Before Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union seemed to be an unstoppable superpower locked in constant conflict with the United States. Gorbachev altered all of that with an amazing set of reforms, which transformed the direction of the 20th century.
Gorbachev played a significant role with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in a global drama that many people saw as impossibly complex and that, to those who lived through it, looked almost bizarre.
Gorbachev oversaw the down of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of thousands of political prisoners, and the introduction of true freedom to millions of people who had previously only known communism. He eventually fought a hopeless struggle to save a failing empire but was ultimately powerless to control the forces he unleashed.
Gorbachev, 91, passed away on Tuesday at a hospital in Moscow.
Before becoming leadership in 1985, he was not well-known outside of the Sovietologist community, but he soon established himself as a powerful and charismatic personality. He was immediately recognized due to the blotchy purple birthmark on his bald skull, and his energy was in direct contrast to the current trend of ailing and incoherent Kremlin leaders.
His plans to transform the Soviet Union into a more compassionate and adaptable nation had epochal force. His “leading role” in ending the Cold War and lowering nuclear tensions earned him the Nobel Prize in 1990.
But a year later, he was the despondent and confused personification of failure. He had caused the nation to disintegrate, and as a result, he was mocked, scorned, and progressively cast aside as unimportant at home.
Gorbachev spent his last months in office seeing republic after country proclaim independence. He finally resigned on December 25, 1991, and the Soviet Union wrote itself into oblivion a day later. Gorbachev’s influence was irreparably weakened by an attempted coup against him in August 1991.
Many of the developments, such as the dissolution of the Soviet Union, were not at all what Gorbachev had envisioned when he assumed power as Soviet leader in March 1985.
He was unable to put a stop to the storm he had planted at the conclusion of his reign. But compared to other political figures, Gorbachev may have had the most influence on the second half of the 20th century.
After leaving power, Gorbachev told The Associated Press, “I regard myself as a guy who launched the changes that were required for the nation, for Europe, and for the globe.”
“I am often asked whether I would have begun from scratch if I had to do it again. Indeed, I do. And with much more tenacity and tenacity,” he remarked.
He was held responsible by the Russians for the collapse of the Soviet Union, a once-daunting superpower whose territory was divided into 15 different countries, in 1991.
In 1996, he ran for president, but it was a farce; he received less than 1% of the vote. He turned to creating a Pizza Hut TV commercial in 1997 to raise money for his philanthropic organization.
His old friends turned on him and made him the victim of the nation’s problems.
Anatoly Lukyanov, a former Gorbachev admirer, said, “He could take a pizza, cut it into 15 pieces as he broke up our nation, and then explain how to put it back together again.”
Never did Gorbachev want to overthrow the Soviet Union. He wanted to make things better.
He launched a drive to eliminate the political and economic stagnation of his nation shortly after becoming office, utilizing “glasnost,” or openness, to assist him realize his aim of “perestroika,” or restructuring.
He said in his autobiography that he had long been upset by the fact that tens of millions of people lived in poverty in a nation with abundant natural resources.
Gorbachev claimed that a bureaucratic command structure had “stifled our society.” It was put under extreme pressure since it was “doomed to serve ideology and carry the heavy load of the armaments race.”
Once he got going, one action led to another: he released political prisoners, permitted free speech and multiple candidates in elections, granted his citizens the freedom to travel, put an end to religious persecution, reduced nuclear arsenals, strengthened ties with the West, and did not oppose the overthrow of communist governments in satellite states in Eastern Europe.
But the forces he unleashed swiftly got out of his grasp. Ethnic tensions that had been long repressed erupted, causing battles and turmoil in troubled areas like the southern Caucasus. Price hikes and shortages of consumer goods were followed by strikes and labor unrest.
Early in 1991, Gorbachev authorized a crackdown on the unruly Baltic countries, marking one of the low moments of his presidency. Many intellectuals and reformers turned against him as a result of the violence.
New populist leaders who contested Gorbachev’s ideas and power emerged as a result of competitive elections. The first president of Russia and his former protégé, Boris Yeltsin, was foremost among them.
Gorbachev addressed the public when he announced his resignation, saying, “The process of rebuilding our country and bringing about fundamental changes in the world community proved to be considerably more complicated than first envisaged.”
“Let’s recognize what has been accomplished so far, however. Society now has freedom; it is both politically and spiritually free. And this is the most significant accomplishment, with which we are still grappling in part because we have not yet mastered the use of our freedom.
Little in Gorbachev’s early years hinted at the significant part he would play in global history. He was raised in a normal Russian hamlet, which on many respects was typical of the Soviet Union.
But it was a childhood marked by exceptional acts of luck.
In the southern Russian town of Privolnoye, on March 2, 1931, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born. Along with his father, both of his grandfathers were Communist Party members, collective farm chairman, and peasants.
Despite having a strong political reputation, Gorbachev’s family was not spared from the horror that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin inflicted upon the country: both grandfathers were detained and imprisoned for supposed anti-Soviet actions. Both were finally released, which was unusual at the time.
When Gorbachev was ten years old in 1941, his father and the majority of the other males from Privolnoye enlisted in the military. In the meanwhile, the Nazis’ blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union swept through the western steppes. They spent five months living at Privolnoye. One of the very few local lads whose father returned after the war was finished was young Gorbachev.
