WORLD/COVER

STYLE, SUBSTANCE AT THE SUMMIT

John Bierman May 30 1988
WORLD/COVER

STYLE, SUBSTANCE AT THE SUMMIT

John Bierman May 30 1988

STYLE, SUBSTANCE AT THE SUMMIT

WORLD/COVER

ESSAY

John Bierman

One is a leader on the brink of retirement, still immensely popular despite his disengaged style and the scandals haunting his administration. The other is in vigorous middle age—with perhaps 20 years of public life ahead of him—and possibly more widely admired abroad than at home. The first, President Ronald Reagan, is concerned with history’s verdict on his presidency. The second, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, faces a more immediate judgment—the vote of a special congress of

the Soviet Communist party on the reforms, which he admits have plunged his country into “turmoil.” For the hopes of both men, the May 29 to June 2 Moscow summit may be critical. But the summit will be one of style rather than substance. With no major East-West agreements to conclude (page 28), image will be the essence. Reagan, making the first U.S. presidential visit to Moscow in

14 years, is not expected to stage an unscheduled walkabout, as Gorbachev did during the last summit in Washington in December. But he is likely to talk to nonofficial Soviet citizens in informal settings. Said White House communications director Tom Griscom: “We are going to put the President in their environment, where they work and where they live.” Congress: Image will be even more important for Gorbachev. Four weeks after his talks with Reagan he will face the first special party congress in 47 years as he seeks grassroots endorsement of his controversial glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) policies. The Soviet public’s perception of his summit performance could help him prevail against the conservatives and party bureaucrats who oppose his reforms.

When Gorbachev became generalsecretary of the Soviet Communist party 39 months ago his reformist utterances were greeted with skepticism, both at home and abroad. By contrast, when Reagan entered the White House in January, 1981, there was little doubt of his sentiments when he dubbed the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and embarked on the biggest defence buildup in U.S. peacetime history. Given the strident anticommunism of his early days in office, Reagan’s fourth summit meeting with Gorbachev — marking a progressively and dramatically improving climate of East-West

relations—testifies to his unexpected ideological flexibility. It also reflects Gorbachev’s fierce commitment to domestic reform: the East-West thaw could not have happened but for the Soviet leader’s apparent determination to divert resources from defence to improving the economy, Flexibility: Recent speeches demonstrate both Reagan’s flexibility and Gorbachev’s determination. In Chicago on

May 4 Reagan praised recent improvements in Soviet human rights. He also acknowledged American shortcomings in caring for the homeless and race relations. In the past such statements would have drawn a sharp protest from right-wing Republicans. But in recent months the hard right has been growing increasingly disillusioned. Said Howard Phillips, chairman of the Virginia-based Conservative Caucus Inc., last week: “It’s futile to protest. Reagan is the captive of the same sort of people who plotted the disastrous policies of the Nixon administration.” Gorbachev’s problems with Soviet conservatives were highlighted in a May 7 speech to Soviet newspaper and magazine editors, when he openly challenged the hard-liners and entrenched party bureaucrats who oppose him. Conceding that glasnost and

perestroika had created “turmoil” and “panic” among the Old Guard, Gorbachev pledged not to deviate from “our chosen path, our chosen goals, our chosen methods.” And he said that he will restructure the party itself, with the obvious aim of smashing the power of the traditional establishment. More immediately, he called on Communist party branches to choose the 5,000 delegates to the June 28 special congress from among his supporters. Risk: In convening the congress, Gorbachev is taking a calculated risk. And last week—confronted by evidence that delegate selection so far was failing to produce a reformminded majority—many of his supporters were urging him to postpone it. Said Prof. Timothy Colton, director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Russian and East European Studies: “One problem is that there have been few tangible benefits for the ordinary people. Professors and intellectuals have got glasnost, but blue-collar workers have not gained much from perestroika.” And for most Soviet people even fresh food and high quality consumer goods remain scarce (page 22).

In foreign affairs, the reality of Gorbachev’s new approach is dramatically demonstrated by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. He now seems likely to try to disengage the Soviet Union from other regional hot spots, including southern Africa, and to play a more constructive role in explosive areas such as the Middle East (page 26). Said a senior external affairs department

official last week: “To rebuild the Soviet system, Gorbachev needs a stable and predictable foreign environment and the co-operation of the advanced economies of the West. The Soviets can only do that if those countries do not see them as a threat.” Skeptical: Still, many Western conservatives and military experts evidently remain skeptical. On a visit to Ottawa last week North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Supreme Cmdr. Gen. John Galvin told Maclean's: “If we ever get the idea that Soviet intentions have changed we will increase our risk tremendously. I am worried that within NATO there is a sentiment of wishful thinking.” However, a survey of 963 Americans, published last week by the Public Agenda Foundation, a nonpartisan New York City research group, found

that “Americans do not see the Soviets as a direct nuclear threat to the United States or its allies.” Only 15 per cent of those polled thought that the Soviets would start a nuclear war and that, said a foundation spokesman, represented “a fundamental shift” in public opinion. Meanwhile—despite such retrogressive behavior as the arrest and weeklong detention of dissident editor Sergei Grigoryants—glasnost continues at a dizzying pace, especially in cultural affairs. In the past two weeks alone: • Key extracts from 198b, George Orwell’s classic novel of totalitarian dictatorship, banned in the Soviet Union since it was published 40 years ago, appeared in the weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta. • The avant-garde theatrical director Yuri Lyubimov, 70, who was stripped of his citizenship while visiting Britain four years ago, was allowed to return to stage a once-banned play in Moscow. Observers say that this may open the door to other artistic exiles, such as cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. • Official permission has been given for the country house of poet and nov-

elist Boris Pasternak— best-known in the West for his 1956 novel, Doctor Zhivago — to be turned into a museum. Pasternak was pressured to decline his 1958 Nobel Literature Prize and died in 1960. Dr. Zhivago was banned until its serialization in the journal Novy Mir earlier this year. • Soviet television last week carried its first commercial, a PepsiCola ad, while subse-

quent advertisements featured Visa International —“the Soviet Union’s first credit card”—and the Sony Corp.’s color TV sets. But those developments did not necessarily impress ordinary Soviet citizens, who tend to be deeply conservative. Nor did they relieve the major irritants affecting them—notably the shortages of food, adequate housing and consumer goods. As a senior external affairs officer put it, “Gorbachev is saying to his people, ‘There are no carrots now, but if we all work together there will be plenty of carrots later.’ ” Gorbachev may need to perform brilliantly at the summit to rob the hard-liners and bureaucrats of the chance to stifle his reforms by playing on the Soviet public’s desire for a little more of the good life now.