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angle-left null La visite historique de Mikhaïl Gorbatchev au Conseil de l’Europe
Event's background
13 September 2019

Mikhail Gorbachev’s historic visit to the Council of Europe



By inviting Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to come and speak to it in July 1989 – the year of the great upheaval in eastern Europe – the Assembly achieved a masterstroke on the political and media front. The success of this audacious step reinstated the Council of Europe at the centre of the international stage at just the right moment and undoubtedly contributed to the acknowledgment, at the 1st Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Organisation, in Vienna in October 1993, of its role as “the pre-eminent European political institution capable of welcoming, on an equal footing and in permanent structures, the democracies of Europe freed from communist oppression”.

The portents of a new era

Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in March 1985. Compared to his predecessors, he was a young leader, who appealed to westerners because of his reform projects based on perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). Even before he was appointed, he travelled abroad and in December 1984 he visited London, where he made an eye-catching entrance onto the diplomatic stage. He impressed Margaret Thatcher, who said in a letter to the US President after their first meeting that “I certainly found him a man one could do business with” and someone who could help improve relations between the West and the Soviet Union.

The new President of the Assembly, the French senator, Mr Louis Jung, elected in May 1986, could not escape the growing infatuation. At our first meeting of “fellow Alsatians”, he confided in me that he was intending to invite the new head of the Kremlin to Strasbourg and establish relations with the Supreme Soviet. In his view the Council of Europe’s future lay in eastern Europe and, taking a lead from his predecessor, he planned to visit some eastern European countries to talk with their leaders. He established close ties with the General Secretary and it was on attending the meetings between them that I was able to follow from beginning to end how the idea of inviting Gorbachev to Strasbourg took shape.

It is unquestionably thanks to the political vision of the Assembly prior to the event and its’ leaders insight that this was possible. Three debates on East-West relations were held from 1986 to 1988 and this enabled the Assembly to flesh out its doctrine on the future role of the Council of Europe in the still somewhat uncertain new era that seemed to be dawning. The French member of parliament, Catherine Lalumière, who later took over as Secretary General of the Council of Europe from Marcelino Oreja, was the rapporteur for the last debate in October 1988, after which she stated as follows: “The Council is also best placed to explore with the countries of eastern Europe, the potential for a European awareness, a European identity, a ‘common European home’, first with one country, then with another, until it finally extends from the Atlantic to the Urals”.

At that time, the idea of a “special guest status” to the Assembly for parliamentary observers from eastern Europe was already being discussed in the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries, and this clearly illustrates the Assembly’s ability to anticipate events and its pan-European view of European construction at a point when caution and circumspection were still the watchwords in other national and international institutions, including the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Senator Jung, who was a wise and experienced politician, knew that Gorbachev’s visit could not be taken for granted and the ground had to be properly prepared. He sought backing from colleagues who were in favour of the idea and had influence in the Assembly’s political groups and national delegations, particularly his predecessor and close friend, the Socialist, Karl Ahrens (with whom he was considered to form the Assembly’s “Franco-German couple”), the Austrian Christian Democrat, Ludwig Steiner, who was the Chair of the Political Committee, the Swiss Liberal, Peter Sager, who was the Chair of the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries, the French MP for Moselle, Jean Seitlinger, the Gaullist, Jacques Baumel, who was a future Chair of the Political Committee, the Swedish Conservative, Anders Björck, who would succeed him in 1989, the Spanish Socialist, Miguel Angel Martinez, who would also become President of the Assembly in 1992, and the German Christian Democrat, Leni Fischer, who would become the first woman President of the Assembly in 1996.

The members of this informal group agreed that a campaign had to be led to ensure that the Council of Europe would be the first European institution to host Mikhail Gorbachev. They also thought that within the Organisation, only the Assembly was in a position to take such a step. Very quickly, it became clear that the ideal scenario would be for the event to take place in 1989, the year in which the Organisation would be celebrating its 40th anniversary. This meant that there was an urgent need to develop ties with Moscow and familiarise it with the Council of Europe, which was still widely regarded as an “instrument of the Cold War”.

President Jung, who had already been to Belgrade and Bucharest, gained the Bureau’s agreement to invite a delegation from the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The invitation was accepted rapidly and on 20 April 1988 a delegation of four members came to the Council of Europe for an exchange of views with the Enlarged Bureau of the Assembly. At the outset, the head of the delegation, Vladimir Terebilov, who was a member of the Soviet of Nationalities and President of the Supreme Court of the USSR, proposed that there should be a discussion without a fixed agenda, focusing initially on general questions then on more specific ones concerning the whole of Europe, particularly human rights. The discussion was actually very open and direct and resulted in the adoption of a list of possible areas of co-operation between the two assemblies in the Council of Europe’s priority areas of politics, law, environment, education, culture and health. The outcome was encouraging and a second visit took place the same year during the October session, when the delegation dealt in particular with the “status” that the Assembly might grant to representatives of the Supreme Soviet.

Evidently, this initiative was highly appreciated and created a favourable environment for the plan to invite Mikhail Gorbachev to come to fruition. The Soviet delegation presented Louis Jung with an invitation to visit Moscow issued jointly by the Speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the Union and the Chairman of the Soviet of Nationalities of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The Soviet news agency, TASS, regarded these reciprocal invitations as “the beginning of a new stage in the development of relations between Soviet and west European parliamentarians”.

The invitation to Mikhail Gorbachev is given the green light

As the planned date for Mikhail Gorbachev's visit approached, it became urgent to secure the Assembly's agreement for the invitation to be sent. The Bureau decided to include the question on the agenda of the Standing Committee meeting scheduled for Athens on 30 June 1988. It was also decided to call a meeting on this occasion of the Joint Committee, the statutory body for consultation between the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly, which was undoubtedly the most appropriate setting in which to discuss this extremely delicate matter, especially since, under the Council Statute, the President of the Assembly also chaired the Joint Committee and set its agenda. To our great surprise, there were no dissenting voices among the parliamentarians, and the Standing Committee, acting on behalf of the Assembly, instructed President Jung, without any proviso or objection, to establish appropriate contacts and keep the Bureau informed of the steps that had been taken in preparation for Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit.

This all came as an even greater surprise to the Ministers' Deputies, only a few of whom had been let in on the secret. They all rushed to the telephones, of which there soon proved to be far too few, to alert the authorities in their capitals. There was some criticism to the effect that the invitation was premature and there had been a lack of consultation between the two bodies. However some ambassadors recognised in private that the Committee of Ministers would not have been able to take such a decision and all went well at the Joint Committee meeting, which was the most important thing.

