Remarks for the North South Center award ceremony
By Mikhail Gorbatchev
I am grateful for the decision to award me the Prize of the North-South Center, a respected organization within the framework of the Council of Europe, whose aim is to promote rapprochement and mutual understanding among nations, and I regret that I am unable attend this award presentation ceremony.
Today, we can say that cooperation on the basis of the common European values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law has become a reality in our continent. The Council of Europe is playing a key role in shaping this cooperation.
The end of the Cold War gave Europe and the world a new chance, opening opportunities for solving the global problems of security, poverty and environmental crisis. Regrettably, those opportunities were in large part squandered because of the erroneous assessment of the outcome of the Cold War and the attitudes triumphalism on the part of the elites in the West, particularly in the United States.
Concern for the future of Europe and of the world requires that we learn lessons from the mistakes made during the past decades. Among other things, it is essential that we critically assess the experience of European construction.
Pope John Paul II was right when he said that Europe must breathe with two lungs – that the European process should have two pillars.
We should return to the idea of a common European house, which is bigger than just the construction of the European Union. The EU will have to devote the coming years to “digesting” its new members and the new problems that came to light during the global financial and economic crisis. In the meantime, there remains the goal of building a Greater Europe that should include Russia and other countries which in the foreseeable future will not become EU members. If we lose sight of that goal, Europe could again become a divided continent.
In this context I must mention the idea proposed by President Dmitry Medvedev, who has called for a new pan-European security treaty. I believe that such a treaty should draw on all the positive accomplishments of the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe signed in November 1990; it should also take into account the bitter lessons of the past two decades, when, to our common shame, Europe witnessed new wars.
Following the end of the Cold War we started a search for a new European security architecture. The ideas suggested at the time included the creation of a European Security Council or “security directorate.” It was taken for granted that they would include not only the European nations but the United States as well. For European security is unthinkable without the United States and Russia, nor can it be built “against” them. However, the new generation of leaders was unable to realize those ideas.
We now have a chance for a new beginning in building a European security architecture. After initial skepticism, the initiative of the President of Russia is getting closer attention. I welcome this tendency and hope that discussions will soon take on a more concrete character.
The united Europe will be able to prove its right to leadership in addressing the main challenges of our time: demilitarizing international politics, narrowing the gap between wealth and poverty, and saving our planet from environmental disaster. Its ability to do so will be revealed to the fullest once Russia’s integration in all European processes is complete.
To try to characterize succinctly Russia today and our country’s position in the world, I would say this:
Russia is looking for its own way toward stable democracy, and it is probably about halfway down the road to that goal.
Russia is also looking for its own role in a globalizing world, and it is ready to play a worthy role in shaping the global world.
A consensus is now emerging in Russia about the need to move forward with a project to modernize the country. This is the task, as set forth by President Medvedev, which has put the issue of modernization at the center of public debate.
What needs to be done to relinquish the inefficient political and economic models and structures and to reach a new stage in our development? Those are the questions that are on our minds today. That, rather than fictitious imperial ambitions or spheres of influence, is the primary concern of Russia’s citizens.
I believe that the key is the political aspect of modernization. To succeed, a modernization project must be based on an ongoing dialog between the government and the people, which requires substantial changes in the election laws and the party system, as well as stronger and more independent legislative and judicial branches and the media.
Russia is fully capable of advancing to a new level of democracy. Modernization will make Russia stronger, but no one, and least of all Russia’s neighbors, should fear a stronger Russia.
To conclude, I would like to wish the North South Center success in its noble mission of promoting mutual knowledge and mutual enrichment of cultures and nations, who in this day and age are bound to have a shared destiny.