Gorbachev, Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II: alliance for the fall of a world order

Mikhail Gorbachev and John Paul II in 1989.
Mikhail Gorbachev and John Paul II in 1989.
Mikhail Gorbachev and John Paul II in 1989.

On August 30, 2022, Mikhail Gorbachev passed away at the age of 91. In self-conscious praise, which was consistent with the government’s provision for a burial without state honors, the current president of Russia and his predecessor in the Kremlin,

Putin called him “a statesman who had an enormous impact on the course of world history.” And of course Gorbachev’s passage leaves a deep, indelible, important mark; a lesson for the entire human community today and always.

With Dilthey we have to affirm that what the Human Being ‘it is’, he experiences it only through his history. However, aside from Historicism, the sometimes forgotten need prevails, to differentiate the individual history of each one and their position, compared to our future as a collective. A valid theoretical framework for this writing is the contemporary English historian Nicolás Lewkowics and the ideas that emanate from his book ‘The rise and fall of the liberal era: a small history of the 21st century’, published in 2020. It is a chronicle of events after the end of the Cold War. I will also refer to the content of the extensive book ‘His Holiness of him’, by the journalists Carl Berstein, American, and Marco Politi, Italian.

An era and its protagonists

Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher at Reagan's funeral.
Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher at Reagan’s funeral.

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990; John Paul II occupied the throne of Saint Peter from October 1978 until his death in 2005. Ronald Realgan presided over the United States of America from 1981 to 1989. The latter was the year the Wall fell. In papers on the historical website of Thatcher –’Prime Ministerial Private Office files’- it is possible to access official documentation and notes on her visit to the Soviet Union on the occasion of Chernenko’s funeral, -practically the last of the members of the old communist guard- in ‘PREM19/1646 Soviet Union (Prime Minister’s visits to Moscow for the funerals of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko in February 1984 and March 1985 respectively). Of total and definitive international protagonism, an unequivocal feature of Thatcher’s mandates was her complete alignment with the foreign policy of the United States.

In that 1985 Russia was preparing to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of its acceptance of Christianity. John Paul II would say at the consecration ceremony: “To you, mother of Christians, we entrust in a special way the peoples who celebrate anniversaries, six hundredth [Letonia]and thousandth [Ucrania y Rusia] of his adherence to the Gospel”, as we are told in ‘His Holiness’ (P.514 and ss).

The beginning of the papacy also coincided with the concern of the Soviets with the flourishing of Islamic Fundamentalism in the Muslim republics of Central Asia belonging to the USSR, and with the Ayatollah Khomeini entering Tehran as a conquering hero. As journalist biographers point out, it was a terrifying scenario for the USSR: “Besieged from east and west by a gripping movement of believers.”

An important link figure in the events that would end the USSR a few years later would be William Casey, a fervent Catholic, who “attended mass almost daily and whose house was full of statues of the Virgin.” Bernstein and Politi give an account of Casey’s first secret meeting with John Paul II in his capacity as Chief of the CIA, to deliver to the pontiff a photograph taken in 1979 from a spy satellite, and of which nothing would be known for another ten years afternoon.

Poland, Walesa and the Pope

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Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, 1985.

In the contemporary years of power for Reagan and the Polish pope, Karol Wojtyla was the inspiration and ultimate protector of the ‘Solidarity’ movement, an alliance of non-communist workers within the Soviet empire that ruled Poland; the union received funds from western countries and Casey would make sure they kept coming.” With the aid, Solidaridad published newspapers, magazines, factory bulletins, and undercover radio broadcasts – between 1982-1983 alone, about eight million US dollars. Its founder and leader, Lech Walesa, was a direct favorite of John Paul II. In 1983 the Pontiff visited Poland once more; met him three times. In October of that year Walesa received the Nobel Peace Prize.

-At this point it is worth mentioning that at the initiative of Monsignor Núñez Collado, and in homage to Walesa’s work against a totalitarian regime, our Mother and Teacher University conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities on him in 2001-.

