Raisa and Mikhail Gorbachev
Dear Commons Community,
Maureen Dowd in her column reminisces about encounters with Mikhail Gorbachev, who died earlier this week. She mentions his visits to Reykjavik, Washington, D.C., Malta, the Twin Cities, all with a goal to try to establish peace. Here is an excerpt..
“In 1988, Gorbachev visited New York to address the United Nations.
Just as he had in D.C., Gorbachev showed flair. (He studied drama as a young man.) He ordered the driver of his limo to screech to a halt on Broadway in front of the Winter Garden Theater, where the musical “Cats” was playing. Standing beneath a neon Coca-Cola sign with Raisa, Gorbachev raised his arms in a “Rocky”-like victory sign.
Looking down the block, he could see an electronic billboard in the middle of Times Square flashing a red hammer and sickle and the message “Welcome, General Secretary Gorbachev.” A vodka truck drove around acting as a Welcome Wagon (not realizing that the Soviet leader was trying — vainly — to curb the Russians’ deep thirst for vodka)…
My favorite summit encounter with Gorbachev was in Malta. President George H.W. Bush had planned a summit at sea, alternating meetings between American and Soviet naval vessels, so that the two men could put their feet up and get to know each other.
But in a huge embarrassment, a storm trapped Bush and his team overnight on the American cruiser.
Top Bush advisers came out to meet the press wearing patches for seasickness. Bush’s spokesman Marlin Fitzwater did his best to spin it, acting as if being stuck at sea was a good thing. He issued a news release painting his boss as Captain Ahab, saying, “The president seemed energized by the intensity of the storm.”
In the end, Bush and Gorbachev talked perestroika in a truncated summit, whose impact Bush described, in his distinctive personal-pronoun-less, verb-less Bushspeak as: “Grandkids. All of that. Very important.”
It drove Bush crazy that he was described as cautious and Gorbachev was described as bold. But the dynamic between the two men worked.
The modest Bush, the clever James Baker and the stalwart Brent Scowcroft held Gorbachev’s hand and did not gloat as he made his breathtaking leaps to open the Iron Curtain and let the Berlin Wall fall. Gorbachev warned Communist leaders not to use force against their own people.
The following year, I covered the Gorbachevs in Minneapolis, where they dazzled the heartland. When they left, the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies serenaded them at the airport with “Moscow Nights,” and the crowd excitedly waved “Gorby-chiefs,” commemorative handkerchiefs.
Gorbachev was more popular in America than at home, and he was on the cusp of winning the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Cold War. He was going back to Moscow, where many — like the K.G.B. agent Vladimir Putin — reviled him for setting the Soviet Union on the path to dissolution and for his attempts to clean up corruption.
Gorbachev seemed reluctant to leave the Twin Cities. As the young people sang to him, he pressed his face against the airplane window and then, as the plane took off, his hands. The next year, he would be out of power. Not long after, Putin would come into power and throw the world into the brutal and bloody chaos that Gorbachev had tried to prevent. In the end, Gorbachev would have to watch Putin torch his dreams.”
May he rest in peace!