AS RUSSIA struggles along its road to economic reform, we see that Jewish citizens, happily for Russia, occupy places of prominence and influence in our society and government.
Yet we also hear from some quarters that they are again becoming the target of an archaic resentment.
This must not be so.
Anti-Semitism reared its vicious head in the mid-1980s despite the fact that, as president of the Soviet Union, and with the support of our people, we were able to open up the gates of liberty. We made it possible for people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to have freedom - including the choice of many Soviet Jews to emigrate.
For me, of particular importance was the decision to put an end to anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. There would be no toleration for grass-roots chauvinism or the bigotry or fanaticism that would try to scapegoat a population out of ignorance and irrational fear.
Yet today with political weakness at our helm and ordinary people struggling to make a better life, we do sometimes hear the vicious tongue of bigotry, see the hideous desecration of graves or even witness violence toward a synagogue.
During my presidency more than 600,000 Jewish people left our country, and I would be less than sincere if I said that I have no regrets at all about the fact that they left our country.
A few years later I said - and it was misconstrued in some quarters - that it was a loss for our land and our society to lose these fine people. Indeed, many of them were very talented individuals who had done a great deal for the Soviet Union in fields including science and technology, culture and [See Gorbachev, 6f] regretted that they would no longer be with us, but at the same time I was happy that they got an opportunity to decide for themselves where they wanted to live.
In June 1992 when I was welcomed to Israel - indeed given a hero's welcome - I received a peace prize from the Israel Institute of Technology and two honorary degrees.
I barely needed a translator because so many immigrants waiting along the routes to grasp my hand already spoke Russian!
Nor has Russia become now what it once was when
discrimination against Jews was mightily deplored in official policy yet sanctioned in daily practice.
But this is no time in Russia's history to reverse the progress of the liberty and achievements of the Jewish people in Russia, Israel, or even the United States.
During that earlier visit to Israel I saw a country that had been built up by the people virtually from scratch. Of course that was the land of history, the land of tradition, the land of memory. But in the beginning that was the land to be revived, to be built up again.
We traveled throughout the country. We went from the north all the way to the grave of David Ben-Gurion. We visited universities. We visited the centers of technology. And we saw that what the people had done there was truly a feat.
I was particularly struck by perhaps two moments during that journey. Probably the most emotional moment was our visit to the Holocaust Memorial. The second was our visit to a day-care center, where we talked to those kids and it was a wonderful experience. But I do recall that the teacher at that day-care center had an automatic rifle.
And in this situation of stress the people had lived for decades. And when I saw that, I felt that this is the people that deserves support. Support for their desire to build their state, to make it prosperous and to strengthen them. All of it was further proof of their talents.
It is not too late now to remind ourselves of this, while we negotiate the vital matters of wages and pensions, putting food on the table, stocking our store shelves, providing shelter for needy families and, on the global scale, making military alliances.
We have become neither too successful nor too modern nor too strong to forget to heed the democratic principles on which we based the dismantling of our totalitarian regime.
Among them were new religious freedoms within the overall principle of glasnost - that is, the right of people to live in openness, an open society in which little room resides for persecution or fear.
Human memory is something that we need because without memory we cannot feel confident about the future.
The historic plight of the Jewish people causes our emotions to flow from our conscience and our memory. I am a student of law and history and, more probably, a student of politics.
I know it was under King David that the Jewish people finally became the Jewish nation, that they created themselves as a nation. That was the period of the beginning of the great vitality, the great vital power and force of the Jewish people that helped surmount their turbulent history.
And of course history is one thing, but something else is very important. It is about those who live today, about those who make decisions today. It is about how we must make sure that life for all people in the world is more peaceful, more secure.
Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union before its collapse in 1991 and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, now heads the Gorbachev Foundation, a political think tank in Moscow, with a new office at Northeastern University, in Boston.
Pub Date: 5/04/97