The invitation letter was sent via diplomatic channels in October 1988. It was addressed to Mr Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, as the President had been performing both these functions since the beginning of the month.

The details were finalised on 1 March 1989 at a meeting in Strasbourg between President Jung and the Ambassador of the USSR in France, Yakov Riabov, accompanied by his political adviser, Alexander Orlov. The programme for President Gorbachev's trip was beginning to take shape and included a visit to the Federal Republic of Germany in mid-June and a second to France on 4 and 5 July. This would enable him to come to Strasbourg on 6 July at about 11 a.m., it being understood that he would have to leave at the end of the afternoon. He would be accompanied by his wife, Raisa, and his Foreign Minister, Edward Shevardnadze.

The Ambassador asked if the visit could be regarded as a visit to the Council of Europe, not just the Parliamentary Assembly, as President Gorbachev also wished to meet the Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers, and Louis Jung agreed to this immediately. The Ambassador also asked if the European Parliament could be involved. President Jung replied that he was open to the European Parliament being represented in an appropriate form, while taking into account the number of places available in the Assembly Chamber.

The Ambassador also met the Chairperson of the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries, Peter Sager, whom he asked about progress on the establishment of special guest status for east European countries, which was supposed to make it possible for the legislative assemblies in these countries to send representatives to Strasbourg as soon as the circumstances allowed, without necessarily waiting for them to join, which would inevitably take more time. This shows how much store the Kremlin and the Supreme Soviet set by obtaining this status, which certainly played a substantial part in President Gorbachev’s decision to accept the Assembly’s invitation.

Special guest status was adopted by the Assembly in May 1989 and on 8 June the Bureau, as enlarged to include the chairs of political groups, granted it to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, at the same time as the legislative assemblies of Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia. With hindsight, it seems astonishing that it was granted to the USSR because in principle this status was reserved for countries who were likely to join the Council of Europe. Yet, of course, the accession of such a huge country, made up of 15 federated republics within one Union, including several Asian ones, and with a population of nearly 300 million, was not on the agenda at all. Unquestionably, the desire to help to end the Cold War and reduce the political divide between East and West took the upper hand, along with a desire to assign the Council of Europe a new role in European construction in its broadest sense.

The issue of the European Parliament

The fact that Gorbachev was coming to the Council of Europe and the date scheduled for his visit were no longer a secret and we knew that this was causing a certain amount of bad feeling in the European Parliament, many of whose members could not imagine that the head of the Kremlin would come to Strasbourg without speaking to the Parliament. Whereas, on our side, we were thinking about ways of getting the European Parliament involved in the event, rumours began to circulate – and were propagated by the press – that the problems in finding an arrangement were due to the rivalries between the two assemblies which “had sent out separate invitations at the end of 1988” (this was not true).

To nip these rumours in the bud, President Jung decided to call the President of the European Parliament, Lord Plumb, with whom he had excellent relations. Their telephone conversation took place on 7 April and Louis Jung confirmed to his counterpart that the Soviet leader’s visit to the Assembly would probably occur on 6 July, just after his official visit to France. He told him clearly that he himself hoped that the European Parliament could be involved in the event, in a manner to be determined, and he offered to discuss the matter together at the next plenary session of the Parliament in Strasbourg.

The Clerk of the Assembly, Heiner Klebes, had made an advance study on the possibility of involving the European Parliament in the event. Because of a lack of space, it was impossible to hold a joint meeting of the two assemblies in the Assembly Chamber of the Council of Europe. In fact, there were only two possibilities: either a delegation from the European Parliament would have to take part in a special sitting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or Mr Gorbachev would have to make successive visits to both institutions along the lines of those made by the US President, Ronald Reagan, (on 8 May 1985) or Pope John-Paul II (on 8 October 1988). The latter scenario was impossible, however, because of the time constraints on our renowned guest. As a result, President Jung tried to get Lord Plumb to agree to the solution of sending a European Parliament delegation to the sitting to be held by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

At its meeting of 11 April the Enlarged Bureau of the European Parliament failed to agree to any of the proposals. President Plumb’s spokesperson explained to the press that the Enlarged Bureau had decided not to host President Gorbachev for two main reasons – one technical, as the Palais de l’Europe did not have the capacity to accommodate both the 518 MEPs and the 360 members of the Parliamentary Assembly at the same time, the other political and legal, deriving from the fact that the European Parliament would be right in the middle of a renewal of its members at the time of the visit and not yet legally constituted.

On 19 April, President Gorbachev formally accepted the invitation from President Jung, whose determination and political know-how had been decisive in the success of this project, which he had been planning ever since he was elected President. However, as his term of office was scheduled to end on 8 May 1989, it was his successor who had the privilege, some weeks later, of welcoming the President of the Soviet Union to the Council of Europe.

Visit to Moscow by the new President Anders Björck

The Swede, Anders Björck, was elected on the same day as the opening of the first part-session of the Assembly of 1989. The transition was easy because Louis Jung had involved his prospective successor in the operational decisions concerning the rest of the year, which was a particularly busy one in the Assembly’s history, in terms both of the political agenda and the events scheduled. He was a dynamic and efficient young man, who had chaired the Conservative group in the Assembly for several years, and was in favour of opening up the Council to the east European countries while paying due regard to its fundamental values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Louis Jung had not had the time to take up the invitations from the Chairmen of the two Soviets of the Supreme Soviet so Anders Björck decided to go to Moscow very quickly to prepare for the visit by the Soviet President to Strasbourg and discuss future co-operation between the Soviet Union and the Council of Europe. The visit took place from 26 to 30 June 1989 with a top-level parliamentary delegation including the new President’s predecessor. Among others, we met Anatoly Lukyanov, the first Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Vladimir Petrovsky, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Yevgeny Primakov, the Chairman of the Soviet of the Union, all of whom expressed their appreciation at being granted special guest status and approved of the list of areas of co-operation which had been adopted through a joint agreement of April 1988. At governmental level, Mr Petrovsky announced the appointment of a senior civil servant in his ministry who would be responsible for following Council of Europe activities and mentioned the possibility of opening a Soviet Consulate in Strasbourg which would provide liaison on site. Anders Björck also talked at length with Ambassador Yuri Deriabin, who he knew personally and whose articles, published under the pseudonym “Kommissarov”, he read in Pravda. This discussion was held in Swedish because Deriabin had been posted in Finland where Swedish was commonly used, so he spoke it fluently. Having helped to draft the speech which Mikhail Gorbachev was about to give in Strasbourg, he supplied some very interesting information about what it would contain. He said that there was to be an offer of large-scale co-operation between the East and West and a total change of mindset, and if it was well received, this would open up a new era of international relations.

