The following are excerpts from Mikhail Gorbachev’s Nobel Peace Prize Lecture from 1990. As you read, you may need to remind yourself of whom is speaking and when, since many of the issues seem to be present today in other parts of the world closer to home. Please if you can, embrace the optimism, the hope for the future. To read the speech in its entirety please go to:
On receiving the Nobel Peace prize in 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev spoke of the award winners as people famous for their courage in working to bring together morality and politics.
In his Nobel lecture he endeavoured to answer what he described ‘a simple and clear question’, “What is peace?”
“An old Russian encyclopedia defined “peace” as a “commune”- the traditional cell of Russian peasant life. I saw in that definition the people’s profound understanding of peace as harmony, concord, mutual help, and cooperation.
Peace “propagates wealth and justice, which constitute the prosperity of nations;” a peace which is “just a respite from wars…is not worthy of the name;” peace implies “general counsel”. This was written almost 200 years ago by Vasiliy Fyodorovich Malinovskiy.
Since then, of course, history has added a great deal to the specific content of the concept of peace. In this nuclear age it also means a condition for the survival of the human race.
Today peace means the ascent from simple coexistence to cooperation and common creativity among countries and nations.
Peace is movement towards globality and universality of civilization.
Never before has the idea that peace is indivisible been so true as it is now.
Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences.
And, ideally, peace means the absence of violence. It is an ethical value.
At the end of the twentieth century force and arms will have to give way as a major instrument in world politics.
Solidarity is a universal value which is becoming indispensable for progress and for the survival of humankind.
A modern state has to be worthy of solidarity, in other words, it should pursue, in both domestic and international affairs, policies that bring together the interests of its people and those of the world community.”
The process moving the Soviet Union into becoming this modern state was Perestroika.
President Gorbachev described the conditions in the USSR before Perestroika as “total domination of centrally managed state property, a pervasive authoritarian bureaucratic system, ideology’s grip on politics, monopoly in social thought and sciences, militarized industries.”
Socially “the misinformed society under the spell of propaganda was hardly aware of what was going on” “the slightest manifestations of protest were supressed” and “as for foreign policy… “rigid divisions developed into hostile camps constrained by the logic of military confrontation wearing themselves down more and more by the arms race.”
Peristroika was the dismantling of these existing structures and it returned the people of the Soviet Union to “common sense” enabled them “to open up to the world” and “restored a normal relationship between the countries internal development and its foreign policy.” Peristroika was a “path of major changes which may turn out to be the most significant in the twentieth century, for our country and for its peoples and as President Gorbachev explained “But we also did this for the entire world.”
President Gorbachev’s book about Peristrioka begins with the words “We want to be understood”.
Because to understand us really- to understand so as to believe us – proved to be not at all easy.
“A country like ours, with its uniquely close-knit ethnic composition, cultural diversity and tragic past, the greatness of its historic endeavours and the exploits of its peoples,” will produce a unique “identity within the international community.”
We want to be an integral part of modern civilization, to live in harmony with mankind’s universal values, abide by the norms of international law, follow the “rules of the game” in our economic relations with the outside world. We want to share with all other peoples the burden of responsibility for the future of our common house.
It is my profound conviction that the problems arising in the course of our transformations can be solved solely by constitutional means. This applies to the self determination of nations. We recognize the peoples’ legitimate choice, with the understanding that if a people really decides, through a fair referendum, to withdraw from the Soviet Union, a certain agreed transition period will then be needed.
Steering a peaceful course is not easy in a country where generation after generation of people were led to believe that those who have power or force could throw those who dissent or disagree out of politics or even in jail. For centuries all the country’s problems used to be finally resolves by violent means. All this has left an almost indelible mark on our entire “political culture”, if the term is at all appropriate in this case.
Our democracy is being born in pain. Being resolute does not mean a return to repression, or the suppression of rights and freedoms. I will never agree to having our society split once again into Reds and Whites, into those who claim to speak and act ‘on behalf of the people’ and those who are ‘enemies of the people’. Being resolute today means to act within the framework of political and social pluralism and the rule of law, to prevent the elements of chaos from becoming catastrophic.
There are some flag wavers who claim a monopoly of patriotism and think it means “not getting entangled” with the outside world. Next to them are those who would like to reverse the course altogether. That kind of patriotism is nothing but a self-serving pursuit of ones’ own interests.
If Soviet perestroika succeeds, there will be a real chance of building a new world order channelling international cooperation along new, peaceful lines. And if perestroika fails, the prospect of entering a new peaceful period in history will vanish.
In 1990 Mr Gorbachev was assured that “the risk of a global nuclear war has practically disappeared” The USSR and the USA, the two nuclear superpowers, have moved from confrontation to interaction and, in some important cases partnership. The climate of Soviet US trust should be protected, for it is a common asset of the world community.
Any revision of the direction and potential of the Soviet-US relationship would have grave consequences for the entire global process.”
