‘Gorby! Gorby!’ Chant His Fans in Minneapolis
On a cold, dreary Sunday, the leader of the Soviet Union flew to the Great Plains for the sort of warm, hearty welcome that he no longer gets at home.
Greeted by the orchestral music of Shostakovich at the airport, the sound of ringing bells at the governor’s mansion and chants of “Gorby! Gorby!” at nearly all points in between, Mikhail S. Gorbachev proved that while he may be a bust in St. Petersburg, he’s still boffo in St. Paul.
“We’re excited to have you here, and the whole state is excited,” Gov. Rudy Perpich told Gorbachev as he stepped down the stairs from his airplane.
Even before Gorbachev’s customized Ilyushin jet with the hammer and sickle flag painted high on its tail had left Washington’s Andrews Air Force Base, “Gorby fever” had seized the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Back home in Moscow or Leningrad--which was known as St. Petersburg in the pre-revolutionary days when it served as the czarist capital--Gorbachev’s political stock has been dropping in tandem with the production figures for the Soviet economy.
But it was different here. “You’re a great man! You’re a great man!” two young college students shouted to Gorbachev as he did one of his by-now signature impromptu walks outside his motorcade.
Gorbachev left Minnesotans with only one disappointment. At his request, he originally had been scheduled to make a visit to a true bit of Midwestern Americana: a tour of the Brand family dairy farm 20 miles south of St. Paul. But the Soviet leader fell so far behind on his schedule that he had to cancel the visit.
But this could not rob the day of its demonstration of unabashed enthusiasm for Gorbachev. Even the dissenters--Baltic nationalists, Eritrean separatists, Vietnamese patriots--seemed good-natured in their dissent.
As he left a luncheon at the governor’s mansion, Gorbachev, wearing a black raincoat and a gray fedora to guard him from the drizzle and temperatures hovering below 50, stopped to talk to an 11-year-old boy, Brandon Peterson. Speaking through a translator, he asked, “What grade are you in?”
“Sixth,” the boy replied.
“That’s as old as my granddaughter,” Gorbachev said.
He then stepped into his long black Zil limousine and proceeded on a motorcade through the streets of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The Soviet leader twice stopped the motorcade so he could clamber out of the Zil and shake hands with eager, cheering Minnesotans.
At one stop, as Gorbachev held his hands out to a throng of approximately 80 onlookers, a U.S. official murmured: “He ought to run for office here.”
Two admirers handed Raisa Gorbachev a sign that featured a heart and the message: “We love Mikhail (and) Raisa Gorbachev.” The Soviet first lady waved the sign at the crowd.
Minnesotans offered other encouraging words on the placards they held along the motorcade route: “Go Glasnost,” “President Gorbachev, Keep Hope Alive” and “We’re With You, Gorby.” One that may have defied translation was the sign lauding “Mr. Gorbachev: A Cool Dude.”
Gorbachev found the largest crowd, several thousand Minnesotans, waiting along the driveway to the state Capitol in St. Paul. A large minority were Baltic-American nationalists waving Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian flags.
While waiting, the Baltic-Americans tried to inspire the crowd with a chant, “Negotiations. No occupations.”
But a group of young university students drowned out the chant with a well-known chant from a beer commercial, “Tastes great. Less filling.” Even the Baltic-Americans laughed.
One Minnesotan in the crowd told his wife: “He’s an amazing charmer. Not folksy, but you respect him. He’s quite a guy.”
Throughout the region, residents planned their day around the Gorbachev visit. Road crews rose early Sunday morning, braving a chill and driving rain to line 15 miles of Interstate 35 from the airport through downtown with shining new bright orange plastic highway cones to mark off Gorbachev’s motorcade route.
Portable highway signs that normally flash messages like “Traffic Delay” and “Construction Next 10 Miles” were reprogrammed to display “Welcome President Gorbachev” in English and Russian.
The obvious purpose of the Soviet leader’s visit here, as well as his next stop in San Francisco, where Gorbachev was to arrive about 10:30 p.m. PDT, was a combination of trade and tourism.
“This is an opportunity for him to get out and see the United States,” said Jack F. Matlock, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow. He noted that during Gorbachev’s previous two summit trips to the United States, the Soviet leader saw only Washington and New York.
The visit also gave Gorbachev an opportunity to meet with Midwestern business leaders, from both agribusiness and high technology, in an afternoon conference in Minneapolis. Calling for investment, Gorbachev assured his listeners: “You will not lose your money in the Soviet Union.”