The visit was highly appreciated in Moscow, as reflected by an article by the Russian journalist Yuri Kovalenko, published in Izvestia. Kovalenko had attended the May session of the Assembly, in which the Council of Europe had celebrated its 40th anniversary, welcoming Finland as its 23rd member state, and had followed our visit to Moscow very closely. He described himself as a “witness of the changes that have occurred in the Council of Europe and the new spirit that reigns there”, and noted that “this period of change has come about at the same time as new political faces have acceded to the leadership of the body. At the May part-session, a young Swedish Conservative, Anders Björck, was elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly, and Catherine Lalumière, a leading figure in the French Socialist Party, who was formerly the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, was elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe”. He went on to report on conversations he had had with these two representatives of the Organisation, before concluding as follows: “In my many conversations at the Palais de l’Europe, I have been convinced of one thing, namely that the aim of the work that happens here is to build ‘bridges’ to establish co-operation with Socialist countries. And this is where the leaders and parliamentarians see the true path towards strengthening the Council of Europe’s role, influence and transformation, turning it into a body for co-operation between all the European countries without exception. It is no coincidence that so much attention is paid in Strasbourg to the idea of a ‘common European home’”.

Mikhail Gorbachev calls for the construction of a “common European home”

The Assembly Chamber was full to the brim that Thursday 6 July when Mikhail Gorbachev arrived and was accompanied to his seat by Ms Lalumière. The audience, made up of parliamentarians, ministers, local personalities, diplomats, civil servants and special guests from four east European countries, gave him a very warm welcome and listened very attentively to his speech, which lasted about 45 minutes.

President Björck welcomed him very cordially, stating in particular: “We see in you the man who set your great country, the Soviet Union, on the path of modernisation and democracy and who welcomes the developments occurring in the neighbouring countries whose delegates are with us today”. Mikhail Gorbachev began by citing Victor Hugo’s European dream and continued in the same vein: “Europeans have a truly unique chance – to play a role in building a new world, one that would be worthy of their past, of their economic and spiritual potential”. His speech was excellent – well structured, full of content and delivered in an entirely new style, which had never been heard before from a Communist leader. This paper is not the right context to go into the details: readers who want to learn more should consult the excellent appraisal of the speech by Denis Huber, in his book “A decade which made history - The Council of Europe 1989-1999”.

Personally, I enjoyed this speech very much, and found that its tone and vision made you want to subscribe to it. The speaker seemed sincere, although there is no doubt that the generosity of his ideas concerning disarmament was also inspired by economic and social problems at home in the Soviet Union. Although he was hazy about where the “common European home” began and ended, he did outline the nature of the project, in which security and its corollary, disarmament, would be the foundations, and specific proposals for co-operation in several areas would provide the substance.

The speech was perhaps difficult to grasp on first listening, because its diverse aspects were linked up together, interconnected in a generous vision of peace and co-operation between the peoples of Europe and beyond. In fact, what we were expected to understand was that all these aspects went to make up the common European home: security and disarmament, the creation of a huge economic area encompassing East and West, co-operation in the humanitarian sphere, including human rights, legal co-operation, including the prospect of the Soviet Union acceding to some Council of Europe conventions and, in the longer term, the creation of a pan-European legal area. Even co-operation in the environmental field was cited, and proposals for very specific activities were made.

Some commentators wondered whether the President had chosen the wrong setting to talk so much about security and disarmament issues, as the Council of Europe was an organisation whose main mission was to champion human rights. I believe that he focused on this aspect deliberately, hoping that his proposals would be welcomed more in Strasbourg than in Brussels or Washington. At any rate security was one of the fundamental aspects of his idea of the common European home and his words were very clear in this respect: “The philosophy of the concept of a common European home rules out the probability of an armed clash and the very possibility of the use or threat of force, above all military force, by an alliance against another alliance, inside alliances or wherever it may be. It suggests a doctrine of restraint to replace the doctrine of deterrence”.

This key sentence abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine which, on the basis of the concept of “limited sovereignty”, was used to justify – even in retrospect – the intervention of Warsaw Pact troops in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968. It also explains the Soviet President’s insistence on starting negotiations on the total elimination of tactical nuclear weapons alongside those on the reduction of conventional weapons and strategic nuclear weapons.

Other commentators considered that the speech was disappointing where it came to the issue of human rights. It is true that this is not mentioned explicitly as one of the areas that make up the common European home and that there is no mention of the Court as one of the institutions based in Strasbourg. President Gorbachev talked about humanitarian issues, legal co-operation and a European legal area based on Council of Europe conventions. But was there any alternative given that he had stated at the beginning of his speech that “the fact that the states of Europe belong to different social systems is a reality. The recognition of this historical fact and respect for the sovereign right of each people to choose their social system at their own discretion are the most important prerequisite for a normal European process. … Any interference in internal affairs, any attempts to limit the sovereignty of states – whether of friends and allies or anybody else – are inadmissible”? This made it very unlikely that he would announce that the Soviet Union was planning to join the system of rights established by the European Convention on Human Rights, which was a supranational body implying a right for the Court to interfere in the event of violations of the rights guaranteed.

Even more disappointing for our Organisation was the fact that the speech failed to specify whether the common European home should be built from the ground up, or on the basis of an existing institution. Some passages clearly have in mind the CSCE and its “three baskets” of negotiations, as is confirmed by the proposal “to convene within the next eighteen to twenty-four months a second Helsinki-type meeting”.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that the prevailing feeling among the spectators in the Assembly Chamber was that they had experienced one of the great moments of European history. New prospects seemed to be opening up for the Council of Europe, giving it the opportunity to play a major role in the forthcoming stages of the European unification process.