Real disarmament has begun.
Armed forces and military budgets are being reduced. Foreign troops are leaving the territories of other countries.”
Mr Gorbachev believed “conflicts of a scale and nature that were typical of Europe for many centuries and particularly the twentieth century have been ruled out.” He hoped that in the process of creating a new Europe where “curtains and walls will be forever relegated to the past and borders between states would lose their divisive purpose with ‘self determination of sovereign nations being realized in a completely different way.
The idea is to develop and build upon the momentum of integration in Europe. In the context of common movement towards a new and peaceful period in world history, towards new interrelationship and integrity of mankind.
Giulio Andreotti states “East-West rapprochement alone is not enough for progress of the entire world toward peace. However agreement between them is a great contribution to the common cause.” Asia, Africa, Latin America the Near and Middle East all play a role.
The new integrity of the world, in our view can be built only on the principles of freedom of choice and balance of interests. Every state has its own interests. They are all equal and deserve respect.
We consider it dangerously outdated when suspicions are aroused. Any worsening of relations anywhere is a common loss.
Progress towards the civilization of the 21stcentury will certainly not be simple or easy. One cannot get rid overnight of the heavy legacy of the past or the dangers created in the post war years. We are experiencing a turning point in international affairs and are only at he beginning of a new and I hope mostly peaceful, lengthy period in the history of civilization.
With less East West confrontation… old contradictions resurface which seemed of secondary importance compared to the threat of nuclear war. The melting ice of the Cold War reveals old conflicts and claims and entirely new problems accumulate rapidly.
We can already see many obstacles and dangers on the road to a lasting peace, including:
Increased nationalism, separatism, and disintegrational processes in a number of countries and regions
The growing gap in the level and quality of socio-economic development between “rich” and “poor” countries
The dangerously rapid accumulation of the “costs” of previous forms of progress, such as the threat of environmental catastrophe and of the depletion of energy and primary resources, uncontrollable overpopulation, pandemics, drug abuse, and so on
The gap between basically peaceful policies and selfish economies bent on achieving a kind of “technological hegemony”. Unless those two vectors are brought together, civilization will tend to break down into incompatible sectors.
Further improvements in modern weaponry
How can the world community cope with all this? All these tasks are enormously complex. They cannot be postponed. Tomorrow may be too late.
In order to solve these problems there is no other way but to seek and implement entirely new forms of interaction.
To accomplish this, all members of the world community should resolutely discard old stereotypes and motivations nurtured by the Cold War, and give up the habit of seeking each other’s weak spots and exploiting them in their own interests. We have to respect the peculiarities and differences which will always exist, even when human rights and freedoms are observed throughout the world. I keep repeating that with the end of confrontation, differences can be made a source of healthy competition, an important factor for progress. This is an incentive to study each other, to engage in exchanges, a prerequisite for the growth of mutual trust.
For knowledge and trust are the foundations of a new world order. Pooling the efforts of scientists, philosophers and humanitarian thinkers within the UN framework. We need maximum insurance to guarantee that decisions taken by members of the world community should not affect security, sovereignty and vital interests of its other members or damage the natural environment and the moral climate of the world.
I am an optimist and I believe that together we shall be able now to make the right historical choice so as not to miss the great chance at the turn of the centuries and millennia and make the current extremely difficult transition to a peaceful world order. A balance of interests rather than a balance of power, a search for compromise and concord rather than a search for advantages at other people’s expense, and respect for equality rather than claims to leadership- such are the elements which can provide the groundwork for world progress and which should be readily acceptable for reasonable people informed by the experience of the twentieth century.
The future prospects of truly peaceful global politics lies in the creation through joint efforts of a single international democratic space in which States shall be guided by the priority of human rights and welfare for their own citizens and the promotion of the same rights and similar welfare elsewhere. This is an imperative of the growing integrity of the modern world and of the interdependence of its components.
I have been suspected of utopian thinking more than once. And particularly five years ago when I proposed the elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2000 and joint efforts to create a system of international security. … But have we not been able to cross the threshold of mistrust, though mistrust has not completely disappeared? Has not the political thinking of the world changed substantially? Does not most of the world community already regard weapons of mass destruction as unacceptable for achieving political objectives?
Two weeks from today it will be exactly fifty years since the beginning of the Nazi invasion of my country. And in another six months we shall mark fifty years since Pearl Harbour, after which the war turned into a global tragedy. Memories of it still hurt. But they also urge us to value the chance given to the present generations.”
This lecture was delivered 27 years ago.
We have unfortunately missed “the great chance” to make the… “difficult transition to a peaceful world order.” afforded us by the leaders at the time.
On March 27th 2017, negotiations will commence at the United Nations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Last month at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Colombia, 21 Nobel laureates signed a statement supporting the UN General Assembly for convening the conference.
Mikhail Gorbachev was one of them.