Gorbachev underscored that point at his final stop here, a visit to the Control Data Corp. plant, where he tried out a computer terminal. Control Data has been exporting mainframe computers to the Soviets since 1968. It was one of the first U.S. firms to do so.
The cancellation of the visit to the Brand farm did not surprise American officials. For days, they had been saying that his schedule was too crowded.
“You can’t visit a man’s farm in a few minutes. A farmer wants to show you his pigs, his chickens and so forth, and rightfully so,” said U.S. Assistant Chief of Protocol William F. Black.
As a consolation, officials announced that Richard and Cecilia Brand, who own the farm, would be at the airport to shake hands with Gorbachev before he left town for San Francisco.
The Brands and about two dozen of their relatives showed up at the airport to say goodby to the Gorbachavs. As Richard and Cecilia chatted with the Gorbachevs, some of the relatives kept taking photos of the scene at the side of the departing plane. A few minutes later, Brand told a reporter, “I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am.”
There is little doubt that the trip had another special dividend for Gorbachev beyond trade and tourism: It gave a politician who has been through a rough period a chance to renew himself in the unaccustomed warmth of friendly crowds.
At the airport, before Gorbachev arrived, security was tight, with U.S. Marine guards sternly warning reporters against venturing outside the designated press area. “If you stray, you will be shot. They will take you out,” a security agent, who declined to identify himself, announced at one point.
But such excessive precautions relaxed within minutes of Gorbachev’s arrival, as he stopped his 42-car motorcade and took a 10- to 15-minute stroll down a street in downtown Minneapolis before walking up a red-carpeted path into the governor’s mansion complex.
Arm-in-arm with his wife, Raisa, Gorbachev looked like an American political candidate in his blue pinstripe suit and red tie. The Soviet leader left aside an overcoat as he crossed repeatedly from one side of the street to the other.
The crowd included a group of about 40 demonstrators who were protesting Soviet policy in Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. Some who identified themselves as Minnesota Muslims for Peace and Justice in the World, passed out green leaflets charging: “Soviet genocide against Muslims continues.”
At the airport in Minneapolis, Gorbachev was met by a series of Minnesota leaders. Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale approached the U.S. ambassador, Matlock, and quietly asked him what to make of the recent election of Boris N. Yeltsin as president of the Russian republic. “They (Gorbachev and Yeltsin) are going to have to work together,” Matlock said.
Although Raisa Gorbachev joined her husband for most of the day’s activities, she left the conference with business leaders to follow a brief program of her own at the end of the afternoon.
En route to the south Minneapolis home of what had been billed as a typical American family, the Soviet first lady decided to stop at two typical American stores--Pepito’s Mexican delicatessen and the Snyder drug store. At the drug store, the Soviet leader’s wife questioned Carey Kilbo, the merchandise manager, about pay, working conditions and the ingredients in some of the products.
She asked, for example, why one nail polish cost more than another. Kilbo explained that the expensive nail polish stays on longer.
Times staff writers Jim Mann and Michael Ross contributed to this story.
This is the final day of the Gorbachevs’ visit to the United States. All times in this revised itinerary are PDT.
9:15 a.m.--Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev have breakfast with former President Ronald Reagan at home of Soviet consul general in San Francisco.
10:15 a.m.--Gorbachevs depart for Stanford University in Palo Alto.
11 a.m.--Gorbachevs meet Stanford University President Donald Kennedy and wife Jeanne and George P. Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state, and wife, Helena, on campus.
11:15 a.m.--Gorbachevs tour Stanford Art Museum.
Noon--Gorbachev visits Stanford School of Business.
12:30 p.m.--Gorbachev speaks to students and professors at Memorial Auditorium. (Live coverage by NBC, CBS, CNN)
1:05 p.m.--Gorbachevs leave Stanford to return to San Francisco and consul general’s residence.
2:30 p.m.--Gorbachev has lunch with area business leaders at Fairmont Hotel.
3:10-4 p.m.--Gorbachev delivers speech at Fairmont Hotel.
2:30-4 p.m.--Raisa Gorbachev tours city, with stops likely at Golden Gate Park, Civic Center, War Memorial Opera House, Davies Symphony Hall, Bank of America building, Fisherman’s Wharf.
4 p.m.-- Gorbachevs return to consul general’s home for meeting with South Korean President Roh Tae Woo.
4:15 p.m.--Raisa Gorbachev meets with Friends of Raisa Gorbachev at consul general’s home.
5:50 p.m.--Gorbachevs visit Vista Point at Golden Gate Bridge.
6:05 p.m.--They leave for San Francisco International Airport.
6:30 p.m.--Airport departure for Soviet Union.