Speech given at the Phoenix Club
October 10th, 2000
Dear Mr. Gorbachev and Ms Gorbachev, Deputy Consul General
Beck and Mrs. Beck, president Kunkel and Mrs. Kunkel, ladies and gentlemen: It is my pleasure, and I feel deeply honored to have been asked to say a few words of introduction about this evening’s keynote speaker and guest of honor. His courage and vision are directly and profoundly tied to our celebration of the tenth anniversary of German reunification.
In the last ten years a formerly divided Germany has become an integral part of a progressively unified Europe; for the first time in modern history Germany is at the center of a peaceful alliance. It has become the driving force of economic and political cooperation on the European continent. It’s neighbors to the East are no longer poised to wait for it’s demise, but instead are eagerly inviting German assistance in economic, scientific and technical terms.
No longer are mighty armies, with the most devastating arsenals the world has ever known, facing each other across an Iron Curtain that ran through our beloved Germany like a never healing wound.
The nightmare of a mutually assured total annihilation has given way to a lively exchange of ideas, and economic and technical interdependence. No longer is European soil the arena for the nuclear arms race, densely saturated with missiles of unimagined destructive force, nor are the world’s oceans teeming with floating weapons so powerful, their deployment would have ended civilization as we know it. No longer do Germany and America, along with it’s Nato allies, face a Soviet Union that in the 1980s spent a disproportionate 25% to 30% of it’s gross national product on weapons of destruction, nearly six times as much as the U.S. and it’s Nato allies.
Germany in the last ten years has extended it’s helping hand to most of the satellite nations of the former Soviet empire. The demand for German language instruction in Eastern Europe has increased dramatically. Personal contacts and visits among ordinary citizens – something completely unthinkable only twelve years ago – are now a commonplace occurence. Free enterprise and budding democracy have increasingly replaced the iron grip of dismally inefficient, centrally controlled economies. For the first time in over 70 years it is now possible to visit the country whose people have suffered through centuries of unimaginable deprivation and hardship and yet have given birth to the genius of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Solshenetzin, and the music of Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Rachmaninov.
The fall of the Berlin Wall, the disappearance of the Iron Curtain, the free exchange of ideas and goods and people across heretofore hermetically sealed borders, all this is revolutionary and was borne of the efforts of many people, most notably former Presidents Reagan and Bush, foreign secretaries Schulz and Baker and Shervadnaze, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Aussenminister Genscher. But no one person was more responsible for the most profound change in the geopolitical landscape of the second half of this past century, more directly involved in initiating the deeply longed for thaw in the icy and potentially explosive relations between the two hostile superpowers than this evening’s guest of honor. At the risk of losing his own life he perhaps spared the lives of hundreds of millions who would surely have perished had the insane arms race continued unabated. It was his vision of democracy and openness, of glasnost and perestroika, his dream of peace amongst former bitter enemies that allows us tonight to celebrate the reunification of Germany. Let us say “thank you” to the steadfast loyalty of Presidents Reagan and Bush and the American people. But none of their efforts alone would have made this the more peaceful world it has become in the last ten years, without the enormous courage and deeply humane vision of one of this century’s most brilliant and important statesmen. Whenever he sets foot on German soil he is spontaneously welcomed with outpourings of the deepest warmth and affection and gratitude. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the last Secretary General
of the former Soviet Union and now citizen of Russia and the world, Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev.