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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 72: Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and François Mitterrand. July 5, 1989

Traduction de Svetlana Savranskaya

Texte intégral

1In this congenial and candid conversation, Mitterrand and the Gorbachevs discuss the internal conditions and leaderships of Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. Each participant is highly critical of Ceauşescu, whom Gorbachev is due to visit after leaving Paris. They are more sympathetic to Zhivkov although there is a tacit agreement that he is in frail health and will have to go. By contrast, Gorbachev is very positive about Jaruzelski. Among other topics, the Soviet leader shows an interest in better understanding the American political system, while Mitterrand offers the startling assessment that “Bush, as a president, has a very big drawback—he lacks original thinking altogether.”



3Mitterrand: So, you are going to Romania tomorrow. I appreciated the answer about Romania you gave during your interview with the TV show “Antenne-2” and the radio station “Europe-1.” (The interview took place after the press conference at the Élysée Palace on July 5). But at the same time, we all understand that Romania is a real dictatorship. The only unclear point is whose dictatorship is it—Ceauşescu’s himself or his wife’s?

4Gorbachev: Still, we should make a realistic assessment of the situation. Romania used to be a backward agrarian country, and now it is an industrialized, developed state. The challenge is to complete the economic and social base that has been created with a suitable political establishment. For example, Romania has completely solved the housing problem. This is a big victory.

5But Ceauşescu is scared of democracy. By the way, he told me that the measures that we are now undertaking in the USSR in the framework of perestroika he already implemented in Romania 10 years ago.

6Mitterrand: He told you that? Romania, of course, could use perestroika. I visited Romania several years ago. After that I never went back.

7Gorbachev: Ceauşescu probably “wrote out” a whole plan of actions for you.

8Mitterrand: Precisely. Since what year has he been the general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party?

9Gorbachev: Since 1965.

10Mitterrand: Every power is seeking a way to find its place in history. Besides, and I already quoted these words by Tacitus yesterday, “every man always reaches the limit of his own power.” That is why democracy must have a mechanism for political balances.

11Contrary to Ceauşescu, who is cracking down, Todor Zhivkov is acting in a smarter, I would even say more cunning, way. For how many years has he been in power?

12Gorbachev: He has led the Bulgarian Communist Party for 35 years now. I recall being at his meeting with students of the University of Sofia. They criticized him quite harshly, and he kept responding, “They are right about everything.”

13Mitterrand: 35 years!

14[Raisa] Gorbachev: And you thought that two presidential terms in France—14 years—is too long for you.

15Mitterrand: (Laughing.) It is also long. Zhivkov is about 80 years old now.

16Gorbachev: He is not in complete control of his legs and facial muscles. When I see him, I remember Brezhnev. […]

17Mitterrand: In the past, U.S. presidents used to be the masters of the game. Roosevelt and Truman made their own independent foreign policies. By impeaching Nixon, the Congress took its revenge. However, George Bush would make very moderate policy even without the congressional constraint because he is a conservative. Not all conservatives are alike. Bush, as a president, has a very big drawback—he lacks original thinking altogether.

18Gorbachev: The American internal political process also interests me in terms of building relations between parliament and the president. In Italy, for example, the complicated relations between various democratic institutions sometimes lead to inconclusiveness, to a disruption of the political process. In our country we have to concentrate on the implementation of radical reforms. Therefore it is undesirable that the center’s initiative be compromised by disorderly relations with the regions and with other democratic institutions. We need to find a golden median here. […]

19Mitterrand: For a revolution you need a new class that can take power in its hands. The Decembrists were able to use a powerful popular burst of discontent, but they were not ready to take power and nothing came out of it.

20[Raisa] Gorbachev: There was a lot of violence during the French revolution. Names of such heroes as Robespierre, Danton, and Marat are associated with revolutionary terror.

21I think the situation in the world now is such that when people want to change their regime, their government, it is not by way of revolution anymore.

22Gorbachev: In Poland, for example, people want to avoid repeating the events of 1980 more than anything else. By the way, this is the reason why Jaruzelski’s path toward a dialogue with Solidarity, Lech Wałęsa, and all of Poland’s political forces is gaining wide support among the Poles.

23Mitterrand: By employing cruel methods, the leaders of the French revolution were able to unite the population against the foreign threat. They were very effective in this. Just as Stalin was in his time.

24[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Fond 1. Opis 1. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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