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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 30: Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev regarding a Meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl, October 28, 1988

Traduction de Anna Melyakova

Texte intégral

1This remarkable diary entry by Chernyaev gives his impressions of Gorbachev’s meeting with Kohl, little more than a month before the seminal U.N. speech. Kohl’s trip to Moscow marks a distinct warming of German-Soviet relations after the chill of the early 1980s, and in particular the establishment of a candid personal relationship between the two leaders. (Kohl would later become the direct intermediary between Gorbachev and Bush in 1989). At the political level, these notes provide more evidence of the way Gorbachev adopted a new peer group—composed of Western leaders such as Thatcher, Mitterrand, and Kohl—outside his own Politburo. At the personal level, Chernyaev gives a fascinating summary of Gorbachev’s ideas: “‘freedom of choice,’ ‘mutual respect for each other’s values,’ ‘renunciation of force in politics,’ ‘a common European home,’ ‘liquidation of nuclear weapons.’” Chernyaev comments: “you physically feel that we are entering a new world.” We also see a crucial element of Gorbachev’s diplomatic style—his eagerness to please and to compromise—when he chooses not to use the sharp words planned for Kohl.


2Kohl met one-on-one with Gorbachev (plus me and Teltschik—assistant to the chancellor). When you watch this striving “at the highest level” to speak as one human being to another (mutually), you physically feel that we are entering a new world where the determinant is no longer class struggle, ideology, and polarity in general, but something all-human. And you realize how brave and far-sighted M.S. is. He declared the new thinking “without any theoretical preparation,” and began to act according to common sense.

3After all, his ideas—“freedom of choice,” “mutual respect for each other’s values,” “renunciation of force in politics,” “a common European home,” “liquidation of nuclear weapons,” etc., etc.—all of this is by no means new. What is new is that a person who came out of Soviet Marxism-Leninism, from a Soviet society conditioned from top to bottom by Stalinism, began to carry out these ideas with all earnestness and sincerity when he became head of state. No wonder the world is stunned and full of admiration. But our public still cannot appreciate that he has already led them from one state to another.

4Sometimes he is still caught in the old cliches. For example, after the “embrace” with Kohl during the first meeting, Kohl gave a speech several hours later in which he again and again spoke about a “unified Germany” and about “Berlin, …” The next morning M.S. consulted [with us] on what sharp words he should use with him at the start of the negotiations. He even made [Valentin] Falin and me write a “page” so that he would not forget the severity of everything he wanted to say. But he did not use any of it. […] Later it was as if he “made excuses,” saying that Kohl needed [to speak] about unity in order to fight off his allies and the overly-enthusiastic public at home!

5[Source: Anatoly Chernyaev’s Diary, Manuscript. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Vladislav Zubok and Anna Melyakova.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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