From Izvestia, Oct. 16, 1990. Condensed text:
The Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded since 1901. Exactly half of that considerable period was spent in a world to which humanity is now bidding farewell – the world of the cold war. For over 40 years that war was waged by its two main participants – the USSR and the US – and not once did the two superpowers’ top leaders ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, neither the American nor the Russian. Which speaks well of the Norwegians who award the prize, who were in the Americans’ camp all those years. Not once – until yesterday, when it was announced in Oslo that USSR President Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev had received the 1990 peace prize.
This prize is more prestigious and symbolic than all others. Although the award committee has not always been impartial, it has almost always been guided in its decisions by certain principles, principles that are more moral than political in nature. Fifteen years ago (1975), Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov became the first Soviet citizen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. When you leaf through our newspaper files, you will see that reports of the event, if you can even find any, were written in an abusive rather than exultant tone. The first Nobel laureate would even have been stripped of his citizenship had he not possessed official atomic secrets – the most valuable secrets of the cold war era. Five years later, though, Sakharov was exiled to Gorky when he dared raise his voice against the Soviet leadership’s Afghanistan adventure.
That’s how far we have come – not in the past 10 but the past five years. In explaining its decision, the Nobel Prize Committee credits M. S. Gorbachev for his “decisive contribution” to today’s peace processes and his “leading role” in them. Among other things, this refers to efforts to reach a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. In the Nobel lecture that he was unable to deliver in Oslo personally, Sakharov emphasized human rights: “I defend the thesis of the primary, decisive importance of civil and political rights in the shaping of humanity’s future.” At that time, this subject was anathema to us. Today we are not found wanting in the realm of human rights even by Amnesty International, an organization that we condemned back then – and that, by the way, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.
How far we have come when the Soviet chief of state has now joined the ranks of such laureates. Although for politicians the path is not as straight, as simple and as fearless as it is for humanists and rights activists. . . .
And so at a time when Germany is uniting, from Oslo, on the other side of the barricade, the Soviet president has been handed the laurels of a Nobel Prize winner – on the day when the Soviet foreign minister (he also deserves some of these laurels) delivered a report to the Supreme Soviet, which is demonstrating its power, on cooperation in the UN against the Iraqi aggression, on the home stretch of the Vienna talks on reducing conventional armed forces and weapons from the Atlantic to the Urals, and on preparations for the Paris summit in November, where, for all practical purposes, the foundation of a new security system for the new Europe will be laid. . . .
[But] at this time of unprecedented international recognition, as demonstrated by the Nobel Peace Prize, Gorbachev is besieged by the most acute domestic problems he has ever faced. His prestige at home is not as great and undisputed as it is in the West: People’s lives are getting worse, and the prospects for pulling out of the economic tailspin remain quite uncertain. . . .
Yes, peace between the two superpowers, between East and West, has been assured to a decisive extent, something that, I think, can also be confirmed by US Defense Secretary [Dick] Cheney, who arrives in Moscow this very day – what an incredibly mixed-up time! But there is no peace within the country. That very word – peace – is now heard increasingly often in reference not to international peace but to domestic, civil peace. Unfortunately, here too we have come a long way in the past five years. And who can say what awaits us at the end of this new path? The centrifugal processes that have destroyed the façade of the socialist commonwealth are operating at full force within the traditional borders of our state, threatening the existence of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union that both foreigners and we ourselves now call an empire. How can we stay together in a different Union, in a Union of sovereign republics and states? The task of creating is far more difficult than the task of dismantling our former world, our old form of statehood.
One Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King [Jr.], who worked for civil rights for Black Americans and civil harmony within the US, once said: Either we learn to walk on our earth as brothers, or we die as fools. These harsh words also convey the dilemma of our times and determine the measure of responsibility borne by those taking part in the process of redistributing power that is now under way in the Soviet Union. . . .
Never has the reason [for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize] been so historic, and never have the problems to whose solution the new laureate must contribute been so gigantic.