Monday, October 24, 2005

Thoughts On The Gorbachev Speech at Miami University

Below, I posted that Gorbachev would be speaking at Miami University tonight. I did manage to listen to the speech and wanted to post some quick reactions here.
  1. It was difficult to concentrate during the speech. Gorbachev spoke in Russian and a translator provided the English translation. Both microphones were at the same volume and it was hard to discern the English. I suppose I'm just not accustomed to hearing a translated speech but it was distracting. Particularly when Gorbachev--a dynamic speaker--would deliver a section of the speech with energy and the translator would continue in a dull monotone.
  2. Gorbachev said that he never knew whether his translator was faithfully translating his words, or giving his own speech. In the end, he said he decided to go with an approach President Reagan had taught him: trust, but verify. The comments received big laughs from the audience.
  3. Much of the speech was a history lesson. He did his best to downplay his importance, stating that the living conditions for the people were so bad under the communist system and that the system was so fundamentally broken, that change was inevitable. He related an anecdote where a high-ranking member of the communist party canceled a meeting where talk turned critical towards the government. Gorbachev's lesson was that a meeting could be canceled; you can't cancel the events and realities that were driving the change.
  4. Gorbachev praised President Reagan and Schultz for their dedication and professionalism during the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms (and other cold war) negotiations. In a very Russian moment, he also praised Reagan as being a "worthy opponent".
  5. He was very critical of Yeltsin, saying that he moved too fast with reforms after Gorbachev left office.
  6. He ended with a critical rant against President Bush. Specifically he disagreed with the invasion of Iraq without U.N. approval. He thought that it was wrong to demean and marginalize the U.N., as they are all the world has. He did acknowledge that the U.N. has problems, noting that he suggested many reforms to the U.N. during his presidency.
  7. On a more personal note, I stopped by the a local pizza place that was a frequent hangout in college. While I was there, a number of people involved with bringing Gorbachev to campus stopped in for a slice or two. I heard them say they had offered to "buy him as much vodka as he wanted" but he declined to go out with him in the evening. If Gorbachev has shown up in my favorite pizza place in Oxford, OH...well, let's just say it would have been blog-worthy.
Overall, I liked the speech, except for the end. The beginning of the speech discussed the fall of communism and the process by which he initiated change in great detail. The end seemed hurried and offered little explanation other than "Bush bad, U.N. good." As Keith notes, below, the way the U.N. handles Syria will be a good test to see if they can reclaim some legitimacy in international politics. I have severe doubts, but I'm willing to give them a chance, to see how they do. (I think the change in leadership in Germany, coupled with Chirac's reduced popularity could allow for more definitive action.)

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