Last Updated September 5, 2023.
At the request of the head of state of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, US President Ronald Reagan addressed the students and faculty of Moscow State University on May 31, 1988. The Soviet Union was in the process of liberalizing many of its policies, and the Berlin Wall would soon fall. Reagan and Gorbachev had met on several occasions in the previous few years to discuss, among other topics, free speech and nuclear disarmament.
Reagan starts by thanking Rector Logunov for his introduction, expressing his pleasure about being there, and saying, "I wish you success" in Russian. He says that one of the most important messages of the summit (the fourth such summit between Reagan and Gorbachev) was the expression of peace, good will, hope, and growing friendship between the people of Russia and the United States.
Reagan says that he plans to talk about some of the issues that he and Gorbachev discussed at the summit, but first he wants to speak to his audience as university students. He declares that a revolution is sweeping the world, and it is the technological revolution of information embodied in the silicon chip. Information technology is transforming the world through innovations such as robotic labor, weather forecasting, mapping of the genetic code, and microcomputers.
The world is emerging from the Industrial Revolution into a world where "man creates his own destiny." The key to this progress is freedom of thought, information, and communication. Reagan recalls that one of the first contacts between Russian and American explorers was during one of Captain Cook's last voyages. They met on the island of Unalaska, and they assisted each other and held a prayer service.
Reagan goes on to say that in this modern technological era, the men of vision are entrepreneurs. In starting their small businesses they inspire growth. Even when they fail, they learn to improve and find out that experience is the best teacher. The plans of government bureaucracies are no substitute for the visions of millions of free people in the pursuit of their dreams. Reagan uses a short Russian folk legend to illustrate his point about government inefficiency.
Reagan gives examples of economic freedom spreading around the world in nations such as Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, the People's Republic of China, and Latin American states.
America's belief in freedom is epitomized by elections that take place at regular intervals and an independent press that reports on the candidates. Other examples of American freedom include freedom of worship, the teaching of the principles of freedom in schools, independent courts and judges, open discussions of political matters, and the protection of workers by unions. Freedom involves the ability to challenge established ways of thinking and acting, as well as an appreciation of the preciousness of every life.
The United States is comprised of citizens of hundreds of backgrounds, including people from Russia, the Ukraine, Armenia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Recently families of some of these nationalities have been allowed to visit their relatives in the West, and Reagan expresses the hope that in the future people will be able to visit freely.
Americans are also deeply religious, and they revere their freedom as a gift of God. Religious principle expressed in virtue and morality is essential to good government. Reagan emphasizes that he not only wants to extol the virtues of the United States, but also the virtues of the people of the Soviet Union. As examples of great souls, he mentions writers such as Dostoyevsky and Pasternak. He says that the world is watching the Soviet Union...
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for signs of change and of freedom. To emphasize the need for a leap of faith during changes, he brings up an anecdote from the movieButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in which the two men have to jump off a cliff into a river to escape a posse.
Change does not mean rejection of the past, but rather respect for traditional values. Change must be institutionalized to be effective, and Reagan has been discussing steps with Gorbachev. One step involves removing barriers such as the Berlin Wall. Another involves exchange programs for high school students. The United States also wants to send magazines, TV shows, and radio shows to the Soviet Union.
According to Reagan, other steps the two nations are taking include nuclear arms accords and the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan. If all the possibilities of the technological revolution are to be realized, world peace is imperative. Common people never want war, only governments do. Friendships between nations are urgently needed. Trade disputes, on the other hand, are merely friendly rivalries.
Ultimately, Reagan envisions a future wherein people can travel freely between the United States and the Soviet Union. Although the Soviet Union is still in the beginning steps, Reagan expresses his wishes that their hopes will be fulfilled. Reagan closes by saying "God bless you" in Russian.
Reagan then takes questions from the audience. He is first asked about strategic arms reductions, and he briefly summarizes progress in the treaties that are being negotiated.
The next question is about how young people in the United States have changed since Reagan was young. Reagan replies that he got his college education during the Great Depression. He says that young people in America now have a sense of responsibility in looking forward to their adulthood and the direction their country is taking.
Another student asks which international conflicts are ongoing, and Reagan mentions the Namibian independence movement from South Africa and troubles with a dictator in Nicaragua.
A student asks if the United States would assist with the efforts to find Soviet soldiers missing in action in Afghanistan, and Reagan says yes.
A student asks if the freedom of the Constitution allows people to have things like arms, drugs, and pornography. Reagan replies that there are laws to regulate these things.
A student asks about Reagan's upcoming retirement from office. He replies that after retirement he will travel, give speeches, and advance his ideals.
A student asks if Reagan is willing to meet a group of Native Americans who have traveled there to speak with him, and Reagan replies that he will be happy to meet them.
For the last question, a student asks why Reagan was willing to meet with Soviet dissidents. Reagan replies that the United States is composed of every nationality and that sometimes the backgrounds and histories of the people you meet are complicated. He then thanks the audience and receives a gift from the rector.