NATURE IS MY GOD
The name of Mikhail Gorbachev, who dismantled the Communist empire, seems to have disappeared into distant memory. Yet, this is the man who still holds a dream of democracy, ecology and spirituality for Russia and for the world.
An Interview by Fred Matser
values are important to you?
I am glad that you
ask about values. The twentieth century has been one of the most tragic
centuries, a century with a lot of bloodshed, domination and destruction. It is
the most paradoxical century. On the one hand, we have made big breakthroughs in
knowledge which has resulted in new technologies. On the other hand, because of
these technological breakthroughs, for example, nuclear weapons, our very
survival is in jeopardy. We are witnessing a breakdown of the proper
relationship between humankind and the rest of nature.
I believe that
this situation has arisen because we have retreated from the perennial values. I
don’t think that we need any new values. The most important thing is to try to
revive the universally known values from which we have retreated.
As a young man, I really took to heart the Communist ideals. A young soul certainly cannot reject things like justice and equality. These were the goals proclaimed by the Communists. But in reality that terrible Communist experiment brought about repression of human dignity. Violence was used in order to impose that model on society. In the name of Communism we abandoned basic human values. So when I came to power in Russia I started to restore those values; values of “openness” and freedom.
did you understand that this model had to be rejected?
There was no
“one day” when I understood. It took a whole life to draw conclusions. But
when I realized what was happening and when I had the chance, I started to make
changes. My philosophy is a philosophy based on common sense. Common sense
refers to a sense of measure, a sense of moderation. If, for example, freedom is
not linked to morality, it is not freedom. It is permissiveness. It is just
self-seeking, rather than freedom.
Life has value in
itself. Even if some methods are claimed to be progressive, if they result in
destruction of life, then they are unacceptable. I believe that the twenty-first
century must be the century of human beings living in harmony with nature,
rather than being enslaved to technology.
We must encourage
those who favour economic liberalism in Russia, but they must abandon the idea
that they can use this ideological vacuum in order to impose Westernization as a
way to solve our problems. I think that economic liberalism is no less
vulnerable than Socialism or Communism. Economic prosperity must go hand in hand
with social cohesion and ecological sustainability. What good is a lot of money
when the social fabric is destroyed and the environment polluted?
Values such as
solidarity, a socially-oriented economy, and the need to harmonize relations
between humankind and the rest of nature are equally important. The future will
depend on whether we will be able to find a synthesis, to find a fusion of
ecological, liberal and social values. These I call “the perennial values”.
I want to put great emphasis on the intrinsic value of nature, because without nature people cannot exist. We must preserve both people and nature. If we do not respect nature, we could eventually disappear; and once again on Earth we could have nature without humankind. Humans gaining better knowledge of themselves and their role in the cosmos is of paramount importance. If we do that, then we can insure ourselves against many dangers. Humankind should become more modest in terms of its needs and more respectful of the environment of which we are just a part.
If we do not learn
to live in harmony with nature, we shall make our own lives hopeless and we
shall eventually jeopardize our own existence. In that sense I believe that we
should go back to a new kind of renaissance. This new renaissance should be
based on the idea that people should live more naturally.
could people rebuild their self-respect whilst also respecting nature?
We need to go back
to the universal values in order to gain such respect. However difficult, we
should try to preserve strategies that do not abandon those most important
values. We should seek to incorporate those values in practical ways. First of
all, we have to abandon all kinds of violence. Secondly, to understand that we
should not resort to extremism. Politicians in Russia, as elsewhere, need to
understand that a free-market economy is no guarantee for safeguarding universal
values. Once you have a free market you will not find overnight that you are
living in a free country. A lot of experience has to be gained in how to use
that freedom. So one has to be willing to go along the path step by step and
incorporate other principles. If we fail to restore human dignity and ecological
sustainability, the free market is of no use.
If the social cost
and environmental cost of the free market are not taken into account, trust will
evaporate. People today are disenchanted with politics. They do not trust
politicians and feel that politicians just regard them as the means to power.
people want change, it is very important that they get inspiration from the
There is no doubt
about it. Without inspiration, all attempts at reform would fail. Human beings
are not just dust in the air; they want to be involved in changing life for the
better. Today, people with power in Russia are incapable of being in touch with
the people who initially trusted them. The result is that the people have lost
their inspiration; they live in a survival mode. This again cultivates the old
mindset, dependent on having a good tsar or general secretary. But in a country
where many nations and ethnic groups live, you can only achieve your goals when
the entire society is involved.
you speak about your personal life? For example, what did you learn from your
Firstly, I learned
common sense from my parents, which is so typical of rural people. They have a
feeling for nature, for the cosmos, for the world, for real life. They are born
on the land and they live on the land. They have a feeling for that land and
they know that land. Often they raise their heads to look at the sky, not just
to see the clouds that bring the rain, but they look at the stars. People who
are associated with the land interact with the stars. This association with
nature gives people a very good hold on common sense.
I also learned
modesty and humility. In rural communities there is a lot of very hard work
which brings tolerance and solidarity and this is something I saw in my family
and in my village. This has remained with me throughout my life. I have never
forgotten where I come from. Sometimes people whose roots are from peasant
stock, whose family is barely literate, are embarrassed by it. But I am never
embarrassed by it; in fact, I am proud of my rural roots.
The wife of the
president of Finland once asked me how I endured difficult times. I said, “I
have to thank my parents who were peasants and who really put a solid foundation
in me, who gave me fortitude, who gave me stamina and a kind of wisdom.”
I also said that I
was grateful to my wife. She is not just a wife, but she is a true friend. She
has shared my life in good times and in bad. She is a great source of strength
are your spiritual beliefs?
Well, I believe in
the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. Look at the sun. If there is no
sun, then we cannot exist. So nature is my god. To me, nature is sacred. Trees
are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.
you knew you were to die soon, what would be your message to the world?
I am not afraid of
death. Which does not mean I am indifferent to life: I like living. I am very
curious and life is interesting. I am not a nihilist. We come to the world, we
will leave the world, but I do not think that it will be without trace. Death is
not the end.
Were I to know I
was going to die, I would not make a big fuss about it. I would be living
naturally as before. I would not want to use the remaining time to send any
particular message. I would use all the remaining days to communicate and to be
in contact with nature. Being at one with nature. I remember when we went to our
village. Wheat was growing. We saw a field of wheat and in the evening we heard
quails singing. It was like a symphony, a concert. Then, during the night, I saw
all those stars in the sky and my feeling was that I was being supported by
nature and that I was dissolving into nature. So the remaining days I would just
leave for this kind of communication with nature. I would not want to trouble
the living with any message.
does the word “love” mean to you?
Love is a mystery
of nature. I think it is good that it will remain a mystery. Of course, there
has been a lot of comment on love. First of all, love for me is what unites man
and woman. Love also unites humans and nature. I believe that we are dealing
here with a mystery that is too big for us. Once you try to define it, it is the
end of love. It dies once you think you know its secret.