Recalling Gorbachev’s Atlanta Visits: Soviet Leader’s Desire for Peace, Prosperity Contrasted With Today’s Russia

What a difference a couple of decades make. More than 20 years ago, former Soviet reformer and president Michele Gorbachev was honored Atlanta from Delta Airlines for its efforts to create a more peaceful and sustainable world, e Coca Cola Co. was just starting to take hold in a block long dominated by Pepsi.

Today, American companies are clamoring to divest from Russia in the wake of its invasion Ukraine.

Mr. Gorbachev, a Nobel laureate who died this week at 91, spent his twilight years in the political wasteland in the more strident Russia that has developed under Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin laments the fall of the Soviet Union and has spent two decades in power trying to remedy this perceived wrong.

Its war in Ukraine, launched in February, is a clear reminder of how individual personalities can influence world events and how ties between leaders matter deeply in achieving international peace.

These ideas, and the relationship between the three men who would preside over the reunification of Germany after the fall of Berlin Wallwere at the center of a historic summit which, against all odds, took place in Atlanta on October 3, 2003.

“The whole theme of our conference, besides celebrating the reunification of East and West Germany, was that it was possible to have meaningful political changes without a war, if there were good leaders,” he said. Tom Harroldthe Atlanta attorney for Miller & Martin PLC who challenged the naysayers to orchestrate the moment.

On the day of German unification, scheduled at 11:00 to optimize prime time TV viewing in Europe, Gorbachev visited Atlanta for at least the second time, joining the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl and former president of the United States George HW Bush on stage at Georgia World Convention Center for a chat moderated by mythic NBC journalist and host Tom Brokaw.

Leaders’ heady reflections on the merits of democracy and the global growth of free enterprise had more prosaic origins: it began as a fundraiser for the Atlanta-based company. Southern United States German-American Chamber of Commerce

Mr. Harrold presented the idea at an offsite board meeting in the city of Würzburg, Germany. She had just read Condoleezza Rice1992 book, Unified Germany and Transformed Europe, where the woman he would become George W. BushThe secretary of state illustrated how the actions of some brave men have changed the operational paradigm of Europe. Their efforts would lift millions of people out of poverty, especially in the former East Germany and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

It occurred to Mr. Harrold that these men, who were aging rapidly, were to be honored for their contributions.

“They said it’s a wonderful idea and that you should lead the effort,” said Mr. Harrold. He thought to himself that he must learn to keep his mouth shut.

He had a key supporter: Claus M. Hallethe president of the International for the Atlanta office Coca Cola Co., who has undertaken to underwrite the expenses of the event and the fees of the speakers. (He also committed the use of a Coca-Cola jet with a seat wide enough for the larger Mr. Kohl, who died in 2017). The late Mr. Halle, whose Atlanta-based foundation now supports German-American cultural and trade exchanges, also hosted an Atlanta dinner in his Horse head held for Mr. Kohl and Mr. Gorbachev, already good friends, the night before the ceremony.

Mr. Harrold got his first pledge from former President Bush, who agreed to the conclave if his peers were persuaded. Mr. Kohl agreed during a meeting in his office in Germany. Mr. Gorbachev was Mr. Harrold’s last kill.

“There were a lot of people saying, there is no way in the world that you can get these three guys,” said Mr. Harrold, noting that the doubt motivated him.

Impossible to reach the Soviet leader through letters in Russian sent to addresses in Moscow and SwissMr. Harrold learned of a dinner that Mr. Gorbachev was supposed to attend Georgetown after a Washington DC conference for Global greenthe US subsidiary of International Green Cross, an environmental non-profit organization he had created in Russia.

Mr. Harrold attended the event as the “plus one” for the former US Senator. Wyche Fowler, a friend who came from Atlanta. Mr. Harrold says he moved the place cards, unbeknownst to the hosts, and positioned himself next to Mr. Gorbachev, addressing the forum topic and delivering an official invitation letter during an evening of conversation through an impromptu translator.

The rest is history, captured in a video in which Mr. Harrold showed multiple German consuls-generals upon their arrival in Atlanta as a demonstration of the city’s strong history with Germany. Alongside the Olympics, he sees the summit as one of the key events in the city’s international history.

By the early 2000s, Atlanta had become a hotbed for German industry, thanks in part to the chamber work that Mr. Harrold and current president of the Halle Foundation Eike Giordano he helped found in the late 1970s.

In the 90’s, Porsche already had its North American headquarters here, Siemens it had thousands of employees in Georgia, and both BMW And Lufthansa they were present in style. All four sponsored the event. On the Atlanta side, UPS has teamed up with Coca-Cola to provide support.

Mr. Harrold recalled Mr. Gorbachev as a deep thinker with a good sense of humor who already saw the need to invest in cross-cultural understanding, lest the relationship between the great powers deteriorate further.

The 2003 event is all the more resounding given the conflict that is raging in Europe today.

“I am only thinking of the contrast between Gorbachev and Putin: he would never, ever invade Ukraine with troops. He would have done it with Russian products; he would do it in a way to win an economic and free enterprise battle, ”said Mr. Harrold.

The German-American Cultural Foundation last year he honored Mr. Harrold with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the German-American business community.

Watch the video of the summit and an interview with Mr. Harrold on Fox 5 Atlanta:

The man who planned Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to Atlanta remembers the historic summit

From the Global Atlanta archives:

1993 – ENTREPRENEURS SET UP ATLANTA CENTER FOR US / RUSSIAN COMPANIES

2001 – Gorbachev promotes trade links between Georgia and Russia

2003 –

Former President Bush and former European leaders will speak here on October 3

2004 – Halle obituary: Claus Halle worked to intensify the international agreement

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