In order to remain engaged in helping resolve global problems, Mikhail Gorbachev said the United States must respect other nations. The former head of the Soviet Union spoke Saturday evening at the second annual World Leaders Forum held by Judson University.

In order to remain engaged in helping resolve global problems, Mikhail Gorbachev said the United States must respect other nations.

The former head of the Soviet Union spoke Saturday evening in Elgin at the second annual World Leaders Forum held by Judson University. All proceeds from the event go to the university’s Entrepreneurial Program Endowment Fund and the Judson Student Scholarship Fund.

“The world is facing difficult challenges,” Gorbachev told the packed auditorium in Herrick Chapel. “I recommend that you and other young people think about these problems. ... This is a necessary battle because the world needs change.”

Gorbachev spoke of how he came to power in the Soviet Union. He served as general secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991.

He recognized that reforms were crucial if the nation was going to overcome its many challenges, he said. For his efforts to promote freedom in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Gorbachev was presented with the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1990.

Someone once asked Gorbachev at a public event what he would recommend to the people of the United States, as many Americans believe the country was headed in the wrong direction. Gorbachev said this question came as a surprise to him as it is normally the United States offering suggestions to the rest of the world.

“I will say that America needs its own perestroika,” Gorbachev said, referring to the process of liberalizing the political system in the Soviet Union by offering more freedoms. “The world is changing. ... We must find democratic answers to the problems of living in a global community.”

When asked what he enjoyed the most about traveling throughout the West, Gorbachev said he appreciated the directness of Americans. He said he respects the way that Americans have worked to advance the cause of freedom.

But addressing global problems will require accepting change and respecing other nations, Gorbachev said. Change in the world is inevitable, and reforms are just as necessary in other countries as they were in the Soviet Union, he said.

Craig Kaplowitz, professor of history and director of the Honors Program at Judson, set the stage for Gorbachev’s speech by recalling the words of French political philospher Alexis de Tocqueville in his book “Democracy in America,” written in 1935: “There are, at the present time, two great nations in the world which seem to tend towards the same end, although they started from different points: I allude to the Russians and the Americans. ... All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural limits, and only to be charged with the maintenance of their power; but these are still in the act of growth; all others are stopped, or continue to advance with extreme difficulty; these are proceeding with ease and with celerity along a path to which the human eye can assign no term. ... Their starting point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems to be marked out by the will of heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.”

In quoting Tocqueville, Kaplowitz pointed out the unique dynamic that has long been shared by Russia and the United States. He said Tocqueville’s vision of these two nations came true and that Gorbachev was one of the key players in helping the Russian people transform their society.

“Mr. Gorbachev took great risks for change to the point of working himself out of a job,” Kaplowitz said. “President Reagan told a joke about this as they discussed arms control. He said, ‘When I told (Gorbachev) we should put all our cards on the table, he pulled out his Visa and MasterCard.’”
Gorbachev advised the Judson students to seriously think about the world’s problems and how to approach them from a global perspective.

“I would like to wish all of you success in your studies and success in the projects you will undertake for life,” Gorbachev said. “Only people who target the real problems of the global community can succeed.”

In listing the concerns for which people around the world must struggle, Gorbachev toward the end of his speech exhibited his sense of humor. He reminded his audience that he was given about 15 minutes to talk and then replied, “OK, time is something we also need to fight for!”