second is the challenge of poverty and backwardness, against the background of the fact that the developed world, that is to say 20% of the population of the world today, consumes of 80% of the world’s resources. Also, the degradation of the environment has now become a third global problem, a global threat. Only one-third of the population of the world lives in decent conditions, conditions worthy of a human being, while all the others survive on $1 to $2 a day. So this is the interconnected world in which we live. We are learning to live in this world. I cannot say that we are learning well. We have wasted a lot of time. We have not used the opportunities opened up by the end of the Cold War.
So how do we address those challenges? Take the challenge of security. The problems of security are real. Should we address those problems by means of rejecting international law, rejecting the United Nations, rejecting the UN Security Council, by acting unilaterally instead of through dialogue and cooperation, by supplanting preventive diplomacy with preemptive strikes? The ideologues of this approach and some politicians are proposing the slogan of a new empire, an American empire. It seems that this slogan has been rejected by most people. People indeed show their surprise that this is being imposed now when we have not yet dealt with the consequences of the previous empires, the previous colonial empires. Now a new empire?
When I attended the 75th anniversary of Time Magazine I was one of the keynote speakers. I spoke second to the last. After me President Clinton spoke and I heard something that he said that affected me and I was not indifferent to what he said. By the way, we are in contact. We meet and we discuss things, etc. But he did say on that occasion that the 20th Century became an American Century and with God’s help let us make the 21st Century another American Century. I asked then what about all the others? What remains for Russia, China, India, Europe and others? I was amazed that this was being proposed.
I responded with an article that I sent to Time Magazine and that article was called, “Rethinking John Kennedy.” I recalled John Kennedy’s speech that he made a few months before his assassination. That speech is something that many people remember. At American University in Washington DC he said, “Those who think that the peace of the future will be a pax Americana are mistaken. Either it’s going to be a peace for all or there will be no peace at all.” I think that was indeed a prophetic phrase. No country, no group of countries can impose on the world its dictates in attempt to dominate the world. An attempt to create a new empire, maybe even conceived as a good empire, is similar to the claim of communists to the pretension of communists making the world happy through a communist revolution. It seems that we are not learning from the mistakes of ourselves or from the mistakes of others. It seems almost like “Been there, done that.”
I think that the crisis of ideas, the crisis of evaluations, the crisis of predictions of scenarios, this is something that we’re seeing particularly during the Iraqi crisis. I characterize the military action against Iraq that was started without the mandate from the United Nations and against the will of the overwhelming majority of the international communities as a big mistake; and that is what I still believe. The proponents of military action said that as a result of it, not only would the dangerous, dictatorial regime be toppled (and that indeed happened), but that there would be a radical change for the better throughout the Middle East. It turned out that this analysis was erroneous.
I said at that time, based on many years of experience in international affairs and international conflict and also in the study of the processes in the world: “It is very obvious that America will defeat Iraq. There is absolutely no doubt that it will. It would be very strange if the country that concentrates 50% of the world’s military power were not able militarily to deal with a backward country that was being militarily blockaded and economically blockaded. That’s clear. But, what will be the consequences I ask? What comes next?” There was no answer and there is still no answer. It seems that now the way to go is to find a way to rid the country of occupation because the Iraqi people do not accept occupation. Also, how to enable the soldiers who are there, and many of them die practically everyday, how to enable their return?
We of course were hoping, or the proponents of this military action were hoping that this military invasion would fundamentally change the equation in the Middle East and would particularly help to fight terrorism, this dangerous disease, this dangerous scourge of the world. Instead we see that there is more terrorism and that the problem has become even more grave everywhere.
I welcome the fact that currently the U.S. administration and other countries intend to move more rapidly to make the situation better by means of adopting a constitution, by means of creating a sovereign government in Iraq to make sure the Iraqis govern their country themselves and resolve their own problems. I want this process to succeed. I want this process to move faster. I believe that any person who is clear-headed thinks that no one wants this situation to become even more severe or for the situation to become even more dangerous.
