Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the former United Soviet Socialist Republic, was the guest speaker at Adelphi University on March 4 as they presented the lecture Russia and America in the Post Cold War Era. As residents of the community, members of the Long Island press, and students and faculty of the university gathered in the Ruth S. Harley University Center Main Ballroom, this collective body of community representatives prepared for a message about globalization from a world-famous historical figure. As Gorbachev began to speak about the globalization of our world, the impact of this phenomenon on this corner of the world became evident as the discussion turned to examples such as the stock market's reaction to the Asian economic problems, the possibility of military action in oversees conflicts, and educating students for the future. The personal finances of area investors, the future missions of local military personnel, and the future leaders produced in Garden City Schools and Adelphi University, all are impacted by the global world of which Gorbachev was speaking and as he spoke the connection seemed more clear.
He spoke of the importance of "avoiding mistrust and misunderstandings" between the United States and Russia and the need for our two countries to maintain a "partnership." Gorbachev referred to the work of the Gorbachev Foundation, of which he is president, and stated that their goal is to answer the questions, "Where is the world going?" and "What is awaiting us?" Gorbachev expressed that he sees the world as rapidly changing and this change requires the political community, the business community, and all individuals to work together to respond. The globalization occurring today is the result of technological advances which have essentially, "shrunk the distance between continents and countries," according to Gorbachev.
The globalization of the economy and the development of a global culture faces us with "new problems piled on top of existing problems," which he sees as a challenge for all of us. While some argue that it is best to "go with the flow," he argues that "the development of history is not preordained and that there are always alternative ways" according to Gorbachev. He stated that when "the world seemed to be moving inexorably toward war, something that seemed inevitable, the leaders of the the world at the end of the '80s negotiated an agreement." He said that the problems in Southeast Asia's economy and their impact on this area's economy is an example of how interdependent nations have become and the help given to them serves as a reminder of the responsibilty we each have in the world picture.
He also addressed the social consequences he sees from this trend toward globalization. "The wealth gap even in this country is greater than at any time since WWII," he noted. The advantages of the advantaged classes of the world grow as 20 percent of the population of the world uses 70-80 percent of the world's resources. While the citizens of Switzerland enjoy an average per capita income that is about 100 times that of the average citizen of Ethiopia, the responsibilities of each of us to those 1.3 billion people who live on $1 a day becomes more apparent, according to Gorbachev. Approximately 1 billion of the world's 3.54 billion working aged people are currently unemployed and Gorbachev sees this as evidence of the polarization of the world's wealthy and impoverished. He sees this cessionism and social strife as the leading cause of fundamentalism, extremeism, and terrorism, which we have felt on a local level with the World Trade Center bombing and the lingering suspicions of foul play in the flight 800 crash. While America continues to rely on militarization for the creation of jobs, those arms feed the arms trade which continues to flourish, but also provides the weapons used in conflicts throughout the world. Gorbachev stated that he had recently signed a call to abolish nuclear weapons drafted by Russian political and military leaders, which he hopes all citizens of the world will support and pressure their leaders to sign. His call for political leadership to decrease the arsenals of both Russia and America met with applause by many area residents, who commented after the lecture that they intended to become more politically active.
The point Gorbachev stressed the most was the need to create a world culture that teaches the value of respecting human life, human rights, good neighborliness, tolerance and appreciation of diverse cultures and ethnic groups, and the rights of all citizens of the world to a sense of equilibrium. He expressed his hope that the youth in the audience would join with the youth of the world to study every resource possible, including the internet's access to the writings of people throughout the world, and to develop a consciousness free of stereotypes and full of a new vision for the world. He added, "We are being challenged by the future and we need to find a proper response and to bring about the unity of all our lives responsibly."
As attendees processed Gorbachev's message of needing to "move to a society where the human being is the top priority" and the need for democracy and freedom in concert with social responsibility and solidarity, the significance of the work of Garden City activists became even stronger in the minds of residents who spoke with Garden City Life after the lecture. People cited the food drives by Garden City churches, mission work sponsored by the local congregations, blood drives and food and clothing collections by the Garden City High School Key Club members, the teddy bear drive organized by the Wyndham, groups like Toys for Tots, and corporate donations made by area merchants to charitable organizations. The impact of resources such as the internet are already apparent as local children routinely return home from school to surf the world wide web. As fields of study such as international business and global studies grow, program needs at Garden City's schools will continue to evolve.
This lecture is part of Adelphi University's continued goal to bring cultural and intellectual events to the Garden City community.