In 1986, the Soviet regime made the first breach in the Iron Curtain.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the new Secretary General of the Communist Party, used the 27th Party Congress to annouce an ambitious programme of social and political reforms. A programme aimed at saving the regime…but in fact would lead to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the break-up of the Soviet Union. The reforms also spelt the end of Gorbachev’s political career but he doesn’t regret a thing as he told euronews about the course of events that changed history. Maria Pineiro, euronews: Mr Gorbachev, you wanted to reform and modernize the Soviet Union with your famous “Glasnost” et “Perestroika” policies. What was the difference between them and what was the final aim? Mikhail Gorbachev, Former President of USSR: “Glasnost was first of all about freedom, freedom of speech, the press. We hoped that people could use the information in a wider sense. It was very important because the people who don’t receive information immediately find themselves outside of politics and the real world. As for Perestroika – that was our political campaign for changes which were becoming inevitable in the Soviet Union. Without Glasnost and without the people, it was impossible to succeed. I think that if we didn’t have Glasnost, Perestroika would’ve never worked. Perestroika was about people participating – it was about keeping people informed. It was about debating, dialogue within society. Power was exercised through Glasnost and through press freedom. That’s why Glasnost and Perestroika are linked – they were two sides of the same coin. euronews: How did the fall of the Berlin wall impact your reform of the Soviet Union? MG: “I think that we participated in the fall because at that time the Soviet Union was well on the road to reform – profound changes affecting politics, the economy and other domaines. The fact that the wall came down confirmed that the Soviet Union didn’t want to intervene in the choices of other Warsaw Pact countries…. that they were free to choose their own political systems, their own regimes and models.” “We never interfered in the Warsaw Pact countries which had Velvet Revolutions where the people made their choices. “It would’ve been weird to treat Germany differently, like a leper state. That would’ve been unfair towards the people of that nation.” “People didn’t leave their homes for days. So it was clear that something was happening, a massive change. Three months before the Wall collapsed, I visited East Germany and Helmut Kohl and I were asked if we discussed the “German question” during our talks. I replied yes, of course. Then, with added concern, we were asked “what we’d decided”. We answered “yes, we were aware we had to treat the question but, for us, history would probably provide the answer in the 21st century.” “We had our answer just three months later. So we were wrong in our prophecies and history taught us a good lesson!” euronews: Where were you on the night ofNovember 9th 1989? How did you experience the moment? What are your memories? MG: “I was in Moscow. As it was the night, I was sleeping. Our ambassador called me very early in the morning to tell me what had happenened. I said, it was to be expected as the Germans had already opened a breach in the wall…and as that wasn’t enough they ended up destroying it. “Three million people crossed from one side to the other in the first three days. We could clearly see the drama – the nation and families which had been separated for 40 years.” “I think that we have to congratulate the politicians of the period – of course there were apprehensions, heated discussions. Francois Miterrand, for example, said that he like Germans so much that two Germany’s were better than one!” “Margaret Thatcher didn’t want reunification. And I had the impression, and not only me, that they wanted to prevent it or for me to take the decision. But I said no, because I thought that would be wrong.” “We acted as the situation dictated and responsibly in relation to what else was going on in Europe and the rest of the world.” euronews: A “coup d’etat” forced you to resign a little more than a year into your presidency of the Soviet Union in 1991. Shortly afterwards it was the end of the Soviet Union. Why did your projects fail? MG: “First of all, I don’t agree with your analysis on the failure of our project. Au contraire, it was such a success it launched the democratic process in the Soviet Union. After the break-up of the USSR, Russia today is continuing to develop – the market economy as well as pluralism in several domaines such as politics, ideologies, religion, etc…” “What’s more, today as a result of these changes we’ve reached such a level that it’s no longer possible to go back. Even if Perestroika was interrupted by force. No-one today can take the country backwards. So for me Perestroika was a success, and on this point my opinion differs from yours. It’s me who lost out as a politician…but that happens!!” “I must also say that during all those changes practically no blood, or nearly none was spilt. Unfortunately there were victims. But we managed to avoid a real bloodbath. That’s another victory for Perestroika.” euronews: Did you make any mistakes? MG: “Yes, we made lots of mistakes. We were slow in reforming the Communist Party and the Soviet Union. We didn’t forsee the serious social problems. When people started to earn more and more, the market didn’t have the capacity to provide for them. There were enormous queues… On this point I agree with those who say it was effectively the fault of the “masters of Perestroika.” But that doesn’t cancel out the fact that Perestroika played a decisive role in Russia, in Europe and the entire world because it sparked changes in eastern and central Europe. Perestroika paved the way for disarmament and lots of other things. We renewed relations with China. Thirty years of hostilities gave way to intense friendship. Not to mention the fact that we became a real partner to the United States.” euronews: Mr Gorbachev, some people remember you as a hero, others accuse you of causing a disaster. What’s your judgement? MG: “That’s normal. People’s conclusions are linked to their understanding of things. I’m convinced that history today and in the future will develop under the influence of ideas and projects born out of Perestroika. Perhaps, I’m not being very modest but I wasn’t the only person responsible for Perestroika. First of all there were the progressive forces which started in the Soviet Union and then spread, for example to Warsaw Pact countries. Relations with big nations in the West changed.” Today, I have peace of mind.”
More on the Berlin Wall: www.euronews.net/1989-2009