Saturday, Dec. 07, 1996

Mikhail Gorbachev

First Person

This has been a cruel and bloody century, but also a time of enormous breakthroughs and discoveries, marked by attempts of very different kinds to change the fundamental nature of our civilization. You could almost say that things were finally reaching the denouement in a play that had been performed down the centuries. We had come to a point where everything could have ended in a catastrophe.

When I became the leader of the Soviet Union, I was firmly persuaded that the model of society the communists had forced on our country was not working. I had illusions that I could improve this model, a notion that had ended in failure for Khrushchev, Kosygin and Andropov before me, but I soon saw that this system put up resistance to any kind of change. Society was suffocating from a lack of freedom, deprived of any social energy. All this convinced me that the system needed to be changed — and then this idea led to the broader concept that change was needed not just in our country but also in international affairs. This is how those concepts, perestroika and the new way of thinking, were born. I said then that we were living in one contradictory but essentially integrated world in which we were all dependent on one another.

The understanding was also growing on the other side of the Iron Curtain. So when the question comes up now about who won and lost the cold war, I dismiss this as the thinking of small-minded politicians. We were thinking in terms of a new way of seeing the world — and this got a response. Perhaps it was fated or God ordained it so, but it came from the most unusual combination of people — leaders like Ronald Reagan, who I had been told was almost as right-wing as you could get; Margaret Thatcher, who was also firm in her own convictions; and François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, who all answered the call of the times.

Our bipolar world has given way to multiple regional centers of power. In those East European countries where the collapse of totalitarian regimes was applauded in the West, we now have "post-Warsaw Pact" parties in power formed on the basis of the old Communist parties. But our Russian party has not even gone halfway on the path of renewal. We have to see things as they really are and stand firmly for the principle that everything must be done to help democracy take root. Only this can save us.

From 1985 to 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.