Mikhail S. Gorbachev / Imagination, the Unexpected (1931 - 2022)

Wednesday, September 7, 2022


"Politicians alone cannot address all the challenges of today's world. Politics must interact with civil society and the intellectual community. Consequently, dialogue is absolutely indispensable, a high-spectrum dialogue to help us develop bold and feasible approaches to be able to solve the challenges of our globalised world. The world needs a vision oriented with the will and perseverance to turn it into reality. We need to cultivate a new culture and foster new approaches, because the world needs a culture of peace”.

With these words Mikhail Gorbachev opened the third meeting of the World Political Forum, held in Bosco Marengo, Italy, on 8 July 2002. At that time, the former President of the Soviet Union had already become one of the most important figures in history. Once again, as I listened to him, I thought of the mistake Western leaders were making in disregarding the words of someone who had set an example, with extraordinary imagination and skill, of resolving one of the most important challenges of the contemporary world without the use of weapons, without a single drop of blood. Obsessed with their accounts and dividends, they followed the guidelines of their specialisation: to look the other way. This failure to look in the right direction has led humanity to the current systemic crisis.

On 15 December 1984 Gorbachev arrived in London at the head of a delegation from the Supreme Soviet. It was the first visit by a Soviet delegation to Britain for some 15 years. His speech to the House of Commons was extraordinarily bold: the nuclear age demanded new "political thinking"; the danger of war was a reality; the cold war constituted an abnormal state of relations conducive to the danger of warlike confrontation; in a nuclear war there could be no victors; no state can build its own security by threatening that of others; in the limitation and elimination of armaments, and in particular of nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union was prepared to go as far as its Western interlocutors wished... In his speech, one phrase was particularly widely used: "Whatever else may separate us, we live on the same planet. Europe is our common home; a home, not a battlefield". It is clear that Mikhail Gorbachev was already speaking a different language.

On that occasion he displayed a large map on which all the major nuclear arsenals were marked. "Each one of these small squares is enough to wipe out all life on earth... Thus, with the accumulated stockpile of nuclear weapons, we could annihilate our civilisation a thousand times over.  His address to the British Parliament on 18 December had a major impact in both the UK and the US.

In October 1986 the Issyk-Kul Forum met. Mikhail Gorbachev himself described it as follows: "In October 1986 an event had taken place which was to be of considerable importance in the years of perestroika. I am referring to the meeting at the ISSYK-KUL lake, which brought together leading artists from all over the world, including Arthur Miller, Alexander King, Alvin Toffler, Peter Ustinov, Zulfu Livanelly, Federico Mayor and Afework Teklé... Its initiator was the writer Chinguiz Aitmatov. They spoke of nuclear dangers, ecological catastrophes, and the progressive lack of dignity, including in politics. My meeting with the participants of that Forum took place on 20 October, a week after Reykjavik...".

It was after the meeting by the Issyk-Kul lake that that distinguished group of intellectuals and creators  —to which must be added James Baldwin, Augusto Forti, Rustem Khairov, Yaser Kemal, Lisandro Otero and Claude Simon— had an extraordinarily interesting meeting with the Secretary General. I was entrusted with the chairmanship and it was a memorable occasion for me to hear the vision and approaches of people who spoke not only of freedom but also of responsibility, and of how we could best advise the General Secretary of the Soviet Union so that he could bring about the necessary transformations. How could we help to implement perestroika?

In order to give a better understanding of the context in which the first Issyk-Kul Forum meeting took place, I would like to highlight President Gorbachev's statements at a press conference he gave on 14 October 1986 following the Reykjavik Summit. Gorbachev underlined all the proposals made to President Reagan on the reduction and elimination of nuclear armaments, with extensive verification facilities; total elimination by the Americans and the Soviets of "medium-range" missiles; the situation in Asia and the difficulty of establishing forecasts... Gorbachev openly described that, at one point, a "real battle" of the two approaches to world politics —including the termination of the arms race and nuclear warheads— had begun... "I realised," Mikhail Gorbachev said, "that the American President is in thrall to the US military-industrial complex.  This statement is particularly relevant and had already been made by President Eisenhower at the end of his term in office.  "I believe that the President of the United States and I must come to an agreement on my next visit to Washington.  Otherwise, a great historic opportunity would have been lost".

