"Thank you, Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev!" Such was the message on thousands of fliers distributed and displayed all over our city of Lawrence when Alexander Yakovlev arrived to spend several days as our guest in November 1997. Our purpose was pure and simple: To recognize and thank Yakovlev as the father of "Glasnost, Perestroika, Democracy!" printed above his photograph that appeared on the widely distributed flier.
We had an amazing time with this wonderful human being who had such a profound impact on the transformation of Russia and the great improvement in Russian-American relations. World War II veteran Yakovlev attended several memorial events with fellow American soldiers-in-arms. We made joint appearances at the two high schools of Lawrence to large and enthusiastic assemblies.
Yakovlev was introduced before a Kansas University basketball game in our historic Allen Fieldhouse in the city where basketball first developed into a game played throughout the world. Fifteen thousand students stood to applaud Yakovlev as a man who helped end the Cold War, while the KU Jayhawk mascot embraced this soldier of peace. He attended honoring dinner parties large and small and shared many "insider" stories about Russia's "second revolution" that enthralled guests and hosts alike.
The world lost a great human being when Yakovlev died last week in Moscow. He was a good and humble man who used his sharp intellect and quiet courage to build the architecture of perestroika through which Mikhail Gorbachev was able to bring greater openness and freedom to the Soviet Union. As a decorated World War II veteran, badly injured in 1943, Yakovlev was able to help shield a younger reform-minded Gorbachev from the older hard-line Communists on the Politburo, such as Yegor Ligachev, during those crucial years after Gorbachev became the country's leader in 1985.
The citizens of Lawrence, like all Americans, Russians and people everywhere who love freedom and despise tyranny, owe much to Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev. With the same steadfast courage he displayed in the war defeating Nazism, Dr. Yakovlev fought tirelessly, with every God-given talent he possessed, to end tyranny in his homeland and expand peace and freedom throughout Russia and her neighboring countries. His labors helped speed the end of the Cold War and re-establish peaceful Russian-American relations that date back to America's colonial period.
Rest in peace, Alexander Nikolaevich. Like St. Paul, you fought the good fight, you finished the race, you kept the faith. Now it is up to us.
- Bob Swan Jr. is founder of the U.S.-Russia Foundation, Lawrence.