Mikhail Gorbachev's recent op-ed "It's time for a second American revolution in the
spirit of perestroika" published
On the first night of the event, we had a social hour to meet spouses and catch up on the lives of old friends, then a quiz on the history of our town and class. Finally the organizing committee had us write down a word on a piece of paper to turn in. The best entries would win a prize. We were to write down the one word which we never would have dreamed or believed possible twenty-five years earlier. As I thought, many words flashed through my mind. The one that stuck with me was the word perestroika, a very unusual word but certainly one whose significance would be recognized by people my age.
The word perestroika was first made famous by the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in a speech he gave in December of 1984. It really gained importance in the Soviet Union by 1986. What did the word mean? Gorbachev said the word had many meanings but basically the meaning of the word was "revolution". In the context of the Soviet Union, this meant the measures needed to promote democratization of the Communist Party and thus change the whole political system in the USSR. It included changing the economic and social structure to allow semi-private business ventures to form in the hope that it would stimulate the economy of the Soviet Union to change from a government-controlled economy to a market-oriented economy.
How absolutely astounding and unbelievable! Here was a softening of the political empire that was the Soviet Union. How could this be happening?! This Class of '65, part of the Baby Boomer generation, which had lived under the threat of nuclear war for all of their born days could maybe see hope that the global madness would end. We no longer had to "duck and cover"! Maybe for once we could see a world for our children free of threat from the sky. In 1990 there was finally hope that the nuclear threat could be a thing of the past.
Well back to the contest at my high school reunion. The winners were announced. Third place goes to "personal computer". Alright, my word still has a chance. Second place goes to "Atari". Wow, maybe my word is the big winner; I really need that case of beer! The winner is "Macarena"--the Brazilian dance. Oh well. Better luck at the next reunion.
I didn't give this much more thought till recently. Why was the word perestroika not important to Baby Boomers back in 1990? Was it because they did not understand the word or was the word not important because it was better for other peoples of the world to conform to what we Americans wanted? I believe it was the latter because it always seems easier for others to make the sacrifices necessary for real change. The Bush Plan to cut taxes and keep prices low appealed to those of us who wished to live our imminent retirements wealthy, worry free and in relative comfort. Many believed it better for the next generation to pay the real costs of the social, economic and environmental changes that are needed to preserve this country and the world.
I now realize that we need to be brave and forward thinking to solve our problems just as the people of the Soviet Union did back in the 1980s. Gorbachev was right in 1984 and he's right now that it is time to put an end to the division in the world, wind down the nuclear arms race and defuse conflicts. We need perestroika right here in the United States of America.