After 10 years in “exile” as Foreign Minister to Canada, Alexander Yakovlev and Mikhail Gorbachev get this unique opportunity to speak to each other, at length, privately…
Look what comes from this still-point moment!
Excerpt from Revolution from Within:
In assigning Yakovlev as Ambassador to Canada, the Soviet Union placed him in a country that was leading the world in the acceptance of multiculturalism and in the throes of its own socialist evolution. The “cultural mosaic” and the “global village” were prominent ideas espoused by Canadian philosophers and politicians at that time.
Canada was also one of the foremost homes of French Personalist thinkers influenced by the ideas and writings of Emmanuel Mounier and Jacques Maritain. Etienne Gilson was a leading political thinker, academic, and self-proclaimed disciple of Jacques Maritain. He founded a society to further Thomist study at St. Michael College in Toronto. Charles Taylor, a leading philosopher at the University of Montreal, openly expressed his debt to the French Personalists.[i] Perhaps most famously, Canada’s Prime Minister at this time, Pierre Trudeau was known for having adopted wide swaths of the social, spiritual, and political viewpoints that had been expressed by the French Personalists in the 1930s.[ii]
Trudeau and Alexander Yakovlev became close friends during his time in Canada.[iii] Those 10 years in Canada, in fact, certainly freed Yakovlev to read any works of philosophy, politics, and religion, whether they were banned within Soviet Russia or not.
Then, in 1983 when Mikhail Gorbachev (then Minister of Agriculture) toured Canada, Yakovlev was, of course, his host. As Yakovlev recalled in an interview years later:
At first we kind of sniffed around each other and our conversations didn’t touch on serious issues. And then, verily, history plays tricks on one, we had a lot of time together as guests of then Liberal Minister of Agriculture Eugene Whelan in Canada who, himself, was too late for the reception because he was stuck with some striking farmers somewhere.
So we took a long walk on that Minister’s farm and, as it often happens, both of us suddenly were just kind of flooded and let go. I somehow, for some reason, threw caution to the wind and started telling him about what I considered to be utter stupidities in the area of foreign affairs, especially about those SS-20 missiles that were being stationed in Europe and a lot of other things. And he did the same thing.
We were completely frank. He frankly talked about the problems in the internal situation in Russia.
He was saying that under these conditions, the conditions of dictatorship and absence of freedom, the country would simply perish. So it was at that time, during our three-hour conversation, almost as if our heads were knocked together, that we poured it all out and during that three-hour conversation we actually came to agreement on all our main points.[iv]
Two weeks after the visit, as a result of Gorbachev’s intervention, Yakovlev was recalled back to Russia to become Director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Three years later, when Gorbachev became Premier, Yakovlev was appointed his top advisor. From 1985-1990, Yakovlev was Minister of Ideology and created the framework for both perestroika and glasnost’.[v]
The Return was on.
To Learn more, read Revolution from Within.
Also Recommended is Christopher Shulgan’s astounding book, The Soviet Ambassador: The Making of the Radical Behind Perestroika
Photo of Gorbachev and Yakovlev on Whelan Farm on May 19, 1983 was retrieved from the Toronto Star newspaper article: How glasnost grew in Ontario printed 3/28/2010 in News/Insight. The photo caption and attribution: WHELAN FAMILY PHOTOGRAPH The similarly attired Alexander Yakovlev, left, and Mikhail Gorbachev found common ground on Canadian soil.
[i] See Andrew T. Grosso, Personal Being: Polyani, Ontology and Christian Theology., Peter Lang Publishing, New York, 2007. James Lawson, “From Mystique to Politique”: An Introduction to Personalism,” Corpus Cristi, June 14, 2010. Philip A. Egan, Personalism and Catholic Theology – A Primer. Order of St. Benedict, Congerville, Minnesota, 2009.
[ii] John English, “Trudeau, Pierre Elliott” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 22, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003 July 6, 2013, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/trudeau_pierre_elliott_22E.html
[iii] Trudeau and Yakovlev with Justin and Sacha Trudeau as well as Natasha, Yakovlev’s granddaughter. Photo source: Yakovlev family archives. http://www.shulgan.com/blog/2008/06/globe-feature-on-yakovlev-and-canada.html. Christopher Shulgan, Did the Cold War melt in the Great White North? Politicians debate whether talking to one’s enemies amounts to “appeasement,” but Christopher Shulgan, in an adaptation from his new book, reveals how Pierre Trudeau’s warm exchanges with a Soviet emissary planted the seeds of glasnost’ and perestroika. Christopher Shulgan, The Soviet Ambassador: The Making of the Radical Behind Perestroika, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart; First Edition, June 10, 2008.
[iv] “Shaping Russia’s Transformation: A Leader of Perestroika Looks Back – Interview with Aleksandr Yakovlev”. Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Nov. 21, 1996. Retrieved Feb. 21, 2013.
[v] An interesting revelation came in 1992 when the former Premier Mikhail Gorbachev participated in a colloquium at McGill University. There, Dr. Valentin Boss asked him if it was not true that Pierre Trudeau (former Prime Minister of Canada) had been instrumental in his decision to embark upon perestroika. To the astonishment of most of the audience, Gorbachev agreed. It is rumored that Aleksandr Yakovlev held several private meetings with Trudeau during his ambassadorship in Canada and, as a result, returned to the U.S.S.R. assured that Canada would support a radical transformation of their economy. He believed that it would lend its weight at the U.N. and other international bodies to advocate that no “advantage” be taken of the USSR during its transition.