Saturday, September 3, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Gorbachev in Minnesota, 1990

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 

driven there.

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.

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