Grateful Germans Roll Out the Red Carpet For Gorbachev on First Private Trip to West
IN his first foreign tour since his December resignation as president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev warned Sunday that "antidemocratic, reactionary forces" could "seriously" endanger budding democracy in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Speaking before a captivated, adoring audience of Germans in Munich, Mr. Gorbachev said that the opposition to reform in the commonwealth is consolidating, and that it aims to exploit popular dissatisfaction with the economy.
The only way to head this off, he said, is through more competent and speedier reform.
In the speech, which was nationally televised in Germany, Gorbachev said he sees his work as supporting reform and especially the Russian president and government, though he did not mention his former rival, Boris Yeltsin, by name. Russia carries the "main burden" of reform, Gorbachev explained, adding that the commonwealth must be strengthened and transformed into a working organization.
Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, arrived in Germany March 4 for a private eight-day visit sponsored by Gorbachev's German publisher, Bertelsmann, AG.
But the Germans, indebted to the Nobel peace prize winner for clearing the way to German reunification, are giving the couple a red-carpet welcome.
At the start of the trip, the Gorbachevs stayed in the luxurious government guesthouse overlooking Bonn and the Rhine River. They dined privately with Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his wife, then with Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and his wife. They also met with Germany's most important politicians from the key parties, including two former chancellors.
Responding to reporters' questions, Gorbachev refused to take credit for German reunification. But he said the Soviet Union could not have hoped to establish a new relationship with Europe if Moscow had left "the German question" unanswered.
The speech appeared to be a preview to two upcoming Gorbachev books: one on the fall of the Soviet Union; the other, his own memoirs. Discussing the transition from totalitarianism to democracy and his role in it, Gorbachev admitted some mistakes. He said he "underestimated" the resistance of Communist nomenklatura to reform, and the extent of nationalism.
But he defended himself against charges that he stayed with the party too long, explaining that he had believed the party capable of reform.
Gorbachev also said it was "fruitless" to consider the commonwealth's future as a choice between socialism and capitalism. He called that a dangerous, dogmatic comparison of "abstract categories." Rather, he said, the commonwealth should develop into a state where everyone is equal under the law.
This week, as head of his own political research group known as the Gorbachev Foundation, the former Kremlin boss will travel to Bertelsmann headquarters where he will meet leaders of Germany's leading foundations.