Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 28, 2022


Gorbachev, Mikhail

The Hon. T.T. NGO (16:10): I rise today to speak on Mikhail Gorbachev. I stumbled across a speech he gave in 1987 to a World Women's Congress in Moscow, and I want to quote from that today.

Gorbachev, who passed away last month aged 91, was born to a peasant family of Russian and Ukrainian heritage on 2 March 1931. Despite his poor background, he became the leader of the Soviet Union, or the USSR as it was then called, from 1985 until that country's dissolution in 1991. The speech I came across was presented in Moscow 35 years ago, and his words would have set an optimistic tone for the future. He said:

Peace is not a utopia and if we, men and women of the earth, act energetically and together, we shall certainly uphold it.

Of one thing you can be absolutely sure: the Soviet people are deeply committed to peace and friendship among the nations…

Everyone is acutely aware that those words do not reflect the Russia of today.

Gorbachev was not a great believer in communism. Instead, as history tells us, he recognised that the Soviet Union needed to adapt. Although committed to preserving the Soviet state and its socialist ideals, Gorbachev believed significant reform was necessary.

He withdrew troops from the Soviet-Afghan war and embarked on summits with Ronald Reagan, then President of the United States, to limit nuclear weapons and end the Cold War. Gorbachev declined to intervene militarily when various Eastern bloc countries abandoned Marxist-Leninist governance in 1989 and 1990, and some of us in the chamber will remember witnessing, on 9 November 1989, crowds of Germans dismantling the Berlin Wall and the great sense of hope that followed with the unification of Germany.

Gorbachev's vision for a better future and his insightfulness about what is essential for the human race is evident in his following words:

As the third millennium draws near, humanity is obliged to assess the host of complicated problems…The dwindling of energy resources, the hunger and poverty of tens of millions, of hundreds of millions of people, ecological trouble which affects just about every country, old age and now formidable new diseases…The boys and girls of today will have to live and work tomorrow on one planet in even closer contact with each other than we do…

At the 1987 congress, Gorbachev expressed his admiration of and confidence in the ability of women's peacemaking role throughout the world. He said:

There is a growing understanding of the fact that danger can be forestalled merely by extending a hand to one another across the inevitable ideological, economic and political fences that separate states.

And I must say that it is women who perceive more fully and emotionally the absolute priority that preserving peace has over everything else…

For those of us with more knowledge than what is captured in the fragments quoted from this speech, and because of Gorbachev's efforts to make our world a better place, one can only imagine his sheer dismay at Putin's Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolding just before he died. Let us all not lose hope for the emergence of a new Russian leader with Gorbachev's wisdom and vision for peace.