Reactions and parliamentary debate

The senior officials who were interviewed said that they were impressed by Gorbachev’s speech, and their comments were very positive. Anders Björck was pleased that the Soviet President had abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine, and hoped that this would “help to shape the democratic process which is necessary for closer co-operation with the Council of Europe”. Catherine Lalumière considered that Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to the Council of Europe was “the recognition of the European project by the Soviet Union and the beginning of a process of dialogue and co-operation which will flourish in the years to come”. The Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers noted as follows: “most of the issues raised are backed up by concrete proposals. We may or may not agree with Mikhail Gorbachev but what he says is based on tangible ideas and may help us to adopt shared positions on various problems”.

Roland Dumas, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated as follows: “this speech represents a big step in the direction of western Europe” and “by recognising that equal importance needs to be attached to problems of security and disarmament, economic development and the progress to be made where it comes to the human dimension, Gorbachev has assigned objectives to the reconciliation process between East and West to which we can subscribe”. He noted, however, that “this rapprochement can only be made in stages and if it is to be genuine, a real climate of trust needs to arise and an end needs to be put to certain situations which stand in the way of the new spirit he talked about”. For his part, the West German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, said that Gorbachev’s speech was an impressive declaration of faith in Europe.

There is no doubting that the operation was a media success – 469 journalists were directly accredited at the Council of Europe and another 150 or so came from Paris with Gorbachev. In fact, the Soviet leader attracted more journalists to the Palais de l’Europe – from all over the world – than Pope John-Paul II on 8 October 1988. On the whole, the President’s performance was greeted positively, albeit of course with some nuances. The British press was the most open and positive. The article on the subject in the Independent of 7 July was entitled “Gorbachev’s European appeal”, and that of the Times, “West is offered hand of co-operation”. The Alsatian regional daily, Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace, presented an educational piece analysing the meaning of the speech under the title “Uniting the Nations of Europe” while emphasising that the weak point was human rights. In his column, Alain Duhamel said that Gorbachev had adopted a “low profile”, which could be accounted for, he argued, by “the situation in his own country and in Poland and Hungary” and by his visit to Paris where “he was dealing with the least credulous and accommodating of his discussion partners, who now expected the young and enterprising Soviet President to demonstrate his good intentions”.

A debate on East-West relations was held the next day and it provided an opportunity for the members of the Assembly to express their opinions on President Gorbachev’s speech. There were 35 speakers on the list. The chairs of the political groups spoke first, welcoming the President’s excellent words and his announcement of a new era in East-West relations. However, the general tone was somewhat cautious, and nobody predicted that the reconciliation which both sides seemed to desire would happen quickly. Everyone agreed that the Council of Europe should make itself useful in the course of the proposed rapprochement. The Chairs of the special guest delegations from Hungary, Poland, the USSR and Yugoslavia expressed their joy at being able to be present in the Council of Europe and experience a historic moment of the utmost importance.

During this debate, the most unusual tribute came from the representative of the US Congress, Alfonse d’Amato, who stated as follows: “Let me speak plainly. I believe that the United States has an intrinsic interest in seeing that the Soviet Union and its allies identify with the house of freedom. My immediate personal goal is to see to it that our President comes here, participates in this forum and delivers a speech of substance, as President Gorbachev did yesterday”.

Differences of opinion in the East and caution in the West

Gorbachev left Strasbourg as planned towards the end of the afternoon of 6 July to travel to Bucharest, where the Warsaw Pact meeting was being held the next day. After the comprehensive and spontaneous tributes he had met with in Strasbourg, it was no easy thing for him to be attending his first ever summit of this type, for although the Pact had supported his disarmament proposals, there had been serious differences of opinion on the path to be taken in other areas between the reformers, who had been buoyed by the official abandonment of the Brezhnev Doctrine, and the guardians of Soviet orthodoxy, who would have liked these “heretics” to be disavowed. As a result there was a growing gulf between countries like Hungary and Poland on the one hand and Romania and the GDR on the other.

Gorbachev had probably counted on a little support from the West. However, the response from the President of the United States, George Bush, the day after the Strasbourg speech, was a blunt rejection. The United States would continue to make the opening of negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons conditional on tangible results in conventional arms control. Unsurprisingly, NATO adopted a similar stance. More surprising though was the announcement by the US President that he would be visiting the East on 10 July, travelling to Hungary and Poland, as if he wanted everyone to understand that the Soviet leader did not have complete control and the United States could not be prevented from helping those in the East who had set off on the road towards democracy and economic liberalism. Answering a question from a journalist on the aim of this journey, George Bush said that he had not taken offence when Gorbachev had visited the FRG and France so why should his visit to Poland and Hungary cause any tension?

All of this considerably dampened the enthusiasm with which Gorbachev’s speech of 6 July was greeted at the Council and very quickly, the focus turned to the over-ambitious nature of the project and its dual goal of reforming the Soviet Union and building a common home for Europeans, all with the support of the United States. The more sceptical thought that this was a complete Utopia!

The Committee of Ministers did not follow up on the Norwegian Chairmanship’s proposal to set up a working group on the follow-up to the speech. In the Assembly, the most committed members regretted the fact that the rejection by NATO of the proposals concerning tactical nuclear arms control had caused the other aspects of the common European home message to fall by the wayside in just a few days. As so much effort had been made to get the Soviet leader to visit, we felt obliged to consider how some of his proposals could be followed up on. Our brainstorming meeting with a select group of members and the President was very productive in this respect.

Obviously, the Soviet leader had no plans for the Soviet Union to join the Council of Europe, and left it to the Council to decide whether it wished to become a “common European home” and what it was prepared to do to achieve this. For its part, the Assembly had never thought at this stage of making any concessions on the Organisation’s fundamental values. In truth the aim was to embrace new followers of its values and help to unify Europe on this broadened basis.

In any case, the accession of the Soviet Union was not possible in the conditions that prevailed at the time and many parliamentarians did not want it to happen, fearing that the Organisation would be completely destabilised and distorted by the accession of a continent-sized state whose democratic and human rights standards were far removed from their own. Nor did we know what the position of the Committee of Ministers was, as it had not yet addressed the issue, taking the view that it would clearly be premature to do so.

At one point we thought about the status of associate member provided for in the Statute of the Council of Europe and used twice before in the Organisation’s history, for Saarland between 1950 and 1957 and for the FRG from July 1950 to May 1951. However, this was not the solution because the conditions to be granted it were practically the same as for states wishing to become fully-fledged members.

