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Today marks 20th anniversary of Gorbachev’s speech

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev with Edwina Sandys, Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, in front of the Berlin Wall sculpture at Westminster College in 1992.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev with Edwina Sandys, Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, in front of the Berlin Wall sculpture at Westminster College in 1992. Contributed photo

Twenty years ago today an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people jammed an area around Westminster College to listen to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev deliver an address that many now interpret as the end of the Cold War.

Historians credit a speech made at Westminster College in Fulton in 1946 by British Prime Minster Winston Churchill as the start of the Cold War when he used the “Iron Curtain” term to describe Soviet expansionism and the threat of communist imperialism.

Forty-six years later Gorbachev came to Fulton for an address that formally lifted the Iron Curtain.

By the time Gorbachev came to the United States for the speech, the Soviet Union already had collapsed, having disintegrated into 15 separate countries four months earlier.

In August of 1991 a group of hard-line Soviet communists organized a coup d’etat. They kidnapped Gorbachev, and on Aug. 19, 1991, announced that Gorbachev was ill and would no longer be able to govern. Protests erupted throughout the Soviet Union and communist bosses could not persuade the military to put down the rebellion.

After three days, the communist organizers surrendered. Gorbachev resigned as president on Dec. 25, 1991, and by January of 1992 the Soviet Union ceased to exist. All of the separate nations in the Soviet Union formed their own governments, including Russia.

By the time Gorbachev came to Fulton on May 6, 1992, he had been out of office for more than four months. But to many Americans he was still the symbol of the Cold War and they wanted to hear what he had to say.

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