Let me add to this. The military planners when they began this action, of course, had certain things in mind. But let us see what actually happened. What happened is that a lot of harm has been done to international law. A lot of harm has been done to the relations between the major powers. Although I must say that even during this difficult period, even during this crisis in international relations, major powers were able to maintain dialogue. Even though that dialogue was sometimes rather sharp; it continued. That’s important and that’s why it is possible now to continue the discussion even though the approaches to this problem are still different. But again this was a major blow and has done a lot of harm to international relations. It was a big and very damaging blow.
People are now wondering if the only remaining superpower wants to engage in preemptive strikes and to do that on the basis of unilateral decisions. This could affect any country and this has given an impetus to the arms race, and some may want to develop absolute weapons. I am not surprised that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has recently said that the world is more dangerous, that the world is closer to the possibility of a nuclear conflict than before. Is this what we wanted? The situation has become more, rather than less, dangerous.
As a result of all of this, it has become more difficult to find responses to the other global challenges that I have mentioned. Those challenges are interconnected. They cannot be wished away. They are all interconnected very, very closely. If we address the problem of overcoming poverty and backwardness based on the traditional outdated approach, that is to say by consuming more and more resources, by actually making society even more consumerist, and by making even the rest of the world more consumerist, we may totally destroy the environment.
Even today, the human pressure on the environment is at a critical level. To characterize the problem, let me give you a few numbers. At the beginning of the 20th Century the population of the world was 1.6 billion people. At the end of the 20th Century the world had more than 6 billion people. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the annual gross domestic product in the world was $90 billion. At the end of the 20th Century this was the amount of GDP produced in one day. That is to say production grew 365 times. That means tremendous pressure on nature. At the beginning of the 20th Century we consumed 300 cubic kilometers of water per year. At the end of the Century we consumed 4,000 cubic kilometers of water. So those are the parameters of the problem. That is the kind of pressure that we are exerting on nature and we feel how the environment is being destroyed.
The symptoms of this overload are everywhere – in the process of climate change and global warming, in the deficit of fresh water in many parts of the world, in desertification, and in the pollution of the oceans. This has truly become a global problem. A person who has dedicated his life to problems of security, of nuclear weapons, nuclear non-proliferation, Hans Blix, a person who is probably well-known to you, has recently said something that sounded rather paradoxical. Actually, I was surprised to hear this from a person who spends his life on military issues. He said that he was more concerned now, not by the problems of war and peace, but by the problems of the environment, particularly by global warming.
There are also expert opinions of scientists who are close to the U.S. Administration. One of your professors here, Sherwood Rowland, a Nobel prize winner in chemistry, has given me a scientific report, a report that’s not political; a scientific report which I believe is also very important because it contains the science on this issue. Another report that I had mentioned here that was submitted to the Administration and that has been recently leaked to the media says that the climate processes that are developing now within the next twenty years will lead to major floods and to the humanitarian disasters on a global scale, and inevitably they could result in military conflicts. The authors of that report gave the following scenario. As a result of environmental catastrophes, the reserves of energy, food, and fresh water will shrink so much that the governments of many countries could use weapons of mass destruction in order to protect those resources.
So this is how all of these challenges interconnect – the challenge of security, the challenge of the environment, and the challenge of poverty and backwardness. So I tried to outline rather briefly the urgency of these challenges and also the connection between them. In order to respond to these challenges, in order to implement the necessary decisions, we must provide some kind of governance to the world. I’m speaking of global governance rather than “world government.” Certainly world government is not our goal, it’s a utopian objective and we should not waste our time on it. The fact is that we do need governance where very often we see just a blind, spontaneous process. And it is governance precisely, this kind of governance that is lacking in the world today.
