Mikhail Gorbachev made two visits to Minnesota, but only
one while in power, and that 1990 appearance was an
epic seven hours of celebrity meetings, crowds, photo ops,
and very brief global attention to an orgy of local hospitality.
Now 32 years ago, the visit remains indelible in the memory
of those Minnesotans who were part of it — although many
of the principals, including Governor Rudy Perpich, his wife
Lola, legendary tycoon Robert Maxwell, Raisa Gorbachev,
and now Mikhail Gorbachev himself, are no longer with us.
The Minnesota stopover was the idea of Governor Perpich
who, between terms (1976-79) and (1983-91) had served
as a businessman in Europe and worked with the new
post-communist Croatian government. He had befriended
media billionaire Maxwell, and proposed a multi-million
dollar Maxwell-Gorbachev Institute to be located in
Minnesota as an incentive to Gorbachev to add the midwest
the state to his planned New York and San Francisco stops
on his official U.S. itinerary. Robert Maxwell, also a friend of
Gorbachev, was to accompany him on the trip, and he helped
persuade the Russian leader to do it.
As a veteran local journalist, I was given three options to
cover the visit, albeit from distance because no press
conferences or interviews were planned, nor as I was to learn,
even permitted with the Russian leader.The three venues were
the airport for the arrival, the governor’s residence in St. Paul
where the visitors were to have an elaborate Minnesota
luncheon, or the Radisson Hotel in downtown Minneapolis
where Mr. Gorbachev was to meet local and national business
I had a special reason to try to actually meet Gorbachev. A year
before, not knowing he would visit Minnesota, I had ordered and
received an advanced reading copy of his speeches translated
into English. I now thought a signed copy would be a special
treasure, so I was determined to have him sign my copy.
The days leading up to the visit on June 3, 1990, were a civic
madhouse. Souvenirs of all kinds, includes dozens of different
embossed T-shirts, appeared for sale and trade. Signs in
Russian script were erected along the travel route across
the Mississippi River between the Twin Cities.The media was
choked with stories anticipating the seven-hour visit and its
I opted for the event at the Radisson Hotel where I thought I
might have a good chance to encounter Gorbachev. All media
(thousands from around the globe, it turned out) were assembled
at the now-torn-down Metrodome Stadium where most of the
media could watch everything on giant TV screens. The few of
us allowed to go to the Radisson Hotel were put on a bus and
One of the reasons I had initially been optimistic that I could have
my book signed was that those in charge were friends of mine,
but on arriving at the Metrodome, each of them assured me that
there was no chance at all I could get close to Gorbachev with all
his security, and that they could not help me. Many of my fellow
journalists, at the Metrodome, seeing the book, derided my
chances to get it signed. No way, they said.
Before Gorbachev arrived at the hotel, those of us in the media,
including reporters and photographers, were ushered to the back
of the large ballroom where he was to speak. Political celebrities
were everywhere, including President Nixon’s chief of staff H.R.
Haldeman, who had worked later as a businessman in Moscow.
Finally, Gorbachev arrived, but after only five minutes, we in the
media were led out and sent to a second floor room where we
were to watch the proceedings on TV screens. My book-signing
goal now looked very bleak.
Then I overheard a conversation between a photographer and the
staffer in charge of the room. There was to be a short photo-op in
a nearby room with Gorbachev and Ann Bancroft, the Minnesota
explorer. Seizing the moment, I then went to the staffer, told him
I spoke Russian (not fully true, but I had taken a Russian course
in college), and pleaded with him to let me accompany the
photographers to the photo op. Amazingly, he agreed I could go.
Led to another room, four of us waited for Gorbachev to enter. I
stood with book and pen in hand, ready to act.
The entourage began to arrive. Suddenly, a loud voice in front of
me said, “Where did you get that book?”
The voice came from a tall, striking man who identified himself as
Robert Maxwell. He then said, “I published that book in England;
it’s not for sale in the U.S.” I told him it was a review copy, and I
wanted to have Gorbachev sign it. He then said, “Well, I wrote the
introduction, so I’d better sign it, too!” Which he did.
A few moments later, Gorbachev walked by, and I was ready with
“Mikhail Sergeivitch, please sign my book” in Russian. Startled, he
stopped, and the photographer behind me, who was fluent in
Russian, began asking questions. With TV cameras broadcasting
all of this live worldwide (and back to the Metrodome), we then
held the only (albeit unscheduled) press conference of the U.S. trip.
Gorbachev then dutifully signed my book, and was hurried off to
the photo op.
Returning to the Metrodome, I was cheered as I entered — they
had watched the signing and impromptu press conference on TV.
Several asked me how much I wanted for the book.
“Not for sale,” I said.
Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.