Primary Sources

U.S. Support for Perestroika


In May 1988, President Ronald Reagan traveled to the Soviet Union for a summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev. While in Moscow, he addressed a group of students at Moscow State University, using this forum as a chance to publicly announce his support for the Gorbachev's ongoing reform efforts. In this excerpt of his speech, he condemns the opponents of Gorbachev's reforms, and uses a popular reference to the American film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" to make his point more clear to the youthful audience. It's important to keep in mind that before Gorbachev's glasnost' (openness), no American film could be shown in the Soviet Union. His reference is not only to the importance of continuing to support Gorbachev but also to the cultural rewards of the reforms that was already affecting these students' lives.


Ronald Reagan, "Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With the Students and Faculty," Moscow State University, Moscow, Soviet Union, speech, May 31, 1988, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Public Papers, Reagan Library (accessed September 7, 2006).

Primary Source—Excerpt

... Today the world looks expectantly to signs of change, steps toward greater freedom in the Soviet Union. We watch and we hope as we see positive changes taking place. There are some, I know, in your society who fear that change will bring only disruption and discontinuity, who fear to embrace the hope of the futurej—sometimes it takes faith. It's like that scene in the cowboy movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,'' which some here in Moscow recently had a chance to see. The posse is closing in on the two outlaws, Butch and Sundance, who find themselves trapped on the edge of a cliff, with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet to the raging rapids below. Butch turns to Sundance and says their only hope is to jump into the river below, but Sundance refuses. He says he'd rather fight it out with the posse, even though they're hopelessly outnumbered. Butch says that's suicide and urges him to jump, but Sundance still refuses and finally admits, "I can't swim.'' Butch breaks up laughing and says, "You crazy fool, the fall will probably kill you.'' And, by the way, both Butch and Sundance made it, in case you didn't see the movie. I think what I've just been talking about is perestroika and what its goals are.

But change would not mean rejection of the past. Like a tree growing strong through the seasons, rooted in the Earth and drawing life from the Sun, so, too, positive change must be rooted in traditional values—in the land, in culture, in family and community—and it must take its life from the eternal things, from the source of all life, which is faith. Such change will lead to new understandings, new opportunities, to a broader future in which the tradition is not supplanted but finds its full flowering. That is the future beckoning to your generation....

How to Cite this Source

President Ronald Reagan, "U.S. Support for Perestroika," Making the History of 1989, Item #61, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

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