No Country for Old Communists

Mikhail Gorbachev, at Seminole Hard Rock, tears down that hall

He stopped and coughed at one point, explaining, "I'm having some problems with my throat — with my voice. I remember my professor at Moscow University who would always drink water during his lecture. He said, 'Even the best lecture should be watered down.'"

He spoke of how hurt Russians were by the way the world reacted during the dark period under Yeltsin. "The West wanted Russia to be weak," he said, and as a result, the close diplomatic relations he worked so hard to build in the 1980s were squandered.

The most interesting moments came during the question-and-answer period following the speech, when he received some hostile queries. The first came from Carlos Navarro, a world history teacher at Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami. "Your country claims to be a democracy, and there are many places in the world today that want independence," Navarro said. "Why does your country reject the independence of Kosovo?"

"Well, I wonder if you are familiar with the entire story of Kosovo," Gorbachev said.

"Yes. I teach world history," Navarro said.

"Well maybe you are teaching the wrong kind of history," Gorbachev countered.

"I guess when you invaded Afghanistan we were teaching the wrong kind of history too," Navarro said.

"Absolutely, you're right," Gorbachev said. Invading Afghanistan "was a mistake. It was a mistake similar to the military action in Iraq."

This drew an enormous cheer from the audience. Gorbachev had deftly gotten them on his side, showing he could take all comers. People streamed to the microphones like mothers to a Soviet bread line. South Floridians drilled the former president on Serbia, and on Slobodan Milosevic, whom Gorbachev called "a bad man," but not before criticizing the NATO military action in the region in the late '90s. He was asked about Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, and his impressions the first time he met Reagan ("I went back and told my council, 'Yeah, he's a real dinosaur.'").

Eventually, Renate Schanzleh had her turn. "Mr. Gorbachev, all my family lived behind the Berlin Wall," she said. "At 68 years old, I've met them and I thank you." Then she lifted a copy of Gorbachev's book, Manifesto for the Earth. "I also have your book here. Would you sign it for me please?"

"I think it will be easier to sign the book than to bring down the wall," he said, smiling at the world's best pick-up line.

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