2008 Liberty Medal Recipient
The National Constitution Center’s 2008 Liberty Medal was awarded to former Soviet leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev for his courageous role in ending the dangerous, decades-long Cold War and in giving hope and freedom to millions who lived behind the Iron Curtain. The public Liberty Medal ceremony took place on Thursday, September 18, 2008, at the National Constitution Center in Historic Philadelphia, and it helped set the stage for international commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009.
After becoming the youngest full member of the Politburo in 1980, Gorbachev was named General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, ready to make long overdue reforms in the Soviet system. For six years he pressed for democratization by promoting glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). These policies gave a voice to the people of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, resulting in an unprecedented extension of the freedoms of assembly, speech, and travel, as well as religious freedom. In 1988, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union would abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine and allow the Eastern bloc nations to determine their own internal affairs. Gorbachev’s refusal to intervene militarily in Eastern European affairs gave hope to those struggling to end four decades of Soviet control. Ultimately, his policies created the environment which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989. Gorbachev was elected as the first executive President of the Soviet Union in 1990.
Fittingly, the Liberty Medal will be presented to Gorbachev by President George H.W. Bush, Chairman of the National Constitution Center. While serving as President of the U.S., Bush’s friendship and political alliance with Gorbachev enabled the world’s two superpowers to peacefully end their decades-long rivalry. In fact, Gorbachev trusted and valued their friendship so much that, as the Soviet flag was being lowered for the final time at the Kremlin, the person he called was President Bush. Their partnership is symbolic of the way in which Gorbachev has transcended old animosities to spread the blessings of liberty.