Every country goes through periods of eye-opening revelations, of sudden clarity, and periods when hard decisions have to be made. Michael Morgulis, writer, theologian and political scientist, was a part time adviser to former first lady, and now U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on matters concerning Eastern Europe. In the recent past Morgulis was an adviser to the first Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. As the Baltic States are just coming through a difficult economic and political cycle, Mr. Morgulis has been an interesting observer of the unfolding events.
He reports that a new era of spiritual diplomacy dawned in 1991 when he, for the first time in the history of relations between the two countries, the United States and the then Soviet Union, headed a group of American Christians on their visit to the Soviet Union.
The Baltic Times met in Tallinn with Mr. Morgulis to discuss the interrelationship between spirituality in building stronger communities.
What was the reaction of Gorbachev and the KGB on your group’s visit 19 years ago to the USSR?
I asked the first Soviet president’s permission to pray. He gave me a quick, stern look, then turned to his assistants and said in an ice-cold official voice: “Mr. Morgulis, the Kremlin is not a church.” He paused and then said in different tone: “On the other hand, why not?..”
What do you think the main problem was for President Gorbachev?
Not everyone was able to understand that the monster named “communism” was alive and well, it had just put on a more human face. The majority of the people continued to think like slaves, and were not prepared to accept the formula: “Freedom has a price!” They did not wish to sacrifice vodka and salami in exchange for freedom. The world was not going to change without change in people’s hearts. Also, it’s never easy to be the first.
You now live in the United States? What is the main point that you can say about your new homeland?
One important fact to know about the USA is that it is strongly a Christian country. In different levels of society, from presidents to the common American, you can well feel the American Christian soul. Of 300 million people, at least half say they are believers, active believers. In protestant America it is a standard of life. It is not regarded as only spiritual, but also strongly financial with economic potential and help. It is not just attending church once a week on Sunday; it is very mainstream. But, it is not only dogmatic Christianity. Protestant American believers help each other. We have our Christian colleges and Christian entrepreneurs; there are around 15,000 companies in our faith union.
During the presidential elections, and also after them, in her everyday work current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton needs a lot of power, including spiritual power. She once wrote that your spiritual help had helped her in the most difficult moments of her life, how do you find time to support so many people?
You have to see everybody as an individual, not just as a president, homeless person, minister, dictator or priest, but as a human being, both good and bad, possessing happiness and problems. We all have these. It is important to see individuality in everyone.
Mr. Morgulis, what do you think is the most difficult decision to make, what will influence all of the population and the country?
At such times it is most important to clearly understand who your friends and who your enemies are. In times of failure (pretty much the same as what the Baltic States feel now in their economy), of political diplomacy, we need to have leaders advocating spiritual cooperation and healing, building bridges also between the main population and minorities in Estonia and Latvia. When professional diplomats fail, there comes the time for spiritual diplomacy to step in.
How important is it for each country and nation not to have politicians who try to control the country, but statesmen, real political leaders who care about people and their state?
Usually in political efforts the parties act solely to advance their own interest. Real statesmen love taking actions that also consider the interests of others. Political leaders make up only a tiny percentage of a country’s population, but their impact is felt through the power and law. This means that by sharing something important with those in power it is possible to affect the situation in the entire country. Of course there is a very popular saying: “Politics is a dirty thing,” but who can do politics more morally, with a human face, than those who believe in good. For example, a friend of mine, Mark Hatfield, a well-known U.S. senator, started with regular prayers in the U.S. Congress.
You have huge experience in different countries and societies. What kind of future do you see for the Baltic States, for Estonia?
Estonia and the other Baltic countries, as small countries, have to find their own way! Europe is tied, it cannot make radical decisions. I see some possibilities to join Estonia together with American Christianity. The Baltic States have to find a good spiritual, economic and political example for themselves. For Estonia, South Korea can be used as a really good example. South Korea is now one of the most economically successful small countries in the world. Historically, South Korea was a Buddhist country, but now more than half of their population is Christian. I think South Korean people are some of the happiest ones. North Korea we can compare with the USSR in 1937, and much worse. Same nation, but such a large difference! In North Korea people have lost themselves. Even well-known economists have found a connection between the spiritual and economic South Korean revival and the subsequent success of the economy.
What kind of spiritual way do you see for our countries?
It will have to be a mixture of Protestantism and orthodoxy, but with a huge part of dynamism and rationalism. Every nation has some similar, and some more diverse, religious groups.
Estonia has to come out from an economic recession. Unfortunately, now we can feel some kind of antagonism between the Estonian population and the huge minority; it is quite similar for Latvia. Estonians and Latvians have a right to their land, language, ethnic traditions and culture, but there needs to be a compromise between all populations of these countries. Estonia needs a spiritual, economic orientation. There is a very important role for spiritual diplomacy in your countries. When I go to the Middle East, I always say to Palestinians, and also in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament): I cannot say you have to love each other, but you have to be tolerant of each other. Because, on the roots of tolerance can grow flowers of love. Only tolerance can protect life on Earth. Our world is starting a new era. The spiritual connection is becoming stronger and stronger every day. Maybe the time has come for us to stop these conflicts with the help of patience, tolerance, spirit and spend the rest of our lives happy.
Do you really see a connection between spiritual and economic success?
Of course I do! I have already given an example of South Korea. The economy is strongly connected with the spiritual world. Russian Patriarch Alexei II (now deceased) always said that political questions have to be decided with the help of spirituality. Alexei II was very serious and supported spiritual diplomacy. The world cannot go on any longer without spiritual values; it is not only religion, it is much more general. For example, the academic and dissident Andrei Sakharov never called himself a believer, but he lived by real Christian values, doing good things and helping people all his life, even those he never knew. The academic Sakharov had an intuitive spiritual behavior. Everyone felt the strength of this man.
So religion by itself cannot make a person better. Only faith can.
What do you think are the roots of hate and intolerance between people of different languages, or other minorities between each other?
It is a very old politically strategic step to search for somebody who is guilty. It is always necessary to have “enemies.” This step helps very much to place attention not on the real economic and political problems at hand, but fight with these so-called “enemies.” It was used during Stalin’s USSR reign; it was a popular step in Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, sometimes it is used even in our democratic world and in the Baltic States as well. Only a real strong spiritual impact can help people not be manipulated by these evils.