By the age of 15, Gorbachev was assisting his father after school and through the sweltering, dusty summers in the area while operating a combine harvester. He was awarded the order of the Red Banner of Labor for his efforts, an extraordinary honor for a 17-year-old.
He was able to enroll in Moscow State University, the premier university in the nation, in 1950 thanks to the award and his parents’ political affiliation. There he met Raisa Maximovna Titorenko, the woman who would become his wife, and joined the Communist Party.
The honor and his family’s reputation also helped him get over the embarrassment of his grandfathers’ incarceration, which were disregarded due to his model Communist behavior.
As he rose through the party ranks, Gorbachev portrays himself as something of a renegade who sometimes let loose with criticism of the Soviet system and its authorities.
Early in his career, Nikita Khrushchev’s “thaw” was in effect. He was charged with describing the 20th Party Congress, which exposed Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s mistreatment of millions of people, to local party members as a young Communist propagandist. He said that at first there was “deathly quiet,” followed by shock.
“We don’t believe it, they said. Not possible. Now that Stalin is gone, you want to blame him for everything,” he said in an interview with the AP from 2006.
He was a sincere, if unconventional, socialist. He was chosen to serve on the influential party’s Central Committee in 1971, assumed charge of the country’s agriculture strategy in 1978, and was given full Politburo membership in 1980.
He was able to visit the West along the route, including Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, and Canada. His confidence in the superiority of socialism in the Soviet model was severely shaken by those visits, which had a major impact on his views.
In his memoirs, he said, “The question dogged me: Why was the level of life lower in our nation than in other industrialized countries.” Our elderly leaders didn’t appear very concerned about our definitely poorer living conditions, our miserable style of life, or our lagging behind in the development of innovative technology, according to the report.
Gorbachev had to wait however for his time.
After the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1982, Konstantin Chernenko and Andropov—mentor—took Gorbachev’s over as the new leaders. It wasn’t until Chernenko passed away in March 1985 that the party eventually decided on a younger man to be the nation’s leader. At 54, Gorbachev.
Rocky times during his administration included the Soviet military retreat from Afghanistan, the Chernobyl nuclear accident, and a poorly planned anti-alcohol campaign.
But beginning in November 1985, Gorbachev convened a series of eye-catching summit talks with global leaders, including U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, which resulted in the deepest and most unprecedented cuts to the nuclear arsenals of the US and the USSR.
Western politicians virtually swooned over the attractive, vivacious Gorbachev and his fashionable, intelligent wife after spending years seeing a procession of staid leaders in the Kremlin.
At home, though, opinions were completely different. Since the passing of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, a Soviet leader’s wife had never assumed such a prominent position, and many Russians thought Raisa Gorbachev was conceited and ostentatious.
Although the rest of the world profited from the reforms Gorbachev made, the shaky Soviet economy collapsed as a result, causing the 290 million citizens of the USSR to experience severe economic suffering.
The economic downturn intensified into a severe skid in the closing months of the Soviet Union. The majority of elderly folks lost their life’s savings due to hyperinflation. Industries close. Bread lines developed, and Gorbachev and his wife received further scorn from the public.
However, the pair gained support when it was discovered that Raisa Gorbachev had leukemia and was dying in the summer of 1999. Gorbachev talked often with television reporters during her dying days, and the haughty-sounding, wooden politician of the past was suddenly seen as a sentimental family guy who was giving vent to intense anguish.
Gorbachev worked on the Green Cross foundation, established in 1993 to promote “a more harmonious connection between humanity and the environment,” as well as the Gorbachev Foundation, which he founded to address post-Cold War global concerns.
In 2000, he became the leader of the tiny United Social Democratic Party in the hopes that it would step into the Communist Party’s shoes, which, in his opinion, had failed to evolve into a contemporary socialist party after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 2004, he gave up his chairmanship.
Even if many of his fellow countrymen were no longer interested in what he had to say, he nonetheless offered political commentary on Russia as a senior statesman.
Gorbachev said in a book he published in 1996 that “the crisis in our nation will persist for some years, maybe leading to even greater turmoil.” However, Russia has made an irrevocable decision to follow a road toward independence, and nobody can force it to do otherwise.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has come under fire for rolling back the democratic gains made under the Gorbachev and Yeltsin administrations, Gorbachev alternated between criticism and moderate appreciation. After the turbulent decade that followed the fall of the Soviet Union, he said Putin had made significant contributions to bringing stability and prestige back to Russia.
He did, however, object to the expanding restrictions on press freedom and, in 2006, he and a business colleague purchased Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s remaining investigative newspapers.
He implied criticism for the Kremlin’s attempts to subdue Novaya Gazeta and other independent media outlets, saying that one of his aims was to “advance the newspaper’s quality growth in the interests of democratic ideals.”
In his seventies, Gorbachev expanded into new fields and received praise and honors from all around the globe. Together with former American President Bill Clinton and Italian actress Sophia Loren, he received a Grammy in 2004 for their rendition of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. In recognition of his environmental activism, the United Nations designated him a Champion of the Earth in 2006.
Irina was his daughter, and he also had two grandkids.