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Gorbachev defends pace of his reforms in Stanford speech
STANFORD -- Stressing his commitments to both the rule of law and practical politics, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev told a Stanford audience May 9 that he intentionally had tried to "gain time" for democracy and had brought about the only bloodless revolution in Russian history.
Speaking through an interpreter to 9,500 people drenched in the mid-day sun of Frost Amphitheater, the former Soviet president revealed some of the motivations behind his reform tactics and defended himself against criticism that he was an indecisive leader.
With a grin, he promised more revelations in his memoirs.
"I hope that when this book appears, you'll be willing to expend a certain sum of money to acquire it," he said.
Gorbachev also reiterated his disappointment that the Soviet Union had not remained one nation. Still, he said, he saw "encouraging signs and tendencies" that Russia can be transformed into "a modern law-based state."
The crowd was more subdued than the thousands who waited for a chance to glimpse Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, during their two- hour campus visit in June 1990. It began queuing up to get into the amphitheater about two hours before the lecture began, with the line eventually extending to the Stanford Museum.
"It was kind of like a Russian bread line, wasn't it?" quipped Susan Moranz of Woodside.
Invited to campus as the Herman Phleger Visiting Professor of Law, Gorbachev was introduced by Paul Brest, dean of the law school, who reminded the audience that Gorbachev was trained as a lawyer at Moscow State University.
The plotters of the August coup against him tried to "clothe themselves in the trappings of constitutionalism," Brest said. "This in itself was the product of the transformation President Gorbachev had wrought in Soviet society."
Gorbachev's 32-minute lecture, titled "The Rule of Law: Our New Frontier," concerned the tensions between practical politics, and respect for law and justice in leadership. He focused on his own situation from 1985 until his resignation last December.
He stopped abruptly for about 30 seconds when two demonstrators, wearing T-shirts that said "Mao more than ever," made their way across the width of the amphitheater carrying a banner that said: "Phony communism is dead. Long live real communism."
The audience booed them and warmly applauded Gorbachev when he began again. Police escorted the demonstrators out of the amphitheater, questioned them and released them.
"Politics is the art of the possible, the emergence of agreed interests through a process of choice," Gorbachev said.
"The choice was made in principle. That was the main thing. There were failures, errors, illusions, but the impulse to change things kicked in and things started to move. From the very outset I saw the task as being one of unfettering the democratic process. Hence, we set our sights on respect for democratic rules, on getting people involved in genuine political activity: Hence, the proclamation of glasnost and the struggle for its implementation.
"But under our conditions, this was possible only through the party and with the party's help. This paradox, as things turned out, contained a major threat to the cause of perestroika."
By 1988, he said, he knew partial reforms could not succeed and that "everything hinged on the political system and on de facto omnipotence of the party apparatus."
"Here I want to stress one point of principle which explains much that happened afterward," Gorbachev said. "I'm referring to the relationship between politics and morality.
"From the very onset of the crisis I tried to avoid violently explosive resolution of the contradictions. I swore to myself, as I stated in public more than once, that I would do everything possible to ensure that for the first time in my country's history, cardinal transformations would take place in a more or less peaceable form without bloodshed, without the inevitable division of society, without civil war.
"Therefore, I tried to use tactical moves to gain time to give the democratic movement a chance to get stronger. As president of the country I had many powers, including emergency ones, and more than once people tried to make me use them, tried to push me into an extremist position," he said.
He refused, he said, because "I simply could not betray myself. . . .
"There is not and cannot be rule of law without morality," Gorbachev said. "It is no accident that in both Russian and English the words "right" and "righteousness" have the same root."
Some have accused him of being indecisive, he said.
"To me, decisiveness means sticking to my guns, pursuing profound transformations, at the center of which lie the rights and liberties of the individual," he said.
Gorbachev also pleaded for more support of international law and justice. International law needs "sensible, practical ties" to domestic law systems, he said.
"This is simply a vital necessity in view of the interdependence and increasing integration of the world," he said.
Nations should start by recognizing "the compulsory jurisdiction of the international court in cases involving the interpretation of international agreements. Respect for international law is inseparable from respect for its institutions. It should cease being optional."
Gorbachev reiterated his disappointment with the failure to keep the Soviet Union together as one nation.
"My opinion of what occurred . . . and I'm not urging that we go back to the past [is that] unfortunately the collapse of the union has entailed terrible consequences confirming my own worst fears and warnings," he said.
He cited a rise in ethnic conflicts and in "cruelty and violence."
"We are now in an extremely serious crisis of legality. But there are encouraging signs and tendencies," Gorbachev said.
"Adoption of the constitution of the Russian Federation can become an important step in the transformation of Russia into a modern law-based state. But we should not flatter ourselves. We are still far from that goal."
After the speech, Walter Falcon, director of the Institute for International Studies, presented Gorbachev with the Wesson Prize in International Relations for his newly formed Gorbachev Foundation, a Moscow-based think tank. The prize included a $10,000 honorarium, Stanford's only payment for the appearance.
George P. Shultz, former secretary of state and professor emeritus, recognized Raisa Gorbachev's behind-the-scenes partnership in her husband's accomplishments, and the audience rose to give her a standing ovation.
As the audience departed, vendors tried to sell them Soviet flag pins; T-shirts with glasnost and the Russian words for Russia and California printed on them; and nesting dolls depicting Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Khrushchev, Lenin and others. Souvenirs were not, however, the hot items they were during the Gorbachevs' 1990 visit, and reactions to the speech also were less fervent.
"We've heard the same speeches before - for four or five years in the Soviet Union. We're fed up," said Alex Chyorny of San Jose, an emigre from Russia now living in San Jose, who was selling the Russian dolls with another Soviet emigre.
"We thought it was great - certainly a change from the old Russian regime," said Anne Gallas of Mountain View.
"He was having to speak as a Russian and not a Soviet anymore," said Mike Kinney, a senior technician at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
"He explained some things about respecting the law and refusing to resign," said Beth Ziegler, a secretary in the Office of Public Affairs. "I'm going to buy his book."
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