Let me illustrate this again by environmental problems. The international community took some very important decisions at the Earth Summit in Rio and at the Johannesburg Summit, but they are not working and not much is changing. After all, these summits were the highest authorities because those were the meetings of the top leaders of nations; and it appears that those decisions are just a “dead letter.” There is the Kyoto Protocol on reducing atmospheric pollution. That protocol, by the way, calls for just 5% reductions in those emissions even though scientists believe that those emissions should be reduced by 25%. But even the Kyoto Protocol still has not yet entered into force and that the greatest responsibility for that fact is borne by the United States of America and Russia.
There have been three international conferences on fresh water. I recently participated in the latest such conference in Kyoto, Japan. Those are very competent conferences with outstanding experts participating, and during those conferences realistic steps were proposed to address the problem of fresh water, which is the number one deficit in the world today. But again, significant progress on this issue has not been made in practical terms.
So, if this is the way these problems are handled, if these problems are not solved then what kind of governance do we have? We just have what I call a “blind process.” So what should be done? I believe that first of all the most important thing is to really sound the alarm. I would like to use a word that I’ve used in the past, and that is, we need new glasnost, an international glasnost. Citizens should insist on full information about the state of the environment. They should insist on the adoption of necessary decisions and their implementation. Indeed, this is the view of Green Cross International, an organization that has been working for over ten years now, an organization that has members in 29 countries. Currently China and India are approaching membership in this organization.
So based on this understanding of the importance of glasnost, Green Cross International has founded an international environmental magazine with a symbolic name, a name that reflects our position. It’s called The Optimist. The first issue of this magazine will be out very soon. It is an interesting journal and it reflects the views of outstanding world leaders on important problems of the environment and politics and security. I believe that it is only if the people, the public of all countries are active, only if civil society organizations are active, then there will be political will – the political will that is necessary to solve any big problem.
And let me recall my own experiences. The experience of change that happened due to the efforts of people including me. This is when we had real political will, this is when we had real cooperation among nations during the mid 1980’s. Despite the fact that it seemed we are moving toward a nuclear catastrophe, and that there was no way to stop the arms race, we were able to stop that process. We were able to put an end to the Cold War, and to start the process of eliminating nuclear weapons. So this was done through joint efforts, and it was a big change.
What does that mean? I’m convinced that history is not preordained. And this is why I’m saying this. There are some scholars, even well-known people, who are saying that the process of history is a kind of flow that cannot be changed and that whatever is happening, you cannot stop it. While history indeed is a flow that you cannot stop, you should still try to understand the trends, the tendencies that characterize our time and that will affect the future. It is possible to understand those tendencies and it is possible to take steps that stimulate the positive side and constrain the negative side of this process. One should try to understand what one can do, what one’s role is in this process of history. Again, history is not preordained. There is always time for choice in history, for alternative decisions and for initiative in history.
And this historic initiative perhaps is particularly necessary now in order to work together and through joint efforts to create a new democratic world order. What that world order is going to be, no one can describe in detail, but the outlines of that world order are already here. It must “be more stable, more just and more humane.” I have just quoted the words of Pope John Paul II. However difficult the problems that we are facing, we must be convinced, we must be confident that the problems can be solved. We cannot allow confusion or panic. Therefore, we must act. Therefore, we need active efforts on the part of everyone of us. This is possible. This is why I’m an optimist.
Q&A Moderator (Paula Garb): Now it’s your turn to ask questions. We have about ten minutes left for that. I would like to invite people to come up to the microphones.
Q: Mr. President, I have a comment and a question. The comment…I’ve just come back from Iraq. I can tell you that there are many Iraqi’s who are glad that the coalition is there. My question is very simple. You are a peacemaker. How would you resolve the problem in Chechnya?
M. Gorbachev: I’ve had the same position, a very firm position in Chechnya since 1994. By the way, I was born in the south of Russia in Stavropol in the Caucasus and that region borders on Chechnya. So I know the situation, I know it historically.
