Gorbachev drops Nobel trip to deal with Soviet crisis

November 29, 1990|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Citing the critical situation in the Soviet Union, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev yesterday said he would not go to Norway Dec. 10 to collect his Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel committee said it would not postpone the award ceremony but expressed hope that Mr. Gorbachev would travel to Oslo next spring to deliver a Nobel address.

When his prize was announced Oct. 15, Mr. Gorbachev said he planned to attend the ceremony. His decision reflects a steady deterioration in the economic and political situation in his country.

Also, news of the prize drew scorn from many Soviet citizens frustrated by Mr. Gorbachev's failure to turn around the economy.

The only other Soviet Nobel Peace Prize winner, Andrei D. Sakharov in 1975, also did not go to Oslo to collect his prize. He was refused a visa,officially on the ground that he had knowledge of state secrets.

At a five-hour meeting yesterday with Soviet writers, artists and intellectuals, Mr. Gorbachev spoke in horrified tones of the state of the country and accepted blame for failures of domestic policy.

"We can't live like this, comrades, that's the point," Mr. Gorbachev said in a candid moment shown last night on television. "Everything really is rotten. The people are humiliated.

"A huge country, with such intellectual potential, with such attachment and love for the land, with such resources, on such a scale -- and in such a condition!" he declared. "It can go on no longer."

Mr. Gorbachev continued: "We're learning. What can I say? I take all the responsibility for everything that's happened, for everything that's fallen through. I don't dodge the responsibility.

"But as long as I'm in this job I'm going to stick to my position -- not giving in to the retrogrades who want to say, 'It's all bad, we have to go backward,' and not giving in to those who, on the basis of emotions, want to take society on an adventure."

Poet Yevgeny A. Yevtushenko underscored the stark contrast between Mr. Gorbachev's foreign policy successes and his domestic failures.

"There has appeared an extremely dangerous gap between the victory of the ideas of perestroika in the whole world and the economic defeat in our own country," the poet said. "This gap is a debtor's prison of history in which, sooner or later, we had to end up."

Over the next few weeks, Mr. Gorbachev has an extraordinarily full schedule in a tense political atmosphere. He is scheduled to overhaul the Soviet government, and he must redefine the role of the republican leaders on the Federation Council and appoint a vice president, a Security Council, a panel to oversee law enforcement and a network of presidential representatives.

The parliament has directed him to come up in the next 10 days with a plan to feed the country, which in many areas is plagued with severe food shortages.

He is campaigning for republican approval of his draft union treaty, a plan to revamp the country into a Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics with greater rights but not full statehood for the 15 republics. But four republics have absolutely refused to sign any treaty, and several others are skeptical.

Despite the enormous demands on him and occasional outbursts of temper against his political opponents, Mr. Gorbachev, 59, at times shows a remarkable detachment and humor.

On Tuesday, during a break in the Russian Congress of People's Deputies, he was surrounded by deputies and correspondents who peppered him with questions. One

asked him if he knew that private entrepreneurs were selling booklets of political jokes, including some about him.

He knew, he said. Then, apologizing to "the ladies," he disarmed his audience by telling one on himself.

French President Francois Mitterrand has 100 lovers, he said, and one has AIDS -- but he doesn't know which one. President Bush has 100 bodyguards, and one is a terrorist -- but he doesn't know which one, the Soviet president said.

"And Gorbachev," he said, half in triumph, half in despair, "has 100 economic advisers, and one has brains -- but he doesn't know which one."

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