Citizen of the world

Ted Turner

Ted Turner

This is hardly surprising given his fame in Russia and the fact that he spent a substantial part of his adult life here. But if anyone had suggested such a possibility 30 years ago, Turner would probably have laughed in their face.
Turner was raised by a conservative father and firmly believed that the Russians were enemies of America. At the height of the Cold War, his father told him that the Communists would destroy the United States and shoot everyone who had more than $50 in their wallet. For a long time Turner never had more that $49 in cash on him, just in case. Ironically, Turner is one of the people who helped bring these two countries together - the United States and the then Soviet Union. Not so much on a political level as on a human one. In his autobiography, Turner describes the moment when he first wondered if there wasn't something wrong with the views his father had instilled in him. He was visiting Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Castro had invited Turner to Cuba as the creator and head of CNN.

"At some point I leaned over to Castro and asked: `Are you really interfering in the affairs of Angola and Central America?'

"Castro looked me straight in the eye: `Yes, just like you. Why do you think that the United States can interfere, but Cuba shouldn't?'

`Because we're for capitalism and you're not.'

`Why do you think that you're right, but we're not?'

"My jaw dropped."

Castro, of course, did not win Turner over. But it was this meeting that made Turner want to know other cultures better and promote communication between countries. One result was the Good Will Games of 1986 - the first sporting competition in a decade where both Soviet and American athletes competed. From a business standpoint it was a total failure: Turner's company lost about $100 million. But perhaps the most startling aspect of Turner the businessman is his tendency not to measure success by money alone. The Good Will Games went down in the history of U.S.-Russian relations, and Turner himself deserves a place alongside Reagan and Gorbachev, who began the first "reset" in relations.
Thanks to his Good Will Games Turner met Gorbachev and they became genuine friends. At the presentation of Turner's autobiography in Russian, which took place at the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow, the former president of the USSR called his friend a "very non-standard individual striving to remake the world". Turner is indeed managing to do this. In any case, the appearance of CNN changed the face of television.

As for the rest of the world, Ted Turner also has lent a hand to its "perestroika". When he became a billionaire he created the charitable United Nations Foundation to which he gave a billion dollars. Even in America, famous for its philanthropists, that is an extraordinary sum. One of the foundation's board members, who describes in the book how he came to know Turner, recalled an amazing incident. The two men were on their way to a meeting in Manhattan. They were walking down a street and talking. Turner kept bending down to pick up trash and then depositing it in the nearest litter basket. He did this the whole way to the meeting. At first this amused his interlocutor. But then the board member realized that it mattered to Turner what sort of a street he was walking down - clean or dirty. It didn't cost him anything to pick up those bits of paper and it made the city a little cleaner. It seems that you can try to remake the world even in that simple way.

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