Former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, who died at age 91 Tuesday, told 1,600 Northeastern University graduates in June of 1998 to “be optimists” and work for world peace. “Please remember one lesson of the 20th century,” he said through an interpreter. “One cannot impose happiness on nations by imposing any kind of enforced utopia.” “The Russian people paid a great price,” he said.
Serving from 1985 to 1991, Gorbachev was the last leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He tried to revitalize the Communist country through “perestroika” and “glasnost,” but the restructuring and openness led to the nation’s demise and the dissolution of the Communist bloc. Jeffrey Burds, associate professor of Russian and Soviet history at Northeastern, says Gorbachev was trying to tell Northeastern students that: “Reform is great if we build it together. It never works when imposed from above.”