Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

The Nobel Peace Prize: Then and Now

President Obama is going to be accepting the Nobel Peace Prize next week. The conservatives are outraged. People in the middle are confused: “What’d he win it for?” Or just not very interested. People like me think history. 🙂

I was a thirteen year-old citizen of the Soviet Union when the General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. At the time, I scarcely paid attention. I fretted more about things like keeping my elastic stockings safe from tear – because I sure wasn’t going to get new ones. The grown-up Russians were not making a big deal about Gorbachev’s win, either. They were no longer worried about the freedom to share political jokes, or the liberation of political prisoners from the Gulag (even though that was still in progress at the time of the Prize announcements). What the Russians mostly wanted to know was where to find a piece of sausage for dinner, or maybe a pair of new underwear.

Gennady Gerasimov, a spokesman for The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quoted at the time by the Western media, summed up the overwhelming Russian sentiment. “We must remember,” he said. “This was certainly not the prize for economics.”

Nineteen years later, here we are, too, with a young president who is pushing a liberal radical program for change, which is turning out to be harder than he might have considered.

So many parallels come to mind, it feels like we are standing on the other side of a historical mirror. When Obama rode into town, with his beautiful young black family – people cried, people cheered. When Gorbachev first started out as the General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, he, too, personified new hope. He was, energetic, forceful – and yet democratic – not to mention young at 59, compared to his ailing predecessors. His ideas held the Soviet Union spellbound – someone like my mom, a dangerously opinionated Jew with a deflector father, who had been forever harassed by the authorities – could finally breathe. But by 1990, hope became just another shortage product, like socks. Cynicism returned full-force, and armed with permission to speak up, the Russians didn’t hold back heir opinions. They ridiculed Gorbachev for losing control at home, while soaking up his popularity in the West. 

People like my mom understood that though imperfect by far – he was still the best hope for freedom we had at the time.

The day Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize, my mom applauded, even when her compatriots jeered and mocked, and some Western newspapers called it a “consolation prize.”

Nineteen years later, on the day the Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced their decision, my mom was “shocked.” Today, my mother is a staunch Republican (though she’ll argue she’s an independent – hey, don’t we all say that?) 🙂

 Defending himself from bewildered journalists on the day of this year’s Prize announcement, the Nobel Committee Chairman explained that President Obama received the Prize for “a new vision of what he stands for.” Just as back there, back then, Gorbachev was a symbol.

 Of course, Gorbachev had been in charge for five years at the time he received the prize. He had time and did achieve major – one might argue, unimaginable –accomplishments, though his achievement led to collapse of the system and the country he loved and believed in. On the other hand, we had Obama as our leader for just a tad longer than it takes for a human being to ripen in a mother’s womb. Funny how the Right loves to blame President Obama for every disaster, but now they point out the truth – that he’d been in the office for too short a time for the results of his ideas to really show just yet.

In his acceptance speech, the president said he doesn’t deserve to stand in the company of the others, whose achievements had been proven. But he is accepting the award as a call for action.

Nineteen years ago, the committee voted to say, “Good job, thanks for the change, Gorby.” Now, they are saying, “Go for it, America! We are excited; we share in your hope. Keep the faith!”

photo from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Barack_Obama_&_Joe_Biden_with_Mikhail_Gorbachev_3-20.09.jpg 

Vice president Biden and President Obama meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in June 2009.


December 1, 2009 - Posted by | The U.S.S.R. | , , ,

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