With his Scandinavian pragmatism, Anders Björck brought us back to a more realistic approach. He drew our attention to the information and findings he had gathered from his work with the Nordic Council. In his opinion nobody could predict with any certainty what was going to happen in the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact over the next few months. At all events, Gorbachev’s attempt to reform the Soviet system was far from guaranteed to succeed. In his view a break-up of the Soviet Union could not be ruled out, especially as tensions had arisen recently at the very heart of its power base, in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), the largest of the republics, and the most populous and powerful of the Union. He told us about a new player on the political scene, a certain Boris Yeltsin, a former companion of Gorbachev’s, who had joined him in championing the concepts of “perestroika” and “glasnost”, but had then adopted a more radical position, calling for an acceleration in the country’s reforms. Having been suspended from his functions for some time, he was becoming increasingly successful because he was close to the people and accused the apparatchiks of the Soviet system outright of blocking the reforms and thinking only about preserving their status and their privileges. He had even dared, in the middle of the Party Congress, to call personally into question the person who had helped him so much in his career, namely Mikhail Gorbachev himself. This had undoubtedly contributed to his election, in March 1989 to the Congress of the People’s Deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Republic, with over 80% of the votes. He had also expressed support for a multiparty system and, with Andrey Sakharov and other reformers, he had set up a parliamentary group called the Inter-Regional Group to prepare for the first parliamentary elections to be held throughout the Soviet Union in March 1990. Clearly, Anders Björck was convinced that we would be seeing a lot more of Boris Yeltsin in the future, and he was right.


Two tangible proposals in response to the speech of 6 July

Nonetheless, he agreed with us that the Council of Europe’s public profile and relevance on the international stage had been enhanced by Gorbachev’s visit and that it would be in its interest to assert its desire and its ability to be a major player at pan-European level. He had been a member of the Assembly for a long time and a very active one. He was very keen for the Council not to be supplanted by other organisations in the construction of a new Europe because he felt that this process should be founded on the values which the Organisation safeguarded and championed.

Our first idea was to propose that the Assembly should enlarge its debates on East-West relations which it had launched in 1986 by inviting the special guest delegations and representatives of the non-European member states of the CSCE, along the lines of the sessions that the Assembly held regularly on OECD activities with parliamentary delegations from the non-European member countries of this organisation.

The aim was to bring a democratic dimension to the CSCE while ensuring at the same time that the new parliamentary institution which we feared so much would not be established. It was quite an audacious plan but not an unfeasible one. The proof of this was that we unexpectedly gained the support of President Bush, who saw to it that at the NATO Summit of London in July 1989, a proposal was adopted to set up an assembly, based on the Council of Europe’s, that would be enlarged to take in all the member states of the CSCE. It was therefore with enthusiasm and confidence that we sent out the invitations for the first debate, which was held in September 1990. All the parliaments of the member states of the CSCE were represented apart from the United States Congress, which, we learnt later, disagreed with the project and had decided to boycott the meeting. One of the reasons was that it had not been consulted by the White House or the Department of State. However, the American parliamentarians prime interest was the prospect of opening up towards eastern Europe and they did not want to be excluded from the new ties which were about to be established – the transformation of the CSCE into a proper international organisation with its own parliamentary assembly served their intentions much more.

Our concerns soon proved founded. At its Summit of November 1990, the CSCE adopted the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, which called on the Conference to play a role in managing the historic change which was transforming Europe and meet the new challenges of the post-Cold War period. It was equipped with permanent structures including a secretariat, several specialised institutions and operational capacities. The first session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the CSCE was held in Budapest in July 1992. As this institution did not yet have a secretariat, the Hungarian Parliament asked us to help it hold the session. As a result I found myself managing our Assembly team in Budapest and helping to set up what could be thought of to some extent as a “competing assembly”! In 1994 the CSCE became the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The second idea, which had emerged in meetings of the Assembly’s Committee on Rules of Procedure, was to revise the Statute of the Council of Europe so that it could serve if necessary, as an institutional framework for the “common European home”. A change of name was even considered. The Bureau appointed a working group, served by a small secretariat, which I was in charge of. We did a great deal of work on this project and produced a considerable number of documents. Our studies and proposals resulted in Recommendation 1212 (1993) and although it was referred to the Committee of Ministers, the latter’s reply did not arrive until 1999! In its defence, it should be said that our text lost a great deal of its meaning when the process of converting the CSCE into the OSCE began.


The Prague Conference (13 and 14 June 1991)

Furthermore, on 31 December 1989, during his televised address to the nation, President François Mitterrand launched his plan for a European Confederation, destined to bring together all the countries of Europe, from East to West, including the Soviet Union, within one organisation alone. He convinced President Vaclav Havel to hold the conference in Prague, as he believed this city could be the centre of a European renaissance. It took place on 13 and 14 December 1991 and was attended by a very diverse array of state representatives (political leaders and diplomats), intellectuals, business people and civil society representatives. The existing European institutions were also invited and the Secretary General, Catherine Lalumière, had asked me to represent her.

There were six thematic committees, focusing on culture, freedom of movement, communications, energy, the environment and lastly, a committee on general issues, charged in particular with looking into the institutional aspects of the project.

I took part in the work of the latter committee, which was chaired by Simone Veil. In my statement I placed emphasis on the process of opening up to the East, begun by the Council of Europe in 1985 and given tangible form in 1989 by the Assembly’s decision to confer “special guest status” on the parliaments of several central and eastern European countries and since then, by the accession of Hungary and Czechoslovakia as full members, and the candidatures of several other countries which were being examined. In addition, I pointed to the desire and the capacity of the Council of Europe to accommodate all the European countries which were prepared to comply with its fundamental principles and incorporate them immediately into the various spheres of activity of its extensive programme of intergovernmental co-operation.

Talking in the same vein, Marcelino Oreja, the former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, who was also a member of this committee, stressed what an advantage it was for the Council of Europe to be the first European institution to open up to the East’s new democracies and to be in the process of becoming a true pan-European organisation.

In truth, there was not much enthusiasm for the plan for a confederation within this committee and several speakers wondered what the future relations of this new institution would be with the existing institutions, which they felt could largely live up to the task themselves if they had the states’ financial support.

In his brilliant closing speech, President Mitterrand did a remarkable job of neutralising all the objections and fears about his plan for a European Confederation, stating in particular as follows: “The question arises whether there is room for new institutions in Europe. I think that Europe should be built on various foundations and on many cornerstones, and that otherwise, it will be very vulnerable”. After this he went into a long digression on the European Community before referring, in order, to the “new CSCE”, “the Council of Europe, where the bases of rule of law are being consolidated, if possible throughout the continent”, the EBRD, the OECD and the United Nations Economic Commission, adding in conclusion: “In many of these bodies, our North American friends are present, and they are always welcome, provided that they feel that they are the sons of Europe and do not overly wish to be its fathers”.

