Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Moment of Truth for Russia, and US

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Moment of Truth for Russia, and US

Article excerpt

THE dramatic events of recent days in Moscow have underlined for us once again that in foreign affairs it is much better to focus on principles and policies, rather than personalities.

Whether Mikhail Gorbachev falls or survives is, of course, a gripping human drama. But the critical question is not the fate of any one politician. The critical question is whether the Soviet Union, with its restless republics and unwilling satellites, is to retreat into darkness or continue its halting quest for freedom both political and economic.

That is going to depend, as the quest for freedom always does, on the will of its people. Is there something in the Russian psyche that will inevitably thrust the Soviet Union back into a bleak world of fear, conspiracy, and dictatorship? Or has the whiff of freedom so exhilarated and emboldened its people that they are ready to hold at bay the conservative bureaucrats, the army's tanks, and the agents of the KGB?

That is why it is important for the United States to base its policies not on the fleeting fortunes of intriguing and fascinating politicians like Mr. Gorbachev, but on the underlying directions and lasting commitments of the Soviet Union.

On the positive side, there is a wealth of evidence that the USSR is a country much changed for the better. It has set Eastern Europe free, and such is the fervent embrace of democracy in such countries as Poland and what used to be East Germany that there can be no turning the clock back.

In the Soviet Union itself, the fact that Eduard Shevardnadze could stand up in public, renounce his foreign ministership, criticize Gorbachev, and warn of impending "dictatorship," proves that the Soviet Union has advanced light years from the fear-ridden regimes of Stalin, and even Brezhnev and Andropov. In earlier years, Mr. Shevardnadze would have been shot for such heresy.

Then there is the passionate public self-examination of processes and practices in the Soviet Union unleashed by Gorbachev's move towards reform. Communism has failed and is being replaced, with halts and starts, by ideas from the West. But the hard lesson the conservatives have been learning is that economic freedom and political freedom go hand in hand. …

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