In a lecture laced with light humor, Gennadi Gerasimov discussed the very serious problems of inflation, civil war and adapting to democracy in the former Soviet Union.
"We don't have a conflict [with the West] any more," the former chief spokesman for Mikhail S. Gorbachev told the standing-room only crowd at Western Maryland College on Friday night.
"We just issued a new doctrine that says we don't have any enemies. So we'd appreciate if you took down the yellow and black signs that say 'Fallout Shelter.' "
The comment garnered cheers, applause and laughter from the nearly 200 people crowded into McDaniel Lounge for the first Evelyn Y. Davis Lecture in Journalism. The lecture was sponsored by the Evelyn Y. Davis Foundation., which supports education in journalism, medicine, business and the arts.
Ms. Davis attended Western Maryland for a year, and is known as a business critic and corporate gadfly.
She has small holdings of stock in nearly 120 Fortune 500 companies and makes a point of vociferously attending each of their stockholder meetings.
Mr. Gerasimov, born in a small village in the Eastern part of the former Soviet Union, went to college at the Institute for Foreign Relations in Moscow.
"In our village, there was no university there," Mr. Gerasimov said. "Once, my father said, 'Sit down, I have to talk seriously to you about something. I have some advice for you: Go West, young man.' "
Mr. Gerasimov eventually entered journalism and was a foreign correspondent in New York City for Novosti Press Agency, similar to the Associated Press, from 1972 to 1978. He was editor-in-chief of the Moscow Daily News from 1983 to 1986.
Later, when Mr. Gerasimov was director of information for Mr. Gorbachev, he met Ms. Davis, who demanded to know why her business publication, Highlights and Lowlights, was not invited to a news conference during the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in December 1987.
"He never got such hell as he got from me," Ms. Davis said, in introducing Mr. Gerasimov. "But when he realized what a famous and rich woman I was, who was also successful and powerful, he turned around."
Ms. Davis said she attended her first Soviet news conference during the 1989 summit.
Mr. Gerasimov left the foreign service in June after serving as the Soviet ambassador to Portugal. He is a lecturer and frequent talk show guest on Russian affairs.
In his lecture, Mr. Gerasimov compared Cold War relations between Communist and capitalistic countries to the joke about Boy Scouts who "helped" an elderly woman across the street when she wanted to stay on the other side.
"The West was afraid we were going to 'invite' them to our side of the street," he said. "We thought we could teach other nations where their happiness lies, even if they did not want it on their own."
Likewise, the collapse of the Soviet Union can be blamed on the "Sinatra Doctrine," he said, explaining how it started with the Eastern European countries leaving the Soviet orbit.
"When Gorbachev said we would not use persuasion and force to get people to go to our side of the street, the countries in Eastern Europe were the first to follow the Sinatra doctrine: 'I did it my way,' " Mr. Gerasimov said with a smile. "It then spread to the republics, who all did it their way."
In a more serious tone, he responded to a WMC student from Russia who questioned the fairness of moving forward with the reform movement when many people are suffering the effects of 2,000 percent annual inflation. The student said his grandmother, a Soviet physician for more than 40 years, can only buy about 12 pounds of sausage with her annual 30,000 ruble pension.
"I agree with you," replied Mr. Gerasimov, adding that people are renting coffins because they cannot afford to buy them.
"These people believed in Lenin, believed in the system and now they feel they've lived their life in vain. The younger people see all the new goods that are available and think there is more opportunity," he said, even though they lack the money to buy.
"Yeltsin does admit to one problem, that we ignored the social issues," Mr. Gerasimov said.
Current battles in the former Soviet Union are between the new rich under capitalism and those who became rich under the system of privileges, he said, and the old party bosses are afraid they will lose power and prestige under the new system.