It was for President Havel, who had expressed misgivings about the project in his opening speech, to draw the conclusions from the proceedings. However, having expressed his very sincere thanks for all the very interesting contributions made by the participants, he stated somewhat cryptically that the conference did not represent any real authority. At the press conference, he explained himself a little more, stating that he could not imagine the project going ahead without the co-operation of the United States and Canada. In this way, the plan for a European Confederation was shelved.

It should be said that the central European countries which had freed themselves from the grip of the Soviet Union were not very attracted by the idea of finding themselves with the USSR again in a new organisation and some were already eyeing up the European Community, which was a much more attractive economic prospect. The Soviet Union supported the project because it reflected Gorbachev’s idea of the “common European home”. Most of the west European countries, however, wanted the presence of the Soviet Union to be balanced out by that of the United States, but François Mitterrand had ruled that out from the beginning. The United States themselves much preferred the framework of the CSCE, of which they were members and which they were trying to transform into a permanent international organisation. It was clear that they had made this known to their allies and that they were putting pressure on many of them.

I returned to Strasbourg with a feeling of disappointment about how little the work of our Organisation was appreciated and with questions in my mind (to which I have still not found a convincing answer) along the lines: “Why do our member states support the Council of Europe so little in such meetings? And would François Mitterrand not have had more success if he had based his project on the Council of Europe?”.

Mounting tensions in the USSR

At this time, the Soviet Union was navigating the crucial years of 1990-1991 and Mikhail Gorbachev did not have the time to concern himself with the construction of his “common European home”, as he was taken up with the very time-consuming tasks of restructuring the Union, which he still hoped to preserve. He had the satisfaction of successfully carrying through the institutional reform which he so cherished by getting the constitution changed and setting up the post of President of the USSR, to which he was elected by the parliament of the Union on 14 March 1990.

However, opposing him was Boris Yeltsin, who was consolidating his power in the Russian Republic. He had joined the Democratic Bloc, which won all the seats in Moscow, Leningrad, Siberia and the Far North in the parliamentary elections of 4 March 1990. He stood for the post of Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Republic. There were three candidates, and it was the new Congress of People's Deputies of Russia, elected in March, whose task it was to choose between them. It was a hard fought battle but he was finally elected President of the RSFSR on 29 May. The very next day he proposed to make the Republic “autonomous in all respects in one hundred days” and immediately made the Congress adopt a text proclaiming the precedence of Russian laws over Soviet laws and a declaration of sovereignty. In July he returned his Communist Party member card, and in November he signed treaties with Ukraine and Kazakhstan, in which the three Republics each recognised the others' sovereignty.

At the end of 1989 or beginning of 1990, the three Baltic Republics of the Soviet Union had declared their independence, re-established local laws and set up frontier posts where their territories bordered those of Russia and Belarus. On 11 January 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev travelled to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to try to convince the local Communist party to delay the application of its declaration of independence of 20 December 1989, which had been condemned by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. When he arrived, a huge crowd was waiting for him, shouting and brandishing slogans in support of independence (the journalists of the time estimated that the crowd numbered some 300 000). He went out to meet the demonstrators and, taking the risk of mingling with the crowd, where he was squeezed from all sides, he said that he had “chosen the path of discussion” and “his own destiny [was] tied up with this choice”. He also promised that the power of the local authorities would be increased and that a study would be made on a law on the arrangements for Soviet republics to secede. Subsequently, he met the representatives of various threads of the party, including the nationalists, who condemned the secession law, branding it a trap. He returned to Moscow without really having succeeded in convincing anyone he spoke to.

Shortly after he left, Soviet soldiers were deployed in Vilnius to take over several government buildings and take up positions around the Parliament, which was now housing Vytautas Landsbergis, the founder of the independence movement, Sajudis, who was elected Chairman of the Supreme Council of Lithuania after the declaration of independence. He was highly esteemed, being regarded as the “father of independence”, and when he decided to take up residence in the Parliament buildings as an act of resistance, his fellow citizens took turns, day and night, to stay on site and protect him if he was attacked. He was a teacher at the Lithuanian music academy, and a very good musician and pianist. There was a piano in the Parliament buildings, which he played regularly over this period of conflict and violence, showing his humanist outlook on life and human relations in the face of intimidation and the use of armed force.

On 13 January, shortly after midnight, a column of tanks entered the city and made their way towards the TV Tower. The people massed around the building to prevent the assault, but the soldiers received the order to take the building by force, and fired on the demonstrators. According to the figures communicated and disseminated by the media at the time, 14 people were killed and 150 wounded. At 5 o'clock in the morning, President Landsbergis heard on the radio that Mikhail Gorbachev had ordered the soldiers to move away from the Parliament and the TV Tower.

Similar operations were conducted on 20 January in the Latvian capital Riga, where Soviet soldiers took over the Ministry of the Interior, killing four people and wounding nine. In Estonia, the operations were on a smaller scale and there were no deaths.

On 13 January, Boris Yeltsin condemned the attack in Vilnius and recognised the sovereignty of the Baltic Republics. Major demonstrations of support were held in Moscow, Kyiv and Warsaw. At the end of the month, the Soviet troops returned to their barracks.


Gorbachev under pressure

On 14 January 1991, the President of the Assembly sent a strongly-worded personal letter to Mikhail Gorbachev, in which he stressed that the use of armed force to crush Lithuania's hopes of self-determination were at odds with his statement in Strasbourg in July 1989 on the common European home, the Nobel Peace Prize he had been awarded in October 1990 and the commitment to promote democracy and human rights he had made with the Heads of State at the CSCE Summit in November 1990. He made an urgent appeal to him to stop the military intervention and solve the problems in the Baltic republics through dialogue.

