Meeting Gorbachev in 1995

Culture Personalities

Remembered by Sugata.

Gorbachev with Raisa in Poland
Mikhail Gorbachev with Raisa in Poland (photo credit Wikipedia)

On August 30 Mikhail Gorbachev died. Although I knew that he was ailing and that in today’s Russia only about two percent of the population thought positively of him, I felt shocked that his time on earth was over. I had loved, respected and admired him so much that in 1995 I travelled to San Francisco to attend a World Conference hosted by him.

There were around one thousand participants from all over the world, including heads of government, Nobel Prize winners, artists and experts in all manner of disciplines, with the intention of drafting a blueprint for a peaceful and sustainable civilisation for the coming 21st century. I was one of only three from Germany and was very proud to sit with him at a round table dedicated to securing a demilitarized world, starting with the step-by-step abolition of all atomic weapons.

There were only about nine of us at that table. Sitting so close to the man who had almost single-handedly ended the Cold War was so exciting! Unfortunately, just when I had prepared in my head what I wanted to say, he was called out for an emergency and had to leave the table.

At the next Conference break I approached him and his wife, Raisa, to request an interview. Knowing that the two had a very close and loving relationship which very much shaped his political attitude and decisions, I was especially keen on interviewing Raisa. They consented and we agreed to meet next day in their hotel room. Sadly, this never happened: they were obliged to return directly to Moscow. Nonetheless, I would be welcome to come and visit them there.

Feeling powerless

Connection, my own modest publishing venture, had been in a precarious financial state throughout the 30 years of its existence, from 1985 to 2015. This was certainly the case in 1995: I had been able to fly to San Francisco only thanks to the generosity of one of my readers, a Japanese pianist living in Germany. I didn’t dare trouble her again for a ticket to Moscow – but I had another idea: I would submit my account of that spectacular meeting in San Francisco to some prominent German publications, none of which had been present at the conference. Plus, I would offer them my interview with Raisa, who had scarcely ever featured in the media, in return for advancing my trip to Moscow. Zeit, Spiegel, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the three leading German publications, never got back to me. I tried calling but didn’t get through.

So, that interview with Raisa never happened and my everyday desk work at Connection swallowed me up as usual. The experience of being ignored by the big media, despite having such a major story to share, left me feeling powerless and frustrated.

Looking back on that time, I regret not having persevered with my plan to fly to Moscow. Reflecting on what happened to Russia in the years after 1989 makes my heart bleed, even today. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, initiated by Gorbachev’s noble intentions, Western Capitalism took over all the former Soviet Bloc countries. NATO expanded to the East and Putin come to power. A long road has been travelled, from Gorbachev’s Perestroika to Putin’s almost dictatorial rule and the war in Ukraine, and many chances for peace have been missed along the way.

Osho’s admiration for Gorbachev

At the end of Rajneeshpuram, Osho was briefly incarcerated in the US prison system, before been allowed to leave the country. Under pressure from the US, hardly any country would permit him to stay, so he returned to India. Meanwhile, Gorbachev had come to power in the Soviet Union and introduced his policies of Glasnost (Openness) and Perestroika (Restructuring). He initiated peace talks with the West which resulted in ending the Cold War which had dominated world politics for more than 30 years.

In his answer to a sannyasin from Russia, in May 1988, Osho expressed his admiration for Gorbachev with such words as these: “In the whole field of politics, Gorbachev seems to be in his own special category. He belongs with no other politicians” and “In the world of politics, he is the only man I have any respect for.” Unprecedentedly, he even dedicated a book to Gorbachev (together with the Russian dissident Sakharov): his book on human rights. He also said, in a hint to the Kremlin: “I would like my sannyasins to meet him.”

Although it didn’t occur to me when I went to San Francisco in 1995, looking back on this time from the year 2022, I feel proud to have been one of Osho’s sannyasins who actually did meet Gorbachev in person and connected with him in pursuit of the ‘better world’, for which Gorbachev had done so much. How sad that so little of that success remains.

Jiddu Krishnamurti and Gorbachev on renouncing power

Looking back, I also recall what Osho had said about Jiddu Krishnamurti, who in 1929 had refused to accept the leadership of the ‘Order of the Star of the East’. The Theosophical Society, at that time an enormously popular movement, had selected him as a new messiah who might reframe and refocus world spirituality. Instead, he renounced such ambition, publically insisting:

“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path.”

His support base collapsed, diminishing until he appeared no more than just another preacher of love, peace and awareness.

Something similar happened to Gorbachev: with the disempowerment and then dissolution of the Soviet Union he had also minimized his influence on world politics – as well as undermining Russia’s international standing. It is this that the majority of today’s Russians fiercely resent – they too want peace, but they interpret his friendly rapprochement with the West as an unforgivable yielding of power to the former enemy and a sellout of what the Soviet Union had to offer on the positive side: functioning health and education systems and the absence of unemployment and severe poverty.

In the late 80s, Osho had still been full of hope for a renewal of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev’s promising leadership: “Gorbachev is, perhaps for the first time in the whole history of the Russian Revolution, a man who has an insight into human values and is trying his best to make the Soviet Union a really communist democracy, an open society.”

Women in power

Thinking of Raisa and her influence on Gorbachev also reminds me of the influence which Michelle Obama had on her husband, Barack. After his eight years in office she was even more popular than Barack and many wanted her to run for president. But she demurred.

Maybe the time for women holding power in our world civilisation has yet to arrive – something more than a mere imitation of patriarchal grabbing and gripping tight. Osho himself was a pioneer in respect to giving powerful positions to women – but as is now well known, he was not always lucky with how they used that power.

  • All quotes by Osho excerpted from The Golden Future, Ch 17, Q 1
  • Quotation from Krishnamurti’s 1929 address to the OSE (thanks to Wikipedia)
  • More on Osho’s book, On Human Rights
Related discourse

Sugata works as a writer, humour-coach and facilitator of meditation, dance and self-realisation.

Comments are closed.