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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 106: Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Brian Mulroney, November 21, 1989

Traduction de Svetlana Savranskaya.

Texte intégral

1Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney hears an earful from Gorbachev about the Americans, but the Soviet leader’s annoyance is focused less on Bush and Secretary of State James Baker (“after a difficult period of doubts they came to very realistic positions”) than on the U.S. Congress, which he accuses of interfering in Soviet affairs with actions such as a proposed Senate resolution on the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan, scene of nationalist protests and a future civil war. “The habits of the global policeman are still very strong,” Gorbachev remarks. “Americans have an itch: to give everybody advice how to live. For Americans this is like an illness…” Mulroney agrees that Bush and Baker “have a reasonable and balanced approach to Eastern Europe,” and describes as “mature” the president’s refusal to “go to Berlin” for “a big speech” “in front of the wall,” despite pressure from leading Democratic politicians. Then the Canadian poses a series of tough questions about the limits, if any, for developments in Eastern Europe, including German unification and the future of the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet leader does not respond directly, but falls back on his vision of “the Helsinki process”—perhaps there should be another Helsinki summit involving Europeans, part of a process of mutual contacts, slow integration, and gradual change in the character of the blocs. As for Germany, Gorbachev appears to be in full denial: “let history itself solve it. This is not an issue to be solved today.”



3Gorbachev: […] Now all the world’s intelligence services and the press are debating the question of how much time is left for Gorbachev. Well, they have their work to do, they have a subject to talk about. But this is not the decisive factor. The country will not go back, it has to change. Maybe some other team would be able to affect the speed of the changes, but the country will change anyway. And in this sense, one can say that Gorbachev has already accomplished his mission. Of course, I am not going to abandon the course that I began.

4Mulroney: I have more confidence in your political longevity than in my own. And I, by the way, plan to work for several more years. […] Better let somebody else make sacrifices. There can be no changes without problems.

5Gorbachev: Our people are prepared to persevere. But they want to know, they want to be confident in the results, in the success of perestroika. Our people are patient, but their patience is not endless. You cannot test the limits of the people’s patience. They can rise like no other people. […]

6Mulroney: This brings us to the question of specific features of different peoples, for example the Americans and the Canadians. The Americans see the world in a very simple way: free enterprise, capitalism, the American flag, McDonald’s—everything is OK.

7Gorbachev: If it were only that. […] No, they have other specific traits too.

8Mulroney: In any case, they have achieved a lot implementing the principle of free enterprise. […]

9Gorbachev: I would like to emphasize one more issue. We are faced with attempts to interfere in the affairs of our federation on the part of the USA—by the administration, and especially by the Congress. It is not easy for the Americans to comprehend the essence of the new world, of the new values. The habits of the global policeman are still very strong, as are the desire to impose their opinion and the efforts to dictate to others.

10I will have to tell the president in Malta: if you want to help somebody, try to help Quebec. It is closer to you, and we will sort out our problems on our own. It seems like the American senators have lost sleep over Nagorno-Karabakh. Why is their sleep not disturbed by what has been happening in Northern Ireland for 15 years now? And that is in a country where almost 30 percent of the population is of Irish origin.

11Interference is impermissible. You know that every federation has its own problems. Take, for example, Yugoslavia. We need sensitivity here, attentive and careful consideration. And the Americans have an itch: to give everybody advice on how to live. For Americans this is like an illness—AIDS. So far there is no treatment for it. […]

  • 1 From the German “Gauleiter,” meaning the leader of a local branch of the Nazi party who often wiel (...)

12I have to say that as far as Eastern Europe is concerned it is hard for the United States to give up the habit of teaching others. It is not an accident that they call the American Ambassador in Hungary “Gauleiter.”1 People notice his behavior. However, as far as President Bush and Secretary of State Baker are concerned, it seems to me that after a difficult period of doubts they came to very realistic positions, not only on Eastern Europe but the entire spectrum of international problems. That is why I think we will have a good conversation in Malta.

13Mulroney: I agree with your assessment of President Bush’s position.

14Gorbachev: By the way, recently you visited him for four days. What did you talk about?

15Mulroney: About you (laughter).

16Gorbachev: Well I take it as a statement.

17Mulroney: Indeed, Bush and Baker have a reasonable and balanced approach to Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, there were demands that the president should immediately go to Berlin, stand in front of the wall, and deliver a big speech.

18Gorbachev: Was it a request of the Democrats?

19Mulroney: Yes, it was a request of the Democratic leader, [George] Mitchell, who is generally speaking quite a reasonable person.

20In these circumstances, Bush showed himself to be a mature politician. The majority of European leaders are behaving in the same way.

21I would like to ask you one more question about Eastern Europe. You implied that these countries are free to search for their own road in terms of economic development. Do you place any limits on that? What if the GDR begins to experience the same processes that are underway in Hungary and Poland—the emergence of new political parties and demands for free elections? Is a situation possible where a certain country would want to reconsider its relations with the Warsaw Treaty Organization? Do you think that the status quo should be pre-served—two Germanys, and existing political institutions under conditions of more freedom?

22Posing these questions, I would like to assure you that you cannot find two more reasonable people than Bush and Baker in the entire West. And I would like to ask you again to look five years ahead. What do you think? What changes might happen in the next five years in international political structures, in relations between the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Treaty Organization as a whole, and Europe, the European Communities, the West as a whole? Do you anticipate any fundamental changes?

23Gorbachev: First of all, I tell all my guests: let us develop the Helsinki process, let us not destroy what we have built. I think that now we are entering a new stage in this process, a stage where it is necessary to have a new understanding of the changes that are happening. That is why, when I was in Finland [in late October 1989], I suggested convening a Helsinki-2 summit.

24We proceed from the fact that we support the changes that are underway in Europe, not only in the East but also in the West. We say that they should continue in conditions of stability; I would say strategic stability. We can help this process by giving new substance to the activity of the existing military and political organizations. This has already begun. We can see that representatives of the Warsaw Treaty Organization are meeting NATO representatives, getting to know each other, inspecting the military technology, discussing military doctrines. The character of these organizations should change.

25Contacts between the CMEA and the European Community are being established, and we need to stimulate this process. It is important that the new relations between them take into account the requirements of our time. New ecological and cultural organizations and new foundations are emerging. That creates new opportunities for contacts between people, youth exchanges. We need to support and stimulate all this.

26As far as the German issue is concerned, as I said many times before, that issue emerged under certain historical circumstances. And let history itself solve it. This is not an issue to be solved today. To force progress on this issue would be to feed people an unripe fruit, to poison us.

27Today the reality is that there are two states that are members of the United Nations and of existing military-political structures. I am not a prophet but at some stage, in the framework of the new Europe toward which we are moving now, there could be some changes that would involve the two German states. But this is an issue for the future. Today we must act on the basis of existing realities without forcing the processes. We need to walk all the way through, without leaping over stages. Otherwise we may make a lot of mistakes; we will make a mess, not policy.


29Mulroney: You know Reagan spoke from his [index] cards even when we spoke on the phone. Bush is a completely different person.

30Gorbachev: But you cannot deny Reagan’s impressive political intuition.

31Mulroney: That is completely true. By the way, I saw him recently—for the first time after his operation. I have to say that he has changed a lot, he looks older.

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


1 From the German “Gauleiter,” meaning the leader of a local branch of the Nazi party who often wielded a great deal of power.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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