Honorary degree for former Soviet president

 

The former Soviet president, Mr Mikhail Gorbachev, defended his political record, implicitly chastised Boris Yeltsin and lent his support to Vladimir Putin, in a speech at Trinity College Dublin last night.

The Russian leader was receiving an honorary Doctor in Laws degree from the University of Dublin for his service to "the cause of freedom and democracy".

Mr Gorbachev was greeted with applause from several hundred students when he arrived for the ceremony, which took place in the college's Exam Hall, under portraits of Swift, Berkeley and Queen Elizabeth I.

He received a standing ovation inside the hall, where the attendance included the Provost of TCD, Dr John Hegarty, the former Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mr Michael Mulcahy, and members of the diplomatic corps.

He accepted the honorary doctorate with the Russian word, Spassiba \thank you\. Speaking through an interpreter, he said TCD was a very ancient college and he pledged to carry the honour with dignity for the rest of his life.

Recalling his efforts to reform the Soviet system, he said the project had been "fraught with a lot of risk and responsibility and could not be fully scientific". There had been no precedent for a society to go from the communist model to the "normal mainstream of historical development", least of all a country at the centre of the socialist world.

"This kind of change was very difficult: more difficult than any kind of calculus." He and his colleagues made a "moral choice" in favour of freedom and democracy.

"Had this process become chaotic, it would have been a catastrophe for our country and the world." But the reformers did not have a chance to bring their project to complete fruition: "Perestroika was cut off."

Recalling how he was criticised for being slow and indecisive, he continued: "Gorbachev was followed by people who wanted a quick fix." This included dismantling the Soviet Union and giving "shock therapy" to the economy.

"The victim is being treated now, the country is on its feet and moving forward." The current Russian President, Mr VladimirPutin, had inherited "chaos" when he took office: "We should understand the problems he is facing".

The Public Orator of TCD, Prof J.V. Luce, speaking in Latin, saluted Mr Gorbachev as "an honourable patriot, and a humane and magnanimous citizen of the world". After the ceremony, Mr Gorbachev was besieged by autograph-seekers. "He seems to be enjoying it all," an onlooker commented. And he was.

Mr Gorbachev was guest of honour at a dinner in Dublin Castle last night, hosted by the Minister for Education and Science, Dr Woods.