Former Soviet leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the National Constitution Center’s 2008 Liberty Medal for his brave leadership in ending the decade-long Cold War, ultimately providing hope and freedom for generations to come.
The 2008 Liberty Medal ceremony marked an early opportunity to remember the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall to come in 2009.
“Tonight we honor a man who altered the direction of history and pointed it towards freedom. His actions encouraged freedom fighters old and new across Eastern Europe, and around the globe,” National Constitution Center President and CEO Joseph M. Torsella said. “And we will make some history of our own by bestowing the 20th Liberty Medal on Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, who reshaped our world for the better, for the freer. And whose life teaches us, above all, that none of us?not people and not nations? are prisoners of our past.”
Former President George H.W. Bush, chairman of the Center’s board of trustees, presented Gorbachev the medal, a perfect union between the two previously powerful global leaders.
The Liberty Medal award was instituted in 1988 in recognition of the 200-year anniversary of the Constitution. The award acknowledges those who have “demonstrated their leadership abilities to pursue liberty in the face of oppression and ignorance.”
The ceremony’s presenters included Torsella, Mayor Michael Nutter and Governor Ed Rendell.
“What can one person do? Turns out he changed the world and so can we,” Torsella said reflecting on the impact that Gorbachev had on ending the Cold War.
Gorbachev grew up in a world of totalitarianism under the rule of Joseph Stalin, and experienced the loss of having his grandfather arrested and sent to enslavement camp.
This event had a tremendous effect on Gorbachev, and ever since then he aimed at changing the twisted society in which he lived.
Division was expressed through out Gorbachev’s country. This was a period when nuclear war was becoming frighteningly close and many thought the building of more nuclear weapons would bring peace. Gorbachev knew that the abolishment and elimination of the nuclear weapons was the answer during his country’s devastating time, not control.
As Gorbachev said in his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, “Steering a peaceful course is not easy in a country where generation after generation of people were led to believe that those who have power or force could throw those who dissent or disagree out of politics or even in jail. I will never agree to having our society split once again into Reds and Whites, into those who claim to speak and act ‘on behalf of the people’ and those who are enemies of the people.”