When Boris Yeltsin thought that he could improve his sagging popularity by a successful little war in Chechnya I said that that would be a big mistake, and I also offered my mediation to avert that war. When the war started, I continued to insist on a political solution to this problem. And despite the very difficult situation that President Putin inherited, he too, I believe wants a political solution to this problem. This is so even though some people are trying to push him toward a military solution. Particularly the fighters, the militant Chechnyan fighters, too, want the continuation of the war. It is my opinion that Putin will continue to prefer a political solution and that he will move along a political path.
Right now the administration in that republic, both at the level of the Chechnyan Republic and at the local level, consists of ethnic Chechnyans. They are rebuilding the infrastructure, the communications, the medical system, and the educational system. They are recreating the economy that was destroyed and that is still largely destroyed. The most difficult problem is currently housing for the people. I believe that the adoption of the Chechnyan constitution and the elections that were held there, even though flawed, are a step in the right direction. My view is that Chechnya should continue to be an inalienable part of Russia, but it should receive a special status of autonomy. I believe that ultimately this political approach will bring peace to Chechnya and generally in the Caucasus in Russia. And of course, the Chechnyans themselves cannot rebuild their country alone. The entire Russian Federation should contribute to the rebuilding of Chechnya.
Q: President Gorbachev, I was wondering what each individual citizen could do in order to promote a more equitable world, in your opinion of course?
M. Gorbachev: Well I believe first of all, we should all learn to be tolerant, respectful of our neighbors, respectful of other countries and their people. We should respect their cultures, their history.
Let me say something in this regard about terrorism. I believe that we should speak about the underlying causes of terrorism. Of course those causes are things like extremism, fundamentalism, religious fundamentalism, political fundamentalism. And, of course, the causes of terrorism also are in the problems of poverty and backwardness. But perhaps today the primary cause of terrorism is that some people, some nations feel humiliated and this is something that feeds terrorism. So as citizens, we should prefer and vote for those political leaders who prefer dialogue instead of force, who prefer cooperation and political solutions.
Q: As a Chairman’s Club Member of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, one of the things I would like to do is welcome you to some of the best part of Ronald Reagan country, here in Orange County. Ronald Reagan called it the “Evil Soviet Empire.” What I would like to have you react to is that during that last century, the 20th Century, as violent as it was, somewhere between 100, possibly closer to 200 million people lost their lives due to communism and the fact that more communists died at the hands of fellow communists than probably the actions of all other anti-communist organizations put together. Could you comment on this?
M. Gorbachev: Well I started perestroika in order to rid my country of the communist model that existed there. When we started the process of glasnost democracy, political pluralism, free elections, and free religion in our country, we also recognized that these were also the rights of all the other countries that at that time were the members of the Warsaw Pact. We never intervened in their processes. The people of those countries made their own decisions. They decided how they wanted to live, what kind of system they wanted to have, and what kind of alliances they wanted to have. So that probably should answer your question about my attitude.
And President Reagan did call the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire.” But, when we started the process of change, when our country began to change with perestroika and glasnost, he visited the Soviet Union in 1988 and he was answering the question of a reporter in the Kremlin with many people present. When he was asked whether he still believed that the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire, he said, “I no longer think so.”
I very much want for the American people to better understand us. Last summer, I was on a speaking tour in this country and I said to Americans, “You want us to have a country, a system that is as good as yours. Well, we want that too. We want to even do better.” But we are dealing with a country that had a thousand year history, and of that we had 250 years of Mongol domination, 200 years of slavery, 70 years of the communist system, the communist monopoly. It is not easy after this kind of history to make a country that would be a successful modern democracy. So I said to the Americans, “It took you 200 years to build the kind of democracy that you have today, why do you want us to build a democracy in 200 days?”
Q: What is your view on the political situation in Russia now? Do you share the view of most of the American politicians or do you see the situation as a necessary process to establish some kind of order and give people some break which they need? Another question is do you still think about organizing the Social Democratic Party in Russia and how realistic is this idea is?
M. Gorbachev: I not only still think about creating a Social Democratic Party in Russia, I created that party and I am its leader [laughter].
