Mikhail Gorbachev – Soviet president
Mikhail Gorbachev was general secretary of the Communist Party, then president of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991. He was a reformer who attempted to fix the economic problems of the system and wanted democracy to grow within the country. Gorbachev’s efforts to change his country helped to lead to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931 in a small village in the Stavropol region in south Russia. His father joined the Communist Party and was a veteran of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). When he was still a teenager, Gorbachev was awarded the Order of Red Banner of Labor for heroic feats of work. He had assisted his father, a combine operator (who was given the Order of Lenin) in bringing in a record harvest in 1948.
In 1952 Gorbachev joined the Communist Party. He received his law degree from Moscow State University in 1955. During his time in Moscow he met his future wife, Raisa Maksimovna Titorenko, who would play a crucial supporting role in his reforms throughout their lives. They were married in 1953 and remained utterly devoted to each other.
Raisa Gorbacheva became one of the best-known women in the world, partly because her attractive appearance, vivacity, and self-assurance were so much at odds with the image the wives of high- ranking Soviet politicians had projected hitherto.
In an interview on the eve of his seventieth birthday, Gorbachev described Raisa’s death at the age of 67 in 1999 as his “hardest blow ever.” They had one daughter, Irina, and two granddaughters.
In 1966 he became first secretary of the Stavropol city party organization. In 1970 he rose to first secretary of the Stavropol region. After eight years he moved to Moscow, where he became the Central Committee secretary for agriculture. In 1985 he became the party’s general secretary. This made him the leader of the Soviet Union.
In 1986 Gorbachev announced a set of more radical proposals that he called perestroika, or restructuring. When Gorbachev came to power people in the Soviet Union were not allowed to voice their opinions openly. The country was often in conflict with other countries, especially the United States. Gorbachev allowed greater freedom of speech and developed better relations between the Soviet Union and other nations.
After 1985 Gorbachev quickly moved toward negotiations that would eventually lead to the end of the COLD WAR. He met with U.S. president Ronald Reagan repeatedly throughout the 1980s. Defense policy was subordinated to political objectives, and the underlying philosophy of kto kogo (who will defeat whom) gave way to a belief in interdependence and mutual security. These achievements were widely recognized internationally—most notably with the award to Gorbachev in 1990 of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Gorbachev’s changes led to the end of Communism in Europe. In the Soviet Union Gorbachev allowed real elections for the first time.
The most traumatic moment of Gorbachev’s reign occurred when the Chernobyl nuclear station exploded in April 1986.
In August 1991 a group of Communists who opposed Gorbachev’s rule tried to take control of the government by force. After the failed coup against Gorbachev of August 1991, when he was held under house arrest on the Crimean coast while Yeltsin became the focal point of resistance to the putschists, his political position was greatly weakened.
On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev quit the presidency. By the end of the year the Soviet Union had officially ceased to exist.
Gorbachev ran for president of Russia in 1996 but received less than 1 percent of the vote. In 2006 he was the head of the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow and traveled the world giving speeches.
Gorbachev became the author of several books, most notably two volumes of memoirs published in Russian in 1995 and, in somewhat abbreviated form, in English and other languages in 1996. Other significant works included a book of political reflections, based on tape-recorded conversations with his Czech friend from university days, Zdenek Mlynar, which appeared in 2002.
Britannica Student Encyclopedia
Encyclopedia of Russian History