COLUMN

A terrible choice for a dinner guest

BARBARA AMIEL March 1 1993
COLUMN

A terrible choice for a dinner guest

BARBARA AMIEL March 1 1993

A terrible choice for a dinner guest

COLUMN

BARBARA AMIEL

Sometimes, I see red. A terrible rage comes over me, I get angry and after-wards I feel ashamed. The most recent occurrence took place when I telephoned a Jan Greenhalgh to find out more about a letter inviting sponsorship for a March, 1993, dinner in Toronto honoring Mikhail Gorbachev.

The letter urged support of this occasion ($5,000 for a table of 10, or $7,500 to include a private reception with Mr. Gorbachev) for two reasons: “First,” explained the letter, “the ending of the Cold War brought with it the realization that, while the superpowers spent 40 years arming themselves and others with weapons of mass destruction, basic human needs were left unmet. Second, in the face of severe deprivation, people’s faith in democracy erodes. Mikhail Gorbachev was the first person in the history of Russia to bring democracy to that country in any sustained way.”

This letter was signed by “co-chairs” of ‘The Mikhail Gorbachev Dinner,” George Cohon and William Davis. It instructed one to telephone Greenhalgh to RSVP and so I did. “Why,” I asked, “are you doing this?” Greenhalgh replied with a bouncy enthusiasm. ‘We are trying to set up a middle road between Gorbachev and Yeltsin,” she said. This puzzled me. “Why?” I wondered. Her reply was upbeat. We don’t want to be ideological. We just want to help the children.” I was persistent. “But surely you are taking sides,” I said. Greenhalgh was patient, as if calming a small and rude child. “Our medical aims and objectives fall right in line with those set up by the Gorbachev Foundation and are close to those of Jimmy Carter.” A sinking feeling set in. “I’ve seen the hospitals without panes of glass,” she said, (I knew where she was going) “and the terrible pain and suffering of the children.” As I exploded she said patiently, “I know where you are coming from.” I hope not: her only excuse, I thought, is that like Cohon, Davis and Brian Mulroney who

Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t understand that the notion of reform communism was as realistic as the notion of reform Nazism visited Gorbachev, she hasn’t really thought the matter through.

Before I ignite again, let me say that my problem is not with giving humanitarian aid to Russia, but with honoring and aiding the man who to the very end fought against democracy. Gorbachev spent his very last days trying to save the Communist party and prevent multiparty pluralism. Had he been successful, he would now be the ruler of what Cohon and Davis wish to describe as an “authoritarian” regime, but which its citizens more properly describe as a totalitarian regime.

Since I rather like Cohon, senior chairman of McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Ltd., I tried to think of the best possible reason he was participating in this obscenity. McDonald’s has a large investment in Russia and that seems to me a good thing. To paraphrase Charles Wilson, the former president of General Motors: “What’s good for McDonald’s is probably good for Russia.” Cohon may simply have tried to think of the best possible “draw” for a dinner to raise humanitarian aid for a people he likes and who are good to him. I suppose many people might pay for dinner with Gorbachev, out of pure curiosity to see the man who headed up

the Soviet Union and lost—although personally I’d pay a ton more to see Solzhenitsyn.

The horror, though, in choosing Gorbachev is made clear in the letter. The first reason given for holding the dinner is all that nonsense about the “superpowers” spending tons of money on weapons of mass destruction. To speak of the “superpowers” as if the Soviet Union and the United States were indistinguishable, raises once more the theme of moral equivalency. One would have thought that by now that idea would be out of fashion. Simply put, the United States did not arm itself with weapons of mass destruction in order to enslave and murder millions of people. There was an evil empire and that was the Soviet Union, and it was bent on conquering as much of the world as it could and establishing the most inhumane systems wherever it had influence. This is not my fantasy, but a fact now well established with most of the evidence coming in the past few years from the Kremlin itself. The West, on the other hand, armed itself in order to slow down, contain and prevent the spread of this terrible virus.

The second problem is with the role of Gorbachev. There is no question that he acted in a way that brought about the dismantling of communism and the end of one of the most repressive tyrannies the world has ever seen. Nor is there any question that he personally wanted to get rid of its worst excesses, not understanding what the hardline Communists were telling him day and night: namely, that the worst features of communism were its essence and without them the whole edifice would collapse. In this way, inadvertently, he helped the downfall of communism. Now, if that makes him a democrat, then I’m a goldfish. What Gorbachev didn’t understand was that reform communism was about as realistic as the notion of reform Nazism. Incidentally, would you give money to see the man who tries to save Nazism and give it a human face?

Russia today faces terrifying problems. All are the direct result of 70 years of the system Gorbachev tried to keep alive. Communism destroyed all the values—both spiritual and secular—that bind a community together and create the qualities of character and attitude that are the building blocks of good citizenship. All those problems were repressed by bayonets and now are emerging into the open. Some segments of the Western media and elite are still trying to blame these horrific difficulties not on the miseries of communism but on its cessation. It is as if they looked at a bloody patient after an assault by kidnappers and blamed the hospital for his condition because they couldn’t see what happened when he was incarcerated.

Today, Communists demonstrate in Red Square. In Toronto, George Cohon and William Davis want to honor the man who, in the unlikely event communism ever got a stronghold on Russia again, might be the prison commandant once more. I suppose Gorbachev needs a job just like a lot of his fellow countrymen, but heaven help us, decent Canadians shouldn’t employ him.