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© Dmitrij Belanowskij | Franz Alt und Michail Gorbatschow

Gorbachev wanted a world free of nuclear weapons

One year ago, on August 30, 2022, Mikhail Gorbachev died. Germany has him to thank for its peaceful reunification and the world for the largest and most important military disarmament of all time.

But not a single representative of the German government attended his funeral. This is a perpetual shame of German politics.

In 2019, I met Gorbachev for the last time in Moscow. There he warned again of the danger of nuclear war. Even then, the doomsday clock of U.S. nuclear physicists pointed to “two minutes to 12.” Today it points to “90 seconds to 12.” Gorbachev’s warnings have been thrown to the wind and suppressed by the world.

At the end of October 2016, I had met the ex-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner , who changed and moved the world like no one else in the second half of the last century, at his foundation in Moscow. Together we wrote the book “Never again war – Come to your senses”. We have him to thank for the end of the Cold War, for nuclear disarmament, which saved us from nuclear war, and finally for German reunification.

Outside, the first flakes are snowing. Even then, the frosty Moscow weather was well suited to the political climate between Russia and the West. But even now, Gorbachev speaks steadfastly of “possible reconciliation” and reminds us that even 30 years ago, in the midst of the Cold War, disarmament and reconciliation became possible. He still dreams of a world free of nuclear weapons. President Putin, Gorbachev said, had also spoken of “reconciliation with the West” on Russian television the previous evening. I now ask him if he is disappointed with today’s Russia and whether his life’s work of “glasnost” (opening up) and “perestroika” (change) has been destroyed today.

“Disappointed I am not, but seriously concerned about the situation in Russia and in all of Europe,” he says. When I ask him if he is happy, he says evasively, “There are no happy reformers. Very few have been able to reap the fruits of their reforms themselves. But I have historically had the chance to contribute real change for the better in my country and positive change throughout the world. For that, I am grateful.”

That’s pure humility, thinking as a German journalist that we owe peaceful reunification to Mikhail Gorbachev. “In Russia,” he says, “perestroika came to a halt, but millions of Russians and many people beyond can still enjoy the fruits of my reforms today. My work is not dead.”

n his foundation I see many pictures of his wife, far more than of U.S. President Bush, Helmut Kohl or of the top Soviet politicians of the time. Those who have met Gorbachev often know about his intimate relationship with Raissa and about the intimate love of this couple. 20 years ago I asked him during an interview with ARD where he got the strength for his controversial reforms. Laughing, he pointed to his wife, who was standing behind the camera. She smiled back. This couple was the political lovers of the 20th century. Mikhail learned from Raissa that trust is the gold standard of all relationships, private and international.

In politics, this means seeing and understanding things from the other person’s point of view as well. Only in this way, Gorbachev told me until his death a year ago, can we find common ground. And only with this basic trust could he risk a policy of unilateral advance payments. As early as 1996, he had told me in a television interview on ARD: “Only with the help of the Western peace movement was I able to push through my disarmament policy against the hardliners in the Kremlin.”

The main mistake of the West, Gorbi said shortly before his death, was that after 1991 it played itself up as the victor against Russia and to this day it constantly provokes. Also militarily. You don’t create peace with saber rattling. Many agreements were not kept by the West.”

“They dissolved the military Warsaw Pact at that time. Should the West at least dissolve NATO now? Would that be a contribution to peace and détente?” I wanted to know from him. “It’s too late for that,” Gorbachev replied resignedly.

In domestic policy, he strongly criticized his current successor, Putin. On Putin’s foreign policy, he says: “Both sides must disarm. Trust must be built up with Putin. He also has a good core. We need patience,” Gorbachev says, adding, “Thinking of peace means thinking of our children. That is the most important thing.”

The ex-president expressed deep concern about the political and military escalation between East and West: “As long as there are still atomic bombs, there is a danger of nuclear war – really. Such a war would be the last in human history, because after that there would be no one left to wage war at all. A new nuclear arms race would be madness and contradicts the life intelligence of us humans.”

I am convinced that especially today this voice of reason and reconciliation is at least as important as it was in the last century when the world was on the brink of the nuclear abyss.

© Benevento Publishing
© Benevento Publishing

Gorbachev was the first world politician in the 20th century to practice politics with heart and mind. The Nobel Peace Prize winner belonged to the avant-garde of goodness, also because he knew about the evil in us humans. It is to his credit that 35 years ago the “nuclear balance of terror” became a balance of reason – at least temporarily. We can and must learn from him. We can still realize his great vision and build the “common house of Europe”. Today we need a global glasnost and a global perestroika. And no atomic bombs.

His legacy – recorded in our common book: “We are one humanity on one earth under one sun.” “Do you have such a thing as a survival program for humanity?” I asked Gorbi shortly before his death. “Yes, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount,” the former Communist leader said.


Franz Alt 2023 | Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

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