In October 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  He was unable to attend the ceremony in Oslo because he had urgent duties to attend to.  For this reason, he delivered the "Nobel Lecture" in Oslo on 5 June 1991 in which he spoke extensively and profoundly about the need for peace to prevail over all other conditions.  He expressed his confidence that solidarity and change had been accepted by the "whole world to meet global challenges". 

How formidable! Who would have thought that a politician from the Soviet Union would, with great imagination and skill, be able to end the "Cold War" without a single victim, peacefully... when President Reagan was talking about the "Star Wars"...?

Mikhail Gorbachev, very concerned about preserving the quality of human life, created in Geneva, a "Green Cross International" which has as its objectives the global challenges of security, eradication of poverty and environmental degradation. Alongside the Green Cross, President Gorbachev founded "The World Political Forum", accompanied by Andrei Grachev, in this case, as well as Alexander Likhotal in the case of the "Green Cross". 

I would like to mention the emotion I felt at the event held in the great Albert Hall in London  —filled to overflowing— on Gorbachev's 80th birthday in 2011. "The man who changed the world", stood in the centre of a great arch in the huge Hall. The man who redirected so many erroneous trends unfortunately found himself confronted by impassive, short-sighted and irresponsible leaders and men, incapable of benefiting from such unexpected historical inflections. And, amidst the cheering, I thought of what I had written in 1991: "The Berlin Wall crumbled because a system based on equality had forgotten about freedom. Now, the alternative system will also crumble because, based on freedom, it has forgotten about equality. And both of justice”.

On the first day of October 2016, Moscow joined the "Disarmament for Development" campaign sponsored by the International Peace Bureau in Geneva, led by Ingeborg Breines and Colin Archer, to achieve 10% of the colossal daily investments in arms and military expenditure. In Berlin, the symbolic city, we paraded in large numbers "unter den Linden". We counted on the support of Gorbachev and that of Pope Francis. But, as it is now the norm, in the media, "his master's voice" did not give it the slightest importance. But there have been and will be many more who will be inspired by Gorbachev's fabulous record. His imaginative and unexpected proposals have been and will continue to be very relevant guidance in my daily behaviour.

Gorbachev is a giant, shining star to guide the courses of tomorrow. His legacy will remain, as glimmers of hope for a future that is yet-to-be-made.

Faced with global threats, “We the peoples”

Faced with global threats that are today looming over mankind -some of them of an irreversible nature- and looking into the eyes of our descendants and the forthcoming generations, it is inevitably up to “Us, the Peoples” to fulfil our essential duties, now that we are aware of the seriousness of the situation and we know, at last, that we are equal in dignity and able to express ourselves freely. Joining our voices in a big popular clamour we shall firmly promote: 

-   The immediate cease of fire in Ukraine and other ongoing conflicts, with the corresponding peace processes being started immediately after,

-  The immediate change of the supremacist plutocratic governance (G6, G7, G8, G20...) -that has led the world as a whole to an extremely risky situation (environmentally, nuclearly, socially...)- by a democratic, multilateral governance, with a reformed and broadly extended United Nations willing to adopt, in a first extraordinary meeting a Universal Declaration of Democracy, aimed at redirecting the gloomy trends we are facing now and making possible the transition from a culture of imposition, domination and war to a culture of encounter, dialogue, conciliation, alliance and peace,

-  The total elimination of nuclear warheads, because it is  unbearable from all points of views that the Sword of Damocles of total extermination should cast a shadow over the destiny of human species,

-  the immediate review of justice institutions, in order to put an end to the ruling of  “conservative” or “progressive” judges, which are bad judges whose sentences are dictated by virtue of their own ideology instead of administering impartially the law such as is required by the quality of a “fair” justice.

