Gorbachev Honored For Liberty
By: John P. Connolly, The Bulletin
Philadelphia - The last leader of the Soviet Union was honored by the National Constitution Center last night, and the air was charged with political issues and specters of the Cold War.
After becoming the youngest full member of the Soviet Politburo in 1980, Mr. Gorbachev was named General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, ready to make long overdue reforms in the Soviet system.
For six years, he pressed for democratization by promoting glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). These policies created the environment that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later.
Mr. Gorbachev became the 20th recipient of the Liberty Medal, an honor presented by the Constitution Center to honor world leaders who have labored to secure liberty for people throughout the world. Joseph M. Torsella, president and CEO of the Constitution Center, delivered a speech filled with praise for Mr. Gorbachev's commitment to liberty.
"He grew up under the brutal rule of Stalin, a dictator who introduced the words 'purge' and 'gulag' into the beautiful language of Pushkin and Chekhov," said Mr. Torsella. "But when he came to occupy the same office that Stalin held, 63 years later ... he introduced very different words. 'Glasnost,' openness. And 'perestroika,' change."
Renowned pianist Van Cliburn performed at the ceremony, along with singers Judy Collins and Bruce Hornsby. Also in attendance were Gov. Ed Rendell and Mayor Michael Nutter. Former President George H. W. Bush presented the award.
"It is a true honor for me to participate in this year's Liberty Medal ceremony to celebrate the achievements of someone whom I consider a great world leader and a dear friend," said Mr. Bush. "Regardless of the dividing lines between us, President Gorbachev opened up new possibilities for the world to come together and solve its problems in the pursuit of liberty. When Eastern Europeans were living in the dark shadow of the Cold War, he provided a beacon of light. Now, almost 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are still witnessing the positive impact his efforts have had across the globe. President Gorbachev is always looking ahead at a better future and helping all of us work to get there."
In a press conference before the ceremony, Mr. Gorbachev took questions about Russia's strained relations with the U.S., and urged caution and cooperation as the solution to the situation. Mr. Gorbachev stressed that the way forward for the countries lies in rebuilding the relations between them and cooperating.
"We have to think about the future of our relations," he said. "I recall that when I became the leader of the Soviet Union, the leaders of our two nations had not met for six years. And this was at the peak of the Cold War. At that time, we concluded that we needed to reconnect, restart the relationship between America and Russia. And step by step we did that."
He said that building up relations made it possible to make progress toward ending the Cold War. Both nations have strong tools for cooperation, and future proceedings to better Russian-American relations should build on that, even though he is not content with the level of democracy in both countries. Mr. Gorbachev said that both countries need to continue an ongoing perestroika.
"This is one area of our domestic affairs where we can not ever be fully satisfied with what's happening," he said. "But there is freedom of information and there is a large amount of freedom in the media, particularly in the print media and on the radio. As for television, I am more critical, I believe there is too much government input on the television channels."
John P. Connolly can be reached at email@example.com