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If you like Mikhail Gorbachev's story, you might also like:
George H.W. Bush,
John Hume,
Paul Nitze,
Shimon Peres,
Colin Powell,
Albie Sachs,
Desmond Tutu
and Lech Walesa

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Mikhail Gorbachev in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Democratic Process

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Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
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Mikhail Gorbachev Interview (page: 3 / 3)

Nobel Prize for Peace

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  Mikhail Gorbachev

How did someone become critical, questioning, in the Soviet system you grew up in?

Mikhail Gorbachev: That's a whole research project, a dissertation.

Confrontation with life, that is what causes a person to adopt a critical position. But for that to happen, you yourself have got to have a certain amount of resources and vision, confidence in democracy, devotion to freedom. If you simply bend in the wind and cave in under the pressure of circumstance, you will accept things as they are. And in that case you do not develop a position of protest and criticism, but you will simply become like many others before you. Even now in Russia we have the same problem. It isn't so easy to give up the inheritance we received from Stalinism and Neo-Stalinism, when people were turned into cogs in the wheel, and those in power made all the decisions for them.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

My position was as follows: through democracy, through glasnost, compel people, rouse people to speak for themselves, analyze, and decide for themselves what is to be done. That was the main thing that drove me. Of course I also saw that the country was breaking down, that it was beginning to lag behind. It could not react appropriately to the challenges of the technological revolution; it was not flexible, because the people were permitted no initiative, no freedom. The entrepreneurs were not permitted this, nor was anyone else: teachers, physicians, engineers, scientists. Everything was under control; everything was in gridlock or stagnant. That's what I saw.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

One can and must understand that one cannot do or know everything. Even God, who created us, doesn't lead us through life by the hand, but wishes and hopes that we will think and act in life in accordance with His commandments and expectations, and to rouse people to take the initiative, to have faith in themselves, and the desire to live as their conscience dictates. That means to awaken great feelings, which cannot help but make life into something completely different. You will say, "But that's Utopia! Could it really be that Gorbachev was filled with such Utopian ideas, when he undertook such realistic actions, the overhaul of the Soviet system?" To which I would give you a very short answer. Idealists make the world go 'round, since everything starts with ideas. Yes, ideas! Everything comes from them and everything begins there.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Could you have anticipated what would come of glasnost and perestroika? You saw that tremendous changes were needed in the Soviet Union. Did you realize how dangerous it might be?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Yes, yes, yes. From the very beginning.

I had before me the experience of Khrushchev, Kosygin, and many other people who were punished for their initiative. They were seen as people who were unreliable, who undermined the system. They were disposed of. You also have to understand that I was very familiar with what our country was really like, that you could expect anything at all from it.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Furthermore, when I began to translate political reforms from statutes and slogans into a real process of political reform such as free elections, a parliamentary system, independent courts and so on -- the separation of executive and legislative power -- these were enormous changes. It was then that we began to set term limits -- stipulated by law -- for holding an official post, so ambitious people wouldn't usurp their positions for decades.

A student in Japan once asked me, "President, democracy is all very well. You were elected; you introduced free elections and everything, but at the next election you might not be elected and you will lose." I told her, "But you see, even then I will not lose, because there will have been free elections and that is the result of what I have been trying to achieve." I said, "If I win a free election then I will have a double victory. If I lose then there will only be one victory, but democracy will exist and that is the main thing." For this reason, when they ask me nowadays how I feel, after all that has happened, I say, "Of course it did turn out that the very moment we were supposed to go further in reforming the Soviet Union, the Party and the economy, perestroika was interrupted, but what it accomplished, and what processes and tendencies it laid down -- that is an enormous victory.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

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This page last revised on Nov 08, 2010 18:21 EDT
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