-  eradicate without contemplation the “tax havens”, which are a big obstacle to reducing the social gap that is constantly growing ,

-  the current Security Council,  deprived of its veto capability, would be reinforced both by an Environmental Security and Economic Security Council,

-  also on the scale of other local, regional and worldwide institutions, the obstacles that have always for the same reasons of absolute power hindered the democratic function would be removed: the most clear and urgent example is represented by the European Union, which cannot continue to accept that specially relevant decisions are adopted unanimously, which is the antithesis of democracy,

-  The new concept of security[1] shall take very much into account the quality of the environment and the adequate conservation of the sea, the earth and the air. The unacceptable recycling of waste, with accumulations and dumps designed to satisfy disproportionate economic ambitions instead of preserving the quality of the earth and its aquifers as well as the sea bed -lets never forget that the water of the sea occupies 2/3 of the earth’s skin- that slowly fills itself with toxic substances thus reducing the carbon dioxide recapture capacity of the phytoplankton,

-  Having also into account that summer fires may be prevented with the adequate action during winter (firewalls, space limitations...) , and with the availability of devices and technical media of all type that allow a swift and adequate action  when a fire occurs. Yes: the world citizenship is claiming for less bombs and more firemen, less war planes and more media to look after the Earth, less soldiers in the garrisons and more military emergency units... and more health workers...

Everything mentioned above has been a part of multiple projects whose aim was to move from the reason of force to the force of reason. But it couldn’t be put it into practice -I must insist on this- because the “peoples”did not exist: 90% of mankind was born, lived and died in a few square kilometres and a radical discrimination was made based on gender, sexual sensibility, beliefs, ideology, ethnicity... In only a few years, the progressive equality in dignity has opened new scale future perspectives and -what is important for human beings -now fully equal!- may be freely said. Now it has become possible to participate and, “We, the peoples”can and must raise our voices to face those menaces that could otherwise  reach points of no return. Now we can finally leave war (“bellum”) and chose word (“verbum”). Now we can fulfil our unavoidable intergenerational responsibilities.

My mother -I have never forgotten it- always told me: “Never accept what you find unacceptable”.  Well: it is unacceptable that due to the veto of the five victor countries and due to unanimity, respectively, the United Nations and the European Union cannot fulfil the important role they should be playing in order to open a new era in which the culture of peace and non violence could finally supersede confrontation and force, in which democratic multilateralism would allow the agreements that are not possible in the context of a supremacist plutocracy.

Today, the citizenship who has become aware, equal in dignity and capable of expressing  herself freely, could allow humanity -“the eyes of the universe”- to start a new period of grandeur making use of the unlimited distinctive creative capacities of the human species. Today, the time has come: “We the peoples” can invent the future. We cannot remain silent any longer. Let us raise our voice so that hope and joy of living are again possible.

[1] Mayor Zaragoza, Federico (2021): Inventar el futuro, Córdoba, Ánfora Nova.

Compelled to rebellion

The moment has come for the citizenship, who has progressively become aware of the threats that are looming over mankind, to react, to take action against a global plutocratic governance (G6, G7, G8, G20) that has led the world as a whole to a situation of progressive deterioration of the habitability of the planet -with a few irreversible processes for the first time in history- and an irreducible social gap and military and weapon expenses of more than 4,000 million dollars, while thousand million people are still dying from hunger and extreme poverty...

Different institutions and responsible persons have been alerting since many years ago how urgent it is every day to cope, with all our knowledge and available media, with the terrible ecological and socio-political threats. I never get tired of repeating it: since the 70s of last century, the UNESCO and Club of Rome already alerted how urgent it was to look for new paradigms of economic growth and development. There was no reaction.