The overwhelming leadership of the Pope and the political events in Poland definitively redrew the strategic map of the Cold War. In the USSR Brezhnev had died in November 1982; his successor Yuri Andropov former head of the KBG was furious at the Nobel Prize for Walesa. He wrote to Jaruzelski, communist leader in Poland: “The church is reviving the Walesa cult, inspires and stimulates it. This means that the church is generating a new type of confrontation with the Party.” When Andropov died, he was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko and eleven months after his death Mikhail Gorbachev was installed in the highest power of the USSR.

Gorbachev kept his commitment to a new and reformed Communism but in a very special and altered way; his Perestroika, the reform regime he promoted and the consequences of it happened too quickly. In June 1988 he received Cardinal Casaroli in the Kremlin: “The most important thing that exists is the human being,” declared the Soviet leader. The human being is the one who should be at the center of international relations, that is the starting point of our ‘new thinking’. During the autumn and winter of 1988 one dictator after another of Eastern Europe fell precipitously, and not the reformist communists but the democrats came to power. Citizens, encouraged by the triumph of Solidarity, took to the streets by the millions, euphoric.

During his time in power, Gorbachev never lost time or opportunity to establish a close relationship with Thatcher and Reagan, with whom he met more than once; On December 1, 1989, just a few days after the fall of the Wall, he met with John Paul II in the Vatican; it was the first time that a General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR and the Catholic Supreme Pontiff had met. The premises were the religious guarantee for believers in the Soviet Union, and world disarmament. The day before, Mikhail Gorbachev had spoken in the Italian capitol about the need for spirituality in the world. He called for a “revolution in the souls of men” while extolling “the eternal laws of humanism and morality that Marx spoke of”: “Religion helps Perestroika,” he declared. We have ceased to claim a monopoly on the truth…we no longer think that those who disagree with us are enemies”. There was no mistaking his words: they reflected a new world order.

In the context of advancing relations with the Vatican and his meeting with John Paul II, Gorbachev proclaimed in the USSR: ”We want to put our plans into practice through democratic means. But my experience of the events of recent years suggests that Democracy itself is not enough. A moral code is also required. Democracy can not only bring good but also evil”. They were ideas in perfect symphony with those of the Polish pontiff.

Neither the pontiff nor the Russian leader would expect the Soviet regime to dismember so quickly; John Paul II’s goal was to consolidate the new freedoms conquered by Eastern Europe; however, in August 1991 the red empire entered the throes of death. The early morning of the 19th in a coup conservative members of the Politburo seized power in Moscow putting Gorbachev under arrest. Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Federal Republic, rebelled against the coup and transformed the seat of Parliament into the seat of the resistance. On the 23rd the putschists surrendered. Yeltsin and his intervention became a sign that the popular will was to end Communism once and for all: On December 25, Gorbachev left office and in the afternoon the red flag descended on the green dome of the Kremlin.

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Thatcher laughing with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raísa, at the Soviet embassy, ​​on April 1, 1989.

On his first visit to post-communist Prague, His Holiness declared: “[El comunismo] it had revealed itself as an unattainable autopia because some essential aspects of the person were neglected and denied, the irrepressible yearning of the human being for freedom and truth, and his inability to feel happy when the transcendental relationship with God was excluded”.

In recent weeks, the journalist from the newspaper ‘Acento.com.do’ Fausto Rosario has carried out a series, quite interesting, of interviews with different leaders and personalities related to the Dominican left. Undoubtedly, it is a space of revisionism, current, objective, healthy in favor of an ideology that entered history to stay, and that, already part of universal culture, must align itself with the new times and pay due reverence to the imperishable concept of ‘Modernity’, that is: to present its credentials of novelty assuming what has already been gained by Humanity to enrich itself, and finally continue, assimilated to the inevitable transformation

Gorbachev, Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II: alliance for the fall of a world order