AJC Statement on Passing of Eduard Shevardnadze

Jul 07, 2014, 15:33 ET from American Jewish Committee

NEW YORK, July 7, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AJC Executive Director David Harris issued the following statement following news of the death today of Eduard Shevardnadze:

Eduard Shevardnadze served as foreign minister of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1990. In that five-year span, he helped change the course of history.

He was an improbable choice for foreign minister, given his weak background in foreign policy. Yet he partnered with his boss, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, to usher in an era of sweeping, previously unimaginable, change.

Their new policy led, inter alia, to the dissolution of the USSR, the unification of Germany, the new Germany's place in NATO, the removal of Soviet troops from what had for decades been satellite states, treaties with the U.S. on nuclear weapons, support for the American-led effort to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, and the placement of human rights concerns onto the Soviet policy agenda.

With respect to the last point, when Shevardnadze took office in the Kremlin, Jewish emigration had come to a screeching halt. Within a few years, though, the doors opened and hundreds of thousands of Jews left to start new lives in Israel and elsewhere. Among them were many Prisoners of Zion and refuseniks, including Natan Sharansky, who had spent nine years in the Soviet Gulag.

On behalf of AJC, I had the privilege of meeting Shevardnadze when he was a Soviet diplomat and again later, when he was leader of independent Georgia, his native land. Thus I had the opportunity to express our heartfelt appreciation and admiration for his courage, vision, and principle in helping change the course of history.

As a child of the Cold War, I witnessed the end of that dangerous era and a new chapter of cooperation between Moscow and Washington in the 1990s. As a supporter of the struggle for Soviet Jewry, I saw, at long last, the gates open. As a friend of Israel, I marveled at the infusion into it of so many determined immigrants from the USSR. And as an admirer of the determination of post-Soviet states to chart their own democratic destinies, I cheered on Georgia's effort.

Shevardnadze was instrumental in each of these realms. It can be said about very few people that they truly changed the course of world history, but Shevardnadze was one such person. We owe him a great deal, far more than can be conveyed in these words, as he helped pilot the Soviet Union away from 70 years of totalitarianism and occupation. May his memory always serve as a blessing and an inspiration.

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SOURCE American Jewish Committee