The following week, taking advantage of Sweden's consular arrangements, he travelled unhindered to Vilnius, where he was able to get into the Parliament building, which was surrounded by hundreds of sandbags, barricades, harrows and huts, installed by separatists guarding the building. Vytautas Landsbergis much appreciated “the Swedish and European support” given him by his visitor, to whom he played a little piece on the piano by his favourite composer, Mikalogus Konstantinas Ciurlionis. He insisted on the non-violent nature of his fight for independence, one of the clearest illustrations of which was the impressive human chain organised on his initiative in the three Baltic Republics in August 1989 to protest against their annexation by the USSR following the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. On the wall in his office was the certificate awarded by the Guinness Book of Records for his Lithuanian independence petition, which had broken the record for the most popular petition in the world with 5 218 520 signatures. He seemed very determined and confident. The two men parted with a promise that they would meet up again soon in Strasbourg.

Faced with the completely opposing views in the Soviet system between reformers and conservatives, Mikhail Gorbachev stayed silent for some days, seemingly hesitating about what to do next. However, on 22 January, he started his press conference with the following statement: “I am deeply moved by the tragic turn taken by the confrontation in Lithuania and, in recent days, Riga. The families affected by this tragedy have my sincerest condolences”. He also stated that the events in Vilnius and Riga were in no way a reflection of the policy practised by the presidential authorities and formally rejected all the “speculation, suspicion and slander” that had been circulating on the subject.

He went on to give his personal analysis of the causes of the crisis: “All acts in breach of the law and the contempt shown towards the constitution itself and the presidential decrees, together with the flagrant violation of civic rights, the discrimination against people of another nationality and an irresponsible attitude towards the army, soldiers and their families have created the setting and the environment in which these kinds of clashes and brawls could come about for entirely unexpected reasons. This is the cause of this tragedy, not some mythical orders coming down from on high”. In the last part of his speech he listed the measures that had to be taken now “to prevent the conflict from escalating, normalise the situation and achieve a civil settlement and co-operation”.

No concessions were made to the Baltic republics' claims and there was no opening towards the recognition of their independence, which he addressed in the following terms: “While reaffirming the right of the republics to secede from the USSR, we cannot accept anarchy or arbitrariness, even from elected bodies. Secession can only take place after consultation with the entire population through a referendum and at the end of a process that complies with the law. Given this, it is necessary to re-examine the situation of the Baltic Republics within the Federation Council”.

His statement calmed the tensions on the ground a little but failed to convince the separatists, who were expecting him to condemn the attacks by the Soviet Army and refused to accept that the question of the independence of their republics should be placed in the hands of the Federation Council.

Visit to Moscow and the Baltic Republics (14-17 February 1991)

It was relatively easy for us to get the agreement for this visit at such short notice because we made our first contacts with Moscow, where we wished to begin our interviews as a matter of principle. The leaders we met there confirmed moreover that they appreciated the fact that the Assembly had refrained from taking a position on the situation in the Baltic states at its January session and had decided initially to send a high-level delegation made up of the President and the Vice-Presidents of the Assembly and the Chairs of the committees concerned, namely the Political Committee and the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries. It would be impossible to report here on everything that happened and was said during this mission, which was highly innovative in terms of its format and nature; it resulted in a detailed report to be submitted to the Assembly, which several of us worked on on site and on our return so as to reflect the views of our discussion partners faithfully and provide a full picture of the questions being discussed in Moscow and the Baltic capitals.

The first meeting was organised by the Swedish Ambassador to the Soviet Union on the evening of our arrival. It was an informal occasion, which gave us a chance to talk freely to the leaders of both the Soviet Union and the Russian Republic and the ambassadors of several member states. President Björck had a very interesting talk with Boris Yeltsin, who with his usual outspokenness, said that the project for a reformed Soviet Union being debated had come too late and it would now be simpler to grant independence to the republics which had requested it and build a more flexible community with those who wished to stay together. He added that he himself intended to democratise Russia’s institutions and hold a referendum on a plan to have its president elected by direct universal suffrage as was the case in the West!

The Soviet leaders whom we met the following day (including Mr Lukyanov, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, Mr Laptev, Speaker of the Soviet of the Union, Marshal Moyseev, Chief of General Staff of the Soviet Army and First Deputy to the Minister of Defence) all took the line that Mikhail Gorbachev had traced out in his statement of 22 January – albeit with some nuances. They argued that the Baltic question was an internal matter for the Soviet Union which it alone could resolve, while at the same time condemning the military operations in January, which one of them considered illegal. They answered our parliamentarians’ questions without hesitation, going so far as to ask the Council of Europe for support when examining the issue of the laws adopted by the Baltic republics, which they felt would have discriminatory consequences for Soviet citizens. They said that the USSR’s aim was to become a full member of the Council of Europe. Lastly, they expected the principles of international law on the recognition of states to be applied strictly and objected strongly to the idea that the Assembly might grant the Baltic republics special guest status.

On the evening of 15 February, we split into three groups, each made up of two parliamentarians and one secretariat member, to visit the three Baltic republics. We were very welcome everywhere and had long conversations with the Chairs of the Supreme Councils (Arnold Rüütel in Estonia, Anatoly Gorbunovs in Latvia and Vytautas Landsbergis in Lithuania); we also talked to ministers, chairs of parliamentary commissions including those dealing with foreign affairs and human rights, representatives of the majority and the opposition, NGO leaders and representatives of the countries’ minorities.

It was clear that the three republics had adopted joint positions on the main points. They had set up a Baltic Council to consult with one another and co-ordinate their activities. However, they did have certain differences in opinion, depending in particular on the proportion of their populations that were made up of minorities, particularly Russian-speakers, and the extent to which the Soviet Army was present on their territory.

There was unanimous agreement that the Soviet Constitution did not apply to their countries because they had not become members of the USSR voluntarily, but as a result of the secret protocol of 28 September 1939 forming a corollary to the non-aggression pact signed by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany commonly known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, to which the Baltic States, which were independent at the time, were not parties. As a result, they argued, the only legislation which applied in the republics was that adopted by their Supreme Councils. Accordingly, they refused to take part in the negotiations on the new treaty of the Soviet Union, because in so doing they would recognise that they were members of it, and announced that they would not take part in the referendum on this treaty scheduled in the USSR on 17 March. President Landsbergis summarised their position well when he said that Lithuania had never chosen to be part of the USSR so why would it wish to leave?

We understood that the Baltic leaders would not make any compromise on the issue of independence and sovereignty. We knew of course that they were counting on the support of the Council of Europe and the international community. They were very happy that one of the Council of Europe member states, Iceland, had recognised their independence, and hoped that other states would follow. On returning home we had the feeling we had reached a dead end, faced as we were with positions that seemed irreconcilable.

