News and Notes

Issue Date Fall 1990
Volume 1
Issue 4
Page Numbers 135-36
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Human Rights Conference Held in Leningrad

The Polish Human Rights Foundation’s Second International Human Rights Conference took place in Leningrad on September 1-4. (The First International Conference had been held in Krakow in 1988.) Cosponsored by Lithuania’s popular front movement Sajudis, the conference had originally been scheduled to meet in Vilnius. It became necessary to change the venue, however, when members of the international organizing committee (25 persons from a dozen countries, including a representative of the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Foundation) were denied visas to attend an April planning meeting in Vilnius. The newly elected Leningrad City Council then agreed to host the conference, and Soviet authorities granted visas to most of the invitees.

Keynote addresses were delivered by Lithuanian president Vytautas Landsbergis and by Senator Zbigniew Romaszewski, chairman of the Polish Human Rights Foundation. Four other prominent speakers were from the United States—AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, Congressman John Porter (chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Foundation), and Senator Alfonse D’Amato, five of whose Senate colleagues also were in attendance.

More than 2,000 delegates representing some 50 nationalities participated in the conference. They came from as far away as Honduras, as well as from most of the Soviet Republics. Also present were exiles from China, Vietnam, and Cuba (though a visa was not granted to renowned Cuban human rights activist Ricardo Bofill).

During the course of the conference the participants divided into six working groups dealing with such subjects as the rule of law, ethnic and minority rights, and the role of trade unions. But perhaps the most important conclusion was one that echoed the [End Page 135] opening remarks of Leningrad City Council President Anatoly Sobchak: that democratic groups representing different nations must attain mutual understanding and work together to achieve their goals.

Gorbachev Quotes Friedman on Soviet Economy

Almost every day brings fresh evidence of the crumbling of Marxist ideology, but it was nonetheless startling to hear Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev invoke the authority of Nobel Prize-winning free market economist Milton Friedman in support of his hopes for economic reform. It happened at a joint press conference with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in Moscow on June 8. Responding to a question from a Soviet reporter, Thatcher emphasized that the problem in moving to a market economy is “how to change the attitudes of those who are accustomed to quite a different economy.”

Gorbachev then stepped in and recounted some words of encouragement that he had received from Professor Friedman during his visit to Stanford University on June 4. Friedman told Gorbachev the story of his participation in a U.S. mission sent to help the Japanese build a modem market economy in the wake of their defeat in World War II. His first impression of the Japanese was that they “lacked energy and initiative,” and “were absolutely not the right kind of human material . . . for new forms of economic organization.” Friedman soon saw how wrong he had been. “You know how the Japanese work now,” he concluded.

From this, Gorbachev drew a hopeful lesson. “There is no need to be afraid,” he said. “There are great psychological obstacles when mastering new . . . forms of life and methods of work, when going over to a different system . . . . He is right, in fact. This alarm in connection with . . . the transition to a market is making itself felt at the moment in our country, in our society. Quite a few resolutions about this have already been adopted, stating that although we advocate a market economy, it would be best to avoid the consequences connected with the transition, to avoid these difficulties. But it never happens that way. Everything has to be mastered. Professor Friedman’s view is that conditions—the economic system, the different environment—force people to act and think in a different way. Therefore, we have to act resolutely, without fearing, so to speak, the initial difficulties . . . .

“I met leaseholders in the Kremlin recently, and they are the very people who are working under the conditions which are necessary for a market economy. I was struck by their openness, judgment, experience, and initiative . . . . These are already different people.” [End Page 136]


Copyright © 1990 National Endowment for Democracy