An Evening with William Taubman

Nick Hernandez/The Avion Newspaper
Marc Bernier (left) and William C. Taubman (right) have a deep conversation about the intimate details of Mikhail Gorbachev’s life.

Nick Hernandez/Webmaster

On the evening of Jan. 22, Professor William C. Taubman from Amherst College spoke to the Embry-Riddle Campus in the first SpeakER Series of the 2018 Spring semester. Taubman is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Gorbachev,” a biography of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Taubman had the chance to interview Gorbachev eight times in his life. The first interview almost did not happen; when Taubman asked Russian officials if he could interview Gorbachev, officials told Taubman that Gorbachev would invite him for the interview if he felt like it.
Luckily, Taubman was requested to interview with Gorbachev and was repeatedly asked back four more times before the year was up.  While Taubman was scared for his life during the first interview due to Gorbachev’s intimidating demeanor, Taubman described Gorbachev as a warm, informal man with a bit of an ego. This fact is not something you would think to hear from a Soviet Politician.

Gorbachev was involved with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union since the 50’s and became president of the USSR in 1990. He stepped down as president one year later because he wished to form a democracy in Russia. On Nov. 24, 2001, Gorbachev was elected head of the Social Democratic Party of Russia. Gorbachev was the popular vote in the first democratic election but soon became unfavorable because he was changing too many things during his term. What was happening was Gorbachev was listening to the cry’s of the people and fixing things which led to his downfall in 2004 when the people and government were questioning his leadership and direction
of the Democratic Party or Russia. 

Taubman got to experience the warmth of Gorbachev’s hospitality during the next few interviews over the years following his presidency. Gorbachev was an astounding father and husband as Taubman found out during their Rose Garden interview, where Gorbachev invited Taubman and his wife to his private rose garden. Taubman and his wife were both reasonably well-spoken when it came to Russian, but every so often Gorbachev would stump the couple with slang and let his ego take charge. But in this meeting, Gorbachev told Taubman that he hated bloodshed, so when he resigned as President, he did it with dignity.

After Russian political figures retire they drop off the map, unlike that of U.S. figures. In fact, it was almost unknown when Gorbachev starred in a Pizza Hut commercial in 1997 and was a public speaker at many more significant events that paid out upwards of six figures. Gorbachev used this money to buy Novaya Gazeta newspaper, a newspaper that “spoke the truth,” and still runs today. 

Gorbachev and Reagan were close when it came to politics and friendship. Taubman stated that if you were to try to describe how either man treated their wives, they would both be identical. They both had similar views on politics, which helped lead to signing the Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987, as well as the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. While Gorbachev and Reagan were both pretty similar, they also had their differences. Gorbachev would keep a friendly façade and proceed with negotiations, whereas Reagan would use intimidation to negotiate.

While Gorbachev and Reagan might have gotten along, Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin were to be considered enemies. Taubman compared them to the Montagues and Capulets. The worst plan Gorachev had been a part of was the 500 days plan with Yeltsin. Trying to establish a market economy with the man who instituted shock therapy for the people of Russia.

To bring things into a modern light, Taubman brought up the topic of Vladimir Putin. Gorbachev believes that it would be impossible to establish democracy in Russia within the century, and Taubman regards this as well, stating that Gorbachev entrusted Putin with keeping things the way they were before until it was genuinely possible to establish a democracy.

Nick Hernandez/The Avion Newspaper / William C. Taubman further contemplates the life of Gorbachev and the relationships he (Gorbachev) had with some of the world’s famous politicians.

Putin is the current president of Russia, in fact when he re-elected in 2012, he changed the constitution, allowing him to serve a six-year term; this means Vladimir Putin will have served in politics in Russia for longer than Joseph Stalin. Taubman also spoke about his relationship with current U.S. President Donald Trump. Putin believes they are in a good relationship, not necessarily friends, but sufficient acquaintances. The reason Putin views Trump more as an ally is while Putin may be calculative and Trump may be “twitter-ative,” neither like to for other to betray them.

After Taubman gave his speech, he opened up the floor to questions. One important topic was, “Due to all the political tension, do you believe we are in a Cold War, and if so which one was more dangerous, the past one or the current one.” Taubman responded that yes, we are indeed in a new cold war, but Russia is smaller than they were before, but they are also now more anti-American. Both cold wars were dangerous in their own perspectives with the Cuban Missile crisis in the 1960’s, to Russia annexing Crimea and invading Ukraine.