On the basis of our report, the Bureau decided to uphold its previous decision not to grant special guest status to the Baltic Republics because, as things stood, not all the Council of Europe member states had recognised them as sovereign states. Another concern, which was not mentioned, was that we had to avoid poisoning the situation and remain a discussion partner that would be accepted and heeded on both sides to be able to help resolve the crisis. Nonetheless, the report recommended that the Assembly should “stand for true democracy and, on this particular issue, for the principles agreed on in the Paris Charter on self-determination and peaceful settlement of disputes”. It was also suggested that the Assembly should “adopt a pragmatic approach, being aware that the Baltic republics wish to obtain official recognition but that they would also be grateful – in varying degrees – for any concrete proposal for strengthening relations with the Council of Europe”. The text included a list of what the Assembly could propose and suggested that the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe might be an appropriate framework in which to build up relations at sub-state level.

Lastly, the report delivered the following conclusion to the Committee of Ministers: “the restoration of independence to the Baltic states offers no precedents for any other Soviet republic, since only Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were internationally recognised as independent sovereign states before 1940, and as such were members of the League of Nations”.


Warring leaders, an attempted coup in Moscow and the fall of the USSR

On 17 March, not one but two referendums were held. The first was on the new treaty called for by Mikhail Gorbachev to preserve the Union in the renewed form of a Union of Sovereign States. A single question was put: “Do you consider necessary the preservation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics in which the rights and freedoms of an individual of any ethnicity will be fully guaranteed?” Boris Yeltsin was opposed to this referendum and did everything in his power to sabotage it. The authorities in Armenia, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova decided to boycott it. Despite this, it was a success, with a turnout of about 80%, and about 77.8% of the votes cast in favour of the renewed federation.

The second referendum concerned a proposal from Boris Yeltsin for the President of the Russian Republic to be elected by direct universal suffrage. The proposal was approved by over 70% of the voters and the election was scheduled for 12 June. There were six candidates including Boris Yeltsin, the leader of the reformers and the President of the Supreme Council of Russia, and Nikolay Ryzhkov, the former head of the federal government. On a turnout of 75%, Yeltsin was elected in the first round with 57.3% of the votes cast, whereas Ryzhkov obtained only 16.8%.

There were now two opposing leaders in Moscow: Boris Yeltsin, the President of Russia, whose stock was rising, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the President of the Soviet Union, who was in difficulty but determined to bring his plans to fruition.

The signature of the treaty establishing the new Union was scheduled for 20 August and the old guard of the Soviet Union, who wished to prevent it, took advantage of the unstable situation to mount a coup d’état. On 19 August, the putschists declared the Soviet President, who was on holiday in his dacha in Crimea, legally incompetent, then arrested the reformers, as tanks and other armoured vehicles were deployed in the capital. Boris Yeltsin, who had supporters in the Soviet security forces, managed to escape arrest and got through to the Russian Parliament building despite the tanks surrounding it. With hardly any hesitation, he climbed on top of one of the tanks and called on his compatriots to oppose the putsch and support the reforms that were under way in Russia. Altercations broke out and the soldiers fired on the crowd. There were about a dozen deaths. In the Muscovites’ view, it was the putschists who had prompted the army to open fire on the people. Several soldiers committed suicide and on 21 August all the others were imprisoned.

On returning to Moscow, Gorbachev addressed the Russian Parliament and attempted to exculpate his ministers. However, Yeltsin forced him to read out a document which proved that all his ministers save one had supported the coup. This all took place in front of the television cameras and the Soviet President came out of this misadventure weakened and humiliated whereas Yeltsin was the big winner because, although he was his main opponent, he had saved his old friend from an inglorious destitution.

Yeltsin was determined now to dismantle the Soviet apparatus. At the end of August, he suspended the activities of the CPSU and confiscated its assets. The fate of the Supreme Soviet was sealed in the next few days and at the beginning of September the Congress of the People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union was also wound up. In early November the Constitution of the Russian Republic was amended and its President was granted increased powers. On 15 November Boris Yeltsin decided to combine the functions of President and Prime Minister.

1 December, the Ukrainians voted for independence, and this was recognised immediately by Yeltsin, who travelled to Minsk to join his Ukrainian and Belarusian counterparts. Together they confirmed the “demise of the USSR” and set up a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The Presidents of the former republics of the USSR apart from Georgia and the Baltic republics, met in Moscow on 21 December. They all agreed to join the CIS and decided to do away with the post of President of the USSR. They also agreed that the post of permanent member of the United Nations Security Council which had formerly been held by the USSR would now fall to Russia.

On 25 December 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev was forced to resign. On the rooftop of the Kremlin, the red flag with the hammer and sickle was replaced by the white, blue and red of the Russian flag.

In the interpretations and views of the “common European home”, there were many hidden agendas, both in the East, where its prime purpose was to save the Soviet regime, and in the West, where there was a very widespread desire to bring an end to the regime and take no part in rescuing it. But on both sides there was also an element of dreaming or even of Utopia, which prompted political leaders to pursue the project to unite the European continent under the banner of the Council of Europe’s values, albeit with some nuances. Our Organisation cultivated this dream itself, incorporating it into its programme of activities under headings such as “the Greater Europe”, “the Council of Europe’s pan-European role” and “a Europe without dividing lines”, which attracted considerable support and were taken up in a good number of statements and publications.

References to “a Europe without dividing lines” can also be found in Russia’s official statements after Mikhail Gorbachev’s fall from power, but very little mention was made of the common European home. There was a very significant one, however, which was made by President Putin when he was speaking before the Bundestag in Berlin on 24 September 2001: “A short time ago, it seemed as if we would soon see the emergence on the continent of a true common home, in which Europeans would not be divided into those from the East, the West, the North and the South. However, these dividing lines persist because we have not been able to free ourselves once and for all from the stereotypes and ideological clichés of the Cold War … Without a moderate, sustainable and stable security architecture, we will never create a climate of trust in Europe, and without this climate of trust, a unified greater Europe is impossible”.

It would be an understatement to say that the events of recent years have hardly helped to create such a climate of trust. Who carries the responsibility for this? On such a complex question, there are of course differing opinions. Let us hope that, in the response to the current tensions between the Russian Federation and the Council of Europe, dialogue will prevail, and that this will help the Council to preserve the pan-European dimension it has acquired in the opening years of this century, which has most certainly brought progress in democracy and respect for human rights in Europe, representing a major contribution to its democratic security.