Gorbachev's New Mission : Former Soviet Leader Brings Environmental Message to Hollywood

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev arrived in Hollywood on Monday for a two-day mission designed to advance the causes of Green Cross International, a nonprofit environmental organization he founded in 1993, two years after he was forced from office.

The non-governmental group--with chapters in the United States, Russia, the Netherlands, Japan and Switzerland--has a three-pronged program: cleaning up military toxins, assisting in the creation of global ecological law and fostering a value shift on the environment with the media's help.

"Like perestroika . . . environmental awareness is about creating a different mentality in the same heads," Gorbachev said in an interview.

"Though some elements of the Russian press are trying to create the impression that Mikhail Gorbachev is looking for a cause to be visible, my commitment goes way back," he said through an interpreter.

Gorbachev notes that he addressed the United Nations on the environment in 1988 but, as long as natural resources were needed to fuel the arms race, it was hard to make environmental causes a priority. Practically and psychologically, he says, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster was a turning point. So was Rio de Janeiro's 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, two months after which he accepted an offer to become the founding president of Green Cross.

At a private luncheon at the Beverly Hills Green Acres Estate, Gorbachev spelled out the group's vision to 60 entertainment and business leaders, including Barbra Streisand, Ted Turner, grocery store magnate Ron Burkle and Diane Meyer Simon, president of Global Green USA, the U.S. chapter of Gorbachev's group. He then headed to the Raleigh Studios to appear on a special edition of the Channel One News, an in-classroom television network broadcast to 12,000 secondary schools nationwide.

Fielding questions by students from Oak Park High School in Agoura Hills and Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, the former Soviet leader strayed from the topic to discuss the challenges of his post-political life--a period he said has been marked by "betrayal, treachery and lack of understanding."

Stopping short of throwing his hat back into the political ring in 1996, Gorbachev, 63, pledged to remain a leader of global and domestic reform.

"The USSR has no tradition of 'former presidents,' " Gorbachev explained, his wife Raisa looking on. "No one is asking me to build a library. The only person who has been involuntarily retired was Mr. Khrushchev, and he was practically put under lock-and-key. In this sense, Mikhail Gorbachev is creating other revolution--a change in our history. Many want me to keep silent and abandon my convictions . . . but that would be a different man. My continued activism is my victory."

Gorbachev wound up his day with a keynote speech to the Environmental Media Assn. Awards fund-raiser, where he addressed a sellout crowd that included such celebrities as Steven Seagal, Quincy Jones and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Disney Chairman Michael Eisner presented the first annual Frank G. Wells Award to Audubon Society Productions, in memory of the Disney president who died in a helicopter accident in April. Lured by the Gorbachev name--in combination with a program that featured Pulitzer Prize nominee and author Maya Angelou as host and entertainment by singer-environmental activist Carole King--corporations such as Warner Bros. and HBO each forked out $25,000 for a table of 10.

"Turnout exceeded that of last year when Vice President Al Gore spoke," said Environmental Media Assn. President Andy Goodman, whose five-year-old group encourages incorporation of environmental themes into TV shows, feature films and music videos. "Gorbachev cuts a wide path. Fortunately, his agenda and ours happened to coincide."

Saying people in half the cities of the world drink contaminated water and breathe polluted air, he called for a universally binding code of environmental ethics.

"While we were thinking how to multiply the weapons of nuclear overkill, we acted like barbarians digging a common grave," the former Soviet leader said. "Today, nature is taking its revenge for mankind's mistreatment of it--for nature can well do without man. The time has come when we must finally stop the evil pursuits that are bound to have irreversible consequences, unless we are ready to be called 'Homo Non-Sapiens.'

"Coping with the problems of the 21st Century is a challenge not only to our minds but also to our souls," he concluded. "The demons that beset mankind were not brought here by some extraterrestrials. At a time when the religious foundations of our culture are wearing thin, new value systems are needed more than ever before."

The Environmental Media Assn. event, held on a CBS Television City sound stage decorated in a rain forest motif, will be broadcast as a one-hour special on TBS on Sunday Oct. 23 at 8 p.m.

The winners, by category: Warner Bros.' "Free Willy" (feature film); Fox Children's Network's "Red Planet" (movie of the week/miniseries); Fox Broadcasting Co.'s 'The Simpsons" (television episodic comedy); Fox's "The X-Files (television episodic drama); ABC's "Day One" (television news magazine); KERA-TV's "Your Toxic Trash" (television special); TBS' "The New Adventures of Captain Planet" (children's animated programming); and KCTS' "Disney Presents Bill Nye the Science Guy" (children's programming, live action).

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