In 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, in a big “Summit of the Earth” an excellent document was drafted —the 2021 Agenda — in order to redirect these sombre trends… Nothing happened. The G7, led by George Bush senior, disregarded the document as has been the usual behaviour of US Republican Party when confronted with multilateralism, with the anxious appeals.

We don’t give up our change projects. On the contrary, spurred by the scientific community, alI Summits of the Earth was prepared in Johannesburg, in 2002, followed by a Declaration and Action Program on a Peace Culture (1999) and the Charter of the Earth  (2000). The Milenium Development Objetives  were approved with very high expectations… Nothing happened. On this occasion it was President Bush Junior who not only rejected the proposals of joint action... but who decided one year later to invade Irak, based on trickery and false information.

And what did Europe do? She remained silent. And what did the remaining 192 countries do? They remained silent. With the veto of the five victors of the Second World War, the United Nations could not apply Roosevelt’s splendid design. We had to wait for Barack Obama to arrive to the White House -I insist on this occasion because it was a cause of great hope- and to sign on the shiny autumn of 2015, the Paris Agreements on Climate Change and, two months later, the Resolution of United Nations General Assembly on the 2030 Agenda and the SDO “to transform the world” It was a short period because only a few months later, the uncanny Republican President Donald Trump said with arrogance the same day he was nominated that he would not respect the Agreements on Climate Change nor the 2030 Agenda.

At that time I thought there would be an immediate reaction from the European Union, who cannot have a quantitative influence but can have a qualitative one over the events at a global scale. But there was silence... Why? Because requesting unanimity to approve important decisions is equal to the veto. Unanimity is the antithesis of democracy. With the abominable and intolerable invasion of Ukraine by Putin it has become clear that the prominence in the dialogue with Russia does not correspond to the European Union but rather to the NATO, a military organization whose aim is to put into practice the North Atlantic Treaty.

In the USA, President Biden tries to set some order in the social, military, economic and legal situation which is becoming more confusing every day due to the interference of  the “conservative” Supreme Court -we should have never accepted the difference made between “conservative” and “progressive” judges, which is a total incoherence from all points of views- and an accommodating follower of the ex-president Trump, that not only concerns the federal level, what a nonsense!, but rather the worldwide sphere as was the case of the recent decision on climate change.

Pandemics, war, economic crisis, habitability on the Earth put in jeopardy... And we, “the peoples” -who only recently acknowledged the equal dignity and can, at last!, express ourselves and participate to put into practice the democratic multilateralism-remain distracted. I like to quote Soledad Gallego’s wise saying when she refers to the “massive distraction” that is brought about by the media and digital power interfering with our lives...

It is precisely now that it would be more dangerous to still confuse education with training. Education is “directing our own life” according to the excellent definition of Francisco Giner de los Ríos, to be “free and responsible” according to article 1 of the Constitutive Charter of the UNESCO. We must, without further delay, listen to the voices that are asking for a citizen mobilization, who believe that the democratic multilateralism can count, now at last, with us, the peoples, as quoted at the beginning of the Charter of United Nations: “We the peoples,... are determined to save future generations from the scourge of war".

Now, yes, “the peoples” can finally express themselves freely. Now yes, equal in dignity, they may ask the cooperation of the citizens who are conscious of the effective fulfilment of their intergenerational duties: now yes, they can feel “compelled to the supreme recourse to rebellion”, as established in the third paragraph of the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Now hope is possible again. Only thus can we imagine -with great popular clamours- the swift transition from a culture of imposition, dominion and war to a culture of encounter, dialogue, mediation, conciliation and peace, from a plutocratic supremacism (military, financial, energetic, digital, media dominion) to the quick adoption, within the duly reformed United Nations, of a Universal Declaration of Democracy,

Compelled to rebellion! We must be many to start this essential transformation from force to word, from bellum to verbum, from a culture of confrontation to a culture of understanding.

Against the globalization of indifference and ignorance, let’s bet for democratic multilateralism.

Compelled to rebellion!