In regards to the current situation in Russia, this is what I would say. Putin inherited a very difficult situation and we all inherited a very difficult situation after the Yeltsin period. During his first term as President, Putin has been able to stabilize the situation to strengthen the Federation. He has insisted that the regions of Russia, the constituent regions of Russia follow the constitution of Russia. He has also improved the tax system and improved the social situation, but that is just the very beginning. People have faith despite the mistakes that he has made and the shortcomings of Putin. Nevertheless he won the elections very convincingly.
Right now, Putin and his government face a really crucial task, how to move Russia toward a modern democracy. He should use the second term to move in that direction. From what he has been saying recently I believe this is exactly what he is going to do. I think this will not be easy. This will be difficult and particularly initially this may come at some cost, at some social cost. But I believe that it could become a very, very powerful push forward for the historic development of Russia. If he moves in this direction I will give him my support. But if it is a different direction, then I will and my colleagues will have to rethink our position which I think is quite normal in a democracy.
Q: Mr. President, I have a question about the energy crisis and global warming. This is a controversial topic in our country, the use of nuclear energy. But, countries such as Japan and France have moved toward the direction of using more nuclear energy to decrease the burning of fossil fuels. From your experience, how effective do you think nuclear energy would be in today’s world?
M. Gorbachev: I believe it’s very important now to do some fundamental research on new and renewable energy sources. I recently talked to some of our leading scientists and they seem to be optimistic that this is possible. But this is still a problem. This problem of new and renewable sources of energy has not yet been solved. Therefore, in the foreseeable future, we will still be using nuclear energy and therefore it’s extremely important to make it safe, to make it totally safe. I say this as a person who saw the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and also as the Chairman of the Board of Green Cross International. So, this is my sincere and honest position. I cannot say that this is the final truth, but I believe that at this time this is probably the only approach. Finally, let me say that I believe it’s very important to get rid of nuclear weapons and also to get rid of the nuclear industry in the form that it exists now.
Q: It’s an honor to be able to ask a question. When you initiated the processes of glasnost and perestroika, could you envision, could you have imagined that it would lead ultimately to the collapse of the Soviet Union? Or, did you think something very different would happen that one would end up with a reformed Soviet Union? Was it clear?
M. Gorbachev: Well, first of all glasnost and freedom of speech were essential to perestroika. That’s my first point. Secondly, the causes of the break up of Soviet Union were domestic and they were lying in the conflict between reform and the bureaucracy. The bureaucrats, the nomenklatura saw that they could not win free elections and therefore they did not accept perestroika. The Soviet Union was over-centralized as a country and a state. At the same time, it was a federation. What we needed to do was to decentralize the Soviet Union, that could have prevented and avoided the breakup. What we wanted to do was to give the citizens and also the local governments the chance to take the initiative. Actually, this over-centralization was a big constraint on the country’s development.
On August 20, 1991, we were scheduled to sign a new treaty between our republics. That would have created a new kind of union, a decentralized union that might have been viable. We knew that this would be a new kind of country, a different kind of country and we believed that. At the same time the nomenklatura, the bureaucrats, they also understood that it would be a very different kind of union, a very different kind of country where they would have to run for election. They knew that they could not win a free election and that’s why they attempted a coup d’etat, they attempted a coup against me.
Well what happened, happened. There are no direct roads in history. It also means that we as reformers sometimes acted too late. While we speak harshly of the nomenklatura and of those who plotted the coup, at the same time we understand that we as reformers also made mistakes and we bare some of the responsibilities for what happened.
Q: As one of the few persons in history to voluntarily give up the leadership of a major world power, can you tell us how you came to do this?
M. Gorbachev: Well, I behaved in fact like a Democrat. I had some other options available to me, but I could not take that road, that very dangerous road that could have resulted in bloodshed, that could have resulted in civil strife and conflict in our country, conflict and bloodshed that would have been very dangerous for our country. Also, given that we had all those weapons including weapons of mass destruction it would have been extremely dangerous to the world and might have resulted in a world disaster. So that’s my answer. That’s why I just stepped down.
