NEW AMERICAN: His vociferous support for Russia’s heavy aerial bombardment and invasion of Georgia notwithstanding, Mikhail S. Gorbachev is scheduled to be presented the Liberty Medal on September 18 by former President George H. W. Bush. The medal, ostensibly to honor men and women “who have strived to secure the blessings of liberty to people the world over,” is awarded annually by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
“Awarding the Liberty Medal should not be construed as an endorsement by the Center of President Gorbachev’s views on the Russia-Georgia conflict,” the center’s president, Joseph Torsella said in a report that appeared in the August 19 online edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The center has not responded to another Gorbachev bombshell that exploded earlier this year. In April, author John Koehler, who has researched and written extensively on Soviet intelligence activities, published a book in Poland entitled, “It’s about the Pope”: Spies in the Vatican. In it, Koehler cites a newly unearthed 1979 document signed by Gorbachev and eight other top Soviet Communist Party officials instructing the KGB to “use all available possibilities to prevent a new political trend, initiated by the Polish pope,” and — “if necessary — reach to means beyond disinformation and discreditation.” According to Koehler, the reference to means “beyond disinformation and discreditation” meant only one thing: “an approval to kill the pope.”
The Koehler book, which is still only available in Polish, reportedly also cites newly available documents from the files of the Stasi, the communist secret police of former East Germany, showing that the KGB was instructing the Stasi to assist in covering up the role of Bulgarian secret services in the papal assassination plot. The trigger man who shot the pope in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, was of course, Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, who was largely passed off as a mad “lone gunman.” However, overwhelming evidence of a “Bulgarian connection” has continued to grow over the years, indicating that Ali Agca was indeed trained by the Bulgarians acting as surrogates for the KGB. MORE
RELATED: Former Soviet leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev was presented with the National Constitution Center’s 2008 Liberty Medal tonight for his courageous role in ending the dangerous, decades-long Cold War and in giving hope and freedom to millions who lived behind the Iron Curtain. President Gorbachev accepted the prestigious Medal in a public ceremony at 7:00 p.m. at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall in Historic Philadelphia.
During the ceremony, National Constitution Center President and CEO Joseph M. Torsella said the event would serve as a poignant reminder, nearly 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, of how many victories Mikhail Gorbachev helped win for freedom, and how much courage it took.
“Tonight we honor a man who altered the direction of history and pointed it towards freedom. His actions encouraged freedom fighters old and new across Eastern Europe, and around the globe,” said Torsella. “And we will make some history of our own by bestowing the 20th Liberty Medal on Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, who reshaped our world for the better, for the freer. And whose life teaches us, above all, that none of us – not people and not nations – are prisoners of our past.”
As Mikhail Gorbachev said in his Nobel Lecture, “Steering a peaceful course is not easy in a country where generation after generation of people were led to believe that those who have power or force could throw those who dissent or disagree out of politics or even in jail. For centuries, all the country’s problems used to be finally resolved by violent means. I will never agree to having our society split once again into Reds and Whites, into those who claim to speak and act ‘on behalf of the people’ and those who are enemies of the people.’”
Fittingly, the Liberty Medal was presented to Gorbachev by President George H.W. Bush, Chairman of the National Constitution Center. While serving as President of the U.S., Bush’s friendship and political alliance with Gorbachev enabled the world’s two superpowers to peacefully end their decades-long rivalry. In fact, Gorbachev trusted and valued their friendship so much that, as the Soviet flag was being lowered for the final time at the Kremlin, the person he called was President Bush. Their partnership is symbolic of the way in which Gorbachev has transcended old animosities to spread the blessings of liberty.
President George H.W. Bush said that he and the Center’s Board of Trustees were proud to pay tribute to this year’s recipient. “It is a true honor for me to participate in this year’s Liberty Medal ceremony to celebrate the achievements of someone whom I consider a great world leader and a dear friend. Regardless of the dividing lines between us, President Gorbachev opened up new possibilities for the world to come together and solve its problems in the pursuit of liberty. When Eastern Europeans were living in the dark shadow of the Cold War, he provided a beacon of light. Now, almost twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are still witnessing the positive impact his efforts have had across the globe. President Gorbachev is always looking ahead at a better future and helping all of us work to get there.”
“Mikhail Gorbachev came of age when Russia was ruled by a totalitarian regime, but his thinking as a political leader broke free of this repressive straight-jacket,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “Caring about the freedom and prosperity of his people, he negotiated the end of the costly and dangerous Cold War and oversaw the demise of the very political system that brought him to power. He was a true agent of change on the global stage.”
After becoming the youngest full member of the Politburo in 1980, Gorbachev was named General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, ready to make long overdue reforms in the Soviet system. For six years he pressed for democratization by promoting glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). These policies gave a voice to the people of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, resulting in an unprecedented extension of the freedoms of assembly, speech, and travel, as well as religious freedom. In 1988, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union would abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine and allow the Eastern bloc nations to determine their own internal affairs. Gorbachev’s refusal to intervene militarily in Eastern European affairs gave hope to those struggling to end four decades of Soviet control.
Ultimately, his policies created the environment which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989. Gorbachev was elected as the first executive President of the Soviet Union in 1990. He was, wrote Lance Morrow in TIME, “a visionary enacting a range of complex and sometimes contradictory roles,” bringing the East closer to the West, acknowledging the power of the free market and religious expression, while managing a recalcitrant party establishment and attempting to revive a stagnant economy. The reforms he initiated had global implications, dramatically reducing East-West tensions and transforming geo-politics.
Gorbachev was also a tireless advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons, which led to the first major reduction of U.S. and Soviet weapons stockpiles. Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. In a move unprecedented in Soviet history, Gorbachev voluntarily resigned as leader of the Soviet Union in 1991. At that time, he told President Bush that he wished to remain in public life to encourage “new thinking to prevail in world politics.” Keeping in line with this goal, he launched Green Cross International, a non-profit organization that focuses on global ecological law. Gorbachev fervently crusades for clean air and water, and against toxic wastes and chemical weapons, in addition to working with businesses, industry, and governments to make sustainable environmental policy a top global priority. He also serves as President of the Gorbachev Foundation, which conducts political and economic research, and promotes international exchange.
Established in 1988 by We the People 200 to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, the Liberty Medal annually honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people across the world. The Liberty Medal was administered by the National Constitution Center for the first time in 2006, when Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were honored for their bi-partisan humanitarian efforts on behalf of the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. Last year’s Liberty Medal was awarded to Bono and DATA, the advocacy organization he co-founded to combat poverty and disease in Africa.
“Two of the twenty Liberty Medal recipients were significantly influenced by Gorbachev,” added Torsella. “Lech Walesa and Václav Havel could not have become presidents of their countries if Gorbachev had not paved the way by abandoning the Brezhnev Doctrine. His refusal to interfere in the domestic politics of Eastern Europe allowed for these great men to triumph in their pursuits of liberty.”
Other past Liberty Medal winners include Nelson Mandela, Shimon Peres, Kofi Annan, and Sandra Day O’Connor. The Medal has also been awarded to organizations, including Doctors Without Borders and CNN International. Six former recipients of the Medal have subsequently won the Nobel Peace Prize.
[SOURCE: Constitution Center]