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Remembering Gorbachev: Professor Recalls Meeting Late Leader

In 1997, Associate Professor and Communications Studies Chair Greg Payne traveled to Kyoto, Japan, to attend the Kyoto Protocol Conference with Dr. Shoo Iwasaki, president of the environmentalist organization Green Cross Japan, and namesake of Emerson’s library.

Iwasaki was there to meet with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, founder of Green Cross International, who died Tuesday, August 30, at the age of 91. Payne had the opportunity to meet with the man who, through his attempts to reform the Soviet Union, ushered in the collapse of the system and the end of the Cold War.

Emerson Today asked Payne about his recollections of Gorbachev.

What were your impressions of him?  

Very warm and charismatic. Engaging. Very global and interested in building bridges on common themes – ecology and environmental concerns. He and Dr. Iwasaki worked together on the Green Cross Global initiative, founded by Gorbachev in 1992. Iwasaki is the Green Cross leader in Japan and other Asian countries.

Did you get the sense he realized that he would be considered the game-changer he is for the end of the Cold War?  

Yes, he realized he was a most transformative leader, but that he must provide another option to people of the Soviet Union, given its demise as a communist country unable to keep up with the capitalist West. 

Can you share anything more about your conversation with him? 

[Gorbachev] took great interest in … my work in communication – and Emerson’s mission in communication. He realized in the PR post-Reagan era that … in order to have trust – one had to be honest in the messaging.

He admired the spirituality of Iwasaki and that is why they were close friends. He also craved dialogue and communication with people of all cultures and wanted to open up his country to more dialogue. 

Any other surprising facts you learned? 

[Gorbachev and Iwasaki] both love soups and desserts. 

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