Berlin Wall’s fall was the last nail in Cold War’s coffin – Gorbachev
RT: The unification of Germany is by all means one of the most significant events of the second half of the 20th Century. People were glued to the TV screens watching the Berlin Wall being torn down. What did you feel at that moment?
Mikhail Gorbachev: I didn’t see the crane lift the first piece of the Wall. But I knew what was going on, what was happening on the eve, during those days, so it was no surprise for me, it was only a matter of time – when, after the Wall had been torn down, I was called up by Modrow – the last communist premier of East Germany. He said that the situation was such that the Germans got into the swing of it – of this whole business that led to the downfall of the Wall – that they required Germany to be united right away without any intermediary stages – despite the fact that there had been a statement from Modrow, from the new East German government, which contained a number of clauses about intermediary stages and agreements, a currency agreement and so on, and there were the notorious ten clauses from Helmut Kohl – all this the Germans were ready to give up. They understood that the time was such that they needed to be persistent, they were right in the middle of changes underway in the Soviet Union, in Central and Eastern Europe, there were velvet revolutions – or woolen ones, all sorts of things happened – while Germany was somehow not involved. No, I think significant processes had been underway in Germany…
RT: Did you feel the weight of history? That the change was imminent and could happen any moment?
MG: I saw it when I and the official delegation were invited by Honecker on a visit to East Berlin on October 7th to celebrate the 40th anniversary of GDR – the German Democratic Republic. I’ll tell you just one story which explains best the commotion in the GDR’s public opinion at the time.
On the second of the three-day celebrations, there was a procession with torches. All the 28 lands had sent in their teams. And these people – young and middle-aged – were so noisy and enthusiastic; they were singing songs and carrying slogans which called for a decision on the issue of unification to be made. And there were appeals to me as the leader of the USSR, and to other leaders. At least I saw that people couldn’t wait anymore. While we were thinking that the entire process would take a few months, as it should be.
It was then that the Polish prime minister asked me, “Mikhail Sergeevich, do you understand any German?” I said “Yes, enough to understand what they are shouting and what their slogans say.” He said, “But then it’s the end!” And I replied, “Yes, it seems to be coming to it.” So it was clear that it would happen any day now. And it happened.
RT: On the global scale, what did the fall of the Berlin wall mean? Was the world ready for the changes?
MG: We knew that we needed to adjust our policies. The fundamental reason for these changes was the Perestroika that we had started, our new international policy which resulted in a stabilized relationship with the United States and China, which resulted in the Reykjavik summit that eventually led to the breakthrough of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The USA and USSR leaders had not had any meetings for six years prior to that. I went on a visit in 1987 when we were signing the Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Nuclear Forces Elimination Treaty, and the visit was returned by the President of the USA, and the main thing that our journalists asked him was, “Do you still view the USSR as the Empire of Evil?” to which he replied, “No, no. No, we see that great changes are underway, and we welcome them, we are ready to cooperate with President Gorbachev’s government.” So everything was changing. But inside Germany it was changing, too. First of all, these two Germanys had come a long way since the terrible war unleashed by the Nazis. Our country suffered great losses and damage, too, and it took a huge effort to re-build it. And the Germans too, they worked hard and managed to re-build Germany for a new beginning, and they confirmed their loyalty to democracy by condemning Nazism and accepting the borders established by the agreements between the winning countries. Thus the Germans have proven to be a great nation. Besides, the relationship was developing between GDR and West Germany, between GDR and the USSR, and the USSR and West Germany. So we knew the Germans well, and they knew us well. Although we used to call East Germans “our Germans” while the West Germans were not “ours”. [Laughs].
Brandt’s Eastern policy, other leaders’ policies: all this has resulted not only in Germans being willing to unite, but also in achieving much to facilitate the unification.
It couldn’t be ignored anymore. The policy had to be changed.
RT: Do you think the world has taken the advantage of the chance it was given? Has it made the best use of the 20 years to overcome the stereotypes that divided people?
MG: In general, the fact that the war was over and the Wall brought down – it was the last nail in the coffin of the Cold War. The borders opened, trade was revived, the world started to function globally…much has changed. New opportunities have arisen, people started to go abroad, to exchange. It was important. Democratic processes were trigged everywhere by the situation, by the end of the Cold War. At the end of the 20th Century, over 100 authoritarian regimes ceased to exist. The whole world was set into motion. It was all of great significance. But I think that the things we were saying during the 1990 Paris summit of the European countries and things which were captured in the European Paris charter – these things were never put into action. Why?
Events occurred that had a negative impact. The Soviet Union fell apart. The new Union treaty sign-off date was already scheduled, but the coup happened at that moment, which led to further events, and a radical political group entered the scene headed by Yeltsin and it took over power, taking advantage of a weakening president.
