Gorbachev hails Lebanon 'miracle'

The former president of the Soviet Union praises Lebanon for what he said was a robust financial sector and strict implementation of regulations.

Mzaar Kfardebian, February 2, 2010: Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR & Founder of Green Cross International, speaks to the media during a conference at the MENA Cristal Festival at the Intercontinental Mzaar Kfardebian. ( Photo by Philip Cheung ) *** Local Caption ***  PC43-MENA.jpg
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Mikhail Gorbachev believes the world's biggest economies can learn a thing or two about recovery from Lebanon. The former president of the Soviet Union praised Lebanon for what he said was a robust financial sector and strict implementation of regulations. "I think it is a kind of miracle that Lebanon, despite all problems, has been able to weather the current crisis really well," Mr Gorbachev said. "And I think that we must learn from this."

He was speaking in Mzaar, Lebanon, at the opening of the MENA Cristal Festival, an advertising awards event. Mr Gorbachev was presented the Cristal of Honour. He said Lebanon had performed much better during the downturn than his native Russia, which was initially expected to be a "safe haven" from global economic problems. The Russian economy suffered a severe recession last year as GDP shrank 8 per cent, the World Bank reported.

In contrast, Lebanon's GDP grew by 7 per cent, a performance the World Bank attributed to the country's strongly regulated financial sector. The world's larger economies could do well to study Lebanon's example, Mr Gorbachev said. He said he was happy to participate in advertising campaigns, which have helped him fund his work for the Gorbachev Foundation and other charities. "I do believe there is room for advertising in the world because people need to know about the products; products have to be produced but then promoted and brought to the customer, and advertising has an important role to play," he said.

Mr Gorbachev's political reforms - glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring) - during the 1980s played a pivotal role in opening the Soviet Union's deteriorating, centrally planned economy to free-market capitalism. Mr Gorbachev first considered lending his fame to the sale of commercial products when he was approached by Pizza Hut in 1997, at a time when he was seeking funding to complete the construction of his foundation's headquarters.

"We needed the money to build a building for the Gorbachev Foundation, after president Boris Yeltsin ejected us from the building in which we were working," he said. In the commercial, he tells his young granddaughter that capitalism means access to luxuries such as Pizza Hut pizza. @Email:khagey@thenational.ae