Offering an historical footnote Saturday to one of the most memorable lines of the Cold War, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev confessed Saturday that he was underwhelmed when President Ronald Reagan demanded in 1987 that he “..tear down this wall.”
“Well, I’ll tell you the truth,” Gorbachev said through a Russian interpreter, in response to a question about Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech, after addressing an audience at Judson University in Elgin. “Don’t be surprised but we really were not impressed. We knew that Mr. Reagan’s original profession was actor.”
As part of a nearly week-long visit to the Chicago area, Gorbechev was the keynote speaker at the Christian liberal arts school’s second World Leaders Forum.
During his speech, Gorbachev discussed his storied political career, which including heading the perestroika movment within the Community Party that led the collapse of the Soviet empire.
After the Berlin Wall was, in fact, torn down, Gorbachev received the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.
Growing up in a farming village in Russia, Gorbachev said, he embarked on politics from a young age during the 1970s, calling it his “second love,” after his wife Raisa, who died of leukemia in 1999.
After sharing his thoughts on the Berlin Wall speech, Gorbechev went on to praise Reagan, calling him “courageously cooperative,” and a great partner and president.
He also offered advice on how current world affairs, both in his speech and during a session of pre-screened questions.
After the speech, Judson University librarian Lynn Hammerlundsaid she was honored to hear Gorbachev .
“I really feel we should listen to what he has to say,” she said.
Gorbachev also addressed current financial crisis in the U.S., saying “America needs its own perestroika.”
“I think the United States can show leadership,” he said. “Leadership also means respect for other countries.”
After the speech, 21-year-old student Adam Westhauser of Hartford, Wis. said he was inspired by Gorbachev’s remarks, particularly in his words for young people to address the world’s problems.
"He wants our generation to step up and be a part of it too,” he said.
Jack Berghorst of Aurora said he was disappointed by the speech. He would have liked to hear more about Gorbachev’s experience with Reagan and his overall dealings when he was a Soviet leader.
“He missed his opportunity to inspire,” Berghorst said.
Judson University’s World Leaders Forum is a fundraiser for an entrepreneur program. Last year’s inaugural event featured formerPresidentGeorge W. Bush.