All this was of great importance. So the West started thinking “Why should we be in a hurry? We have already won”. You should remember how fiercely they insisted they had won the Cold War. Now they are as calm as we are. We all only gained when it was over, we all lost this war and at the same time we all won because we finished the confrontation. But we let the moment pass. And only now we are trying to regain what we missed. Dmitry Medvedev has put forward a proposal to create a new European security system.
Many problems could have been immediately put aside, because all of this could have existed as part of one system. Americans paid attention to this issue, but we had the opportunity to create such a system right after the Cold War. I suggested the founding of the Security Council which could have become a tool for solving the problems in Europe. Genscher – Germany’s longest serving foreign minister – had the same views and the Americans shared this idea. It seemed we all had chances, but then the USSR collapsed and the situation began to worsen. And, as often happens those hungry for blood appear. That stopped all the processes: arms reduction, nuclear disarmament, European integration. Europeans accepted this as their chance and started broadening European space. And the most important North Atlantic alliance came closer to our borders. What does it mean? What should we think? But NATO alone hasn’t solved all the problems. We need a new European security treaty. The process has started only a short time ago.
It’s good that Americans take it very positively under President Obama. It’s always difficult to revive such things.
RT: What about Obama’s initiative to reset the Russian-American relations?
MG: Well, it’s a figure of speech, this reset thing. Like I used to say “Europe should be our home, so let's build it” – it’s a figure of speech, don’t understand it directly, I didn’t mean putting up any walls, making a roof, and so on. It’s figurative. And Obama meant it figuratively.
RT: Still, will the leaders press this “reset button”, in your view – Russia and America?
MG: I think all this is taken very positively in Russia… I hope President Obama will be strong enough for this, because he’s under heavy criticism in his homeland. I trust Obama. But, you know how it works: when you start solving concrete problems, everybody starts criticizing you – like journalists, for example, they only need a newsbreak, a sensation and they don’t care about what’s being done for the people.
RT: The Nobel Prize Committee recently awarded Barack Obama with the same prize it gave you back in 1990, the Peace Prize. Do you think the US President rightfully deserves this prize?
MG: The Nobel Committee got it right, I think. Obama needs support. He is a rightfully elected leader. His election expressed the nation’s desire for a change. That’s his main goal but, for sure, that’s very difficult. The US Congress has passed the health care reform bill – it will take time for it to start working, but that’s Obama’s achievement anyway. So God help him!
RT: And today, what’s your main concern in the sphere of Russia’s relations with the West?
MG: Well… we should stop fooling around and hovering in relations with Europe. We need to move on. That largely depends on whether Europeans decide to create a pan-European security structure or not. I believe we could gain trust and an advanced level of co-operation with the EU. But the European Union does not even want compromise on basic issues, such as helping us in our effort to modernize Russia. They still fear Russia. That’s weird now. They are not moving towards things like cooperation with a Modern Russia. They’re afraid… that a technology leak will occur and it’ll be Russia that gains from it and becomes stronger again and becomes an enemy again. Strange. They seem like cultured people, people with such experience of history and they treat it like it used to be in a time when we had the threat of war over us. No. Now we need understanding, cooperation and achieving new structures. We need to change models. The ways the economy and cooperation are handled both internally and externally. Globally we need to change the way we go about things. A lot of work needs to be done. That's what we should be doing. Can we finish here?
RT: Berliner Zeitung published a poll recently, according to which 49% of the former East Germans think that it was pretty good to live in East Germany, while yet another poll showed that 25% of West and 12% of East Germans have even said a reconstruction of the Wall would be a good move. What do you think about that?
MG: Let them handle it themselves. If they need a wall, we can give a hand with that with all the might of our construction organizations. But I don't think they would act upon such a silly thought. They need to believe that the process of reunification and renaissance of Germany as a single, organic entity hasn't finished yet. Apparently East Germans know what to say as far as far as social and educational spheres are concerned. It's the discontent, the situation is such that new political organizations have started to appear and win votes. Germans are for democracy. They should realize that democracy demands consideration.
RT: Have you ever given it a thought that your destiny is similar to that of Margaret Thatcher? She's worshiped by many, but the public attitude toward her inside the UK is quite controversial. For the Western world, you are a symbol of the first democratic leader in Russia. But people’s attitude toward the Gorbachev era in Russia is controversial, too. Isn’t it vexing?
MG: No. I think what I did in the world and inside the country is very serious. If it's discussed, you know, people start to understand it better and better. I'm sure time works for Gorbachev. It works for the truth. Changes are needed and needed now.
RT: Thank you very much. May I shake your hand? Thank you.