Moderator (Paula Garb): Thank you very much. My apologies, but really the organizers have given us very strict time limits and we must move on. This is the time that we set aside to give our award to President Gorbachev and I would like to ask the members of the Advisory Board of the UCI Citizen Peacebuilding Program to come up please. And I would like to explain to you, President Gorbachev, the nature of our organization which is dedicated to the study and the action of improving citizen initiatives for peace and for peaceful resolution of conflicts. We are working in many parts of the world studying, acting and trying to make it more effective. We work here, too, at home as well – so locally and internationally.
Community Advisory Board representative (John Graham): I want to thank Paula Garb and our entire UCI Citizen Peacebuilding Community Advisory Board for their hard work. My name is John Graham. I’m also on the Citizen Peacebuilding Community Advisory Board.
I have the privilege of saying thank you. First of all, I want to thank all of you [the audience] for coming tonight and supporting peace. So thank you very much. I also want to thank all of the folks who worked so hard in putting this program together. A lot of the folks on the stage certainly did, but there are people all around that helped out, so thank you for that.
Now President Gorbachev, I have to thank you in a number of ways, for a number of things. First is just coming here and bringing your daughter, Irina, coming all the way from Moscow, half way around the world to talk to us. I also want to say on behalf of all of us, thank you for an inspiring speech and particularly your optimism. We also need to thank you as the Chancellor said, for your work as a political leader, in particular your courage for choosing peace. Your courage saved millions of people. Your courage changed the world as a political leader, so thank you.
Tonight in particular, we are honoring your work as a citizen, still a political leader, but as a citizen. Obviously Global Green and the Gorbachev Foundation are part of your work, represent your work. But, the main thing we want to thank you for and give you an award for tonight is your dedication to building a safer world. For those of you who haven’t seen this award, this is kind of an odd award. We are giving you pieces of guns. Gifford Myers, our UCI professor of Art, is kind of a real character, too. He relished the assignment of taking weapons and creating something beautiful from them. I also need to thank Sheriff Mike Carona – the weapons were donated from among those confiscated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. We think that it is very consistent with what you are trying to do; destroying weapons and creating something beautiful. So, we would like to give you the inaugural Peace Award from the UCI Citizen Peacebuilding Program. Spasibo bolshoye! I don’t know if you would like to say anything else?
M. Gorbachev: Thank you. I have seen that there are the barrels here of small bore rifles but also of a gun that’s a combat gun. It is a very important symbol. Let us instead of swords, let us have plowshares. Among the souvenirs I have are a pen and some other objects that were made from the metal of the missiles that were destroyed as a result of arms control agreements. So, this will be added to that exhibition at the Gorbachev Foundation. This is a very important symbol. Thank you.
In 1992, Gorbachev became President of the Gorbachev Foundation, known as the International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies. The Gorbachev Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation. Its purpose is to articulate and address the challenges of the post Cold War world, through the revisioning of global priorities.
In 1993, Gorbachev founded the environmental organization, Green Cross International. This is a non-governmental group with chapters in the United States, Russia, The Netherlands, Japan, and Switzerland. Green Cross International is a three-pronged program with a mission to clean up military toxins, assist in the creation of global ecological law, and foster a value shift on the environment.
After graduating from Moscow State University with a law degree, Gorbachev joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1952, and acted as First Secretary for the Stavropol Komsomol City Committee from 1955 to 1958. He then gained reputation and experience in Stavropol politics. In 1971, he was elected as a member to the Central Committee, Communist Party (CCCP) of the Soviet Union. From 1978 to 1985, he served as Secretary for the CCCP with the responsibility for areas involving agriculture. Gorbachev also served as Deputy of the Supreme Soviet from 1970 to 1990, and acted as Chairman for the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Soviet Union from 1984 to 1985. From 1985 to 1990, he was President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.
In 1990, Gorbachev was named Time Magazine's Man of the Decade.