Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, becomes the 71st person to receive the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a special meeting in the City Hall on January 9, 2002, following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and members of U2.
“You helped change and enhance the lives of hundreds of millions of people,” the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Michael Mulcahy says as he presents the award. “There are few people in the history of the world of whom that can be stated.”
City councillors in their robes assemble for the occasion and the guests include Cardinal Desmond Connell, the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, and other members of the diplomatic corps. Gorbachev is also presented with a dove of peace in Waterford Crystal.
In his acceptance speech, the former Communist leader says there have been many events in his life, big and small, joyful and sad. “The event that is happening today in this wonderful hall is very special.”
He says Ireland has taken the right road in emphasising knowledge, education and high technology. He quips that President Mary McAleese had said to him over lunch, “We don’t have any natural resources other than the rain.”
Gorbachev notes that as a Freeman of the City of Dublin he is entitled to graze sheep anywhere in Dublin. He assures his audience he will “buy a flock” to exercise that right. “I have seen some very, very nice places in the Park, near the President’s palace.”
At a news conference in the Mansion House earlier in the day, Gorbachev comes in for sharp questioning from Eoin Ó Murchú, a journalist, who asks “ex-Comrade Gorbachev” if he felt any sense of remorse or guilt when he “stood passively aside” while the Soviet Union was destroyed and ordinary people were reduced to poverty and prostitution. He also queries Gorbachev about his decision to take part in a television commercial for a chain of pizza restaurants.
Ignoring the suggestion that he has demeaned himself by appearing in the television advertisement, Gorbachev replies equally sharply, “My advice to you as a comrade – you used the word ‘comrade’ – is that you too should probably get rid of this kind of ideological straitjacket.”
Gorbachev denies having stood idly by while the USSR was dismantled. Commenting on the Northern Ireland situation he says, “This is one of those processes where people have to make difficult choices. You will see politicians who have a ready-made recipe for everything, in many cases to use force and bombs.”
It was good that, instead of bombing, there was a peace process. Bombing was not a solution and he welcomes the peace efforts being made and the fact that parties are acting “both prudently and responsibly.”
(From The Irish Times, January 10, 2002 | Pictured: Lord Mayor Michael Mulcahy and Mikhail Gorbachev, Doheny & Nesbitt’s Public House, January 8, 2002)