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Mikhail Gorbachev

In 1985, when the first rumblings of Gorbachev's thunder disturbed the moldy Soviet silence, the people who always gather at flea markets and around churches - predicted that the new leader would rule seven years. They assured anyone interested in listening that Gorbachev was "foretold in the Bible," that he was an apocalyptic figure: he had a mark on his forehead. Everyone had searched for signs in previous leaders as well, but Lenin's speech defect, Stalin's mustache, Brezhnev's eyebrows and Khrushchev's vast baldness were utterly human manifestations. The unusual birthmark on the new General Secretary's forehead, combined with his inexplicably radical actions, gave him a mystical aura.

ikhail Gorbachev was born in the village of Privolnoye near Stavropol, Russia. From the age of 13 he worked on a collective farm, where his father was a mechanic.

He was an exceptional student and earned a law degree at Moscow University where he joined the Communist party and became Secretary of the law department's Young Communist League. After returning to the Stavropol area he rose in the League hierarchy to become Regional Secretary of the League, and in 1961 first became a delegate to the Party Congress. He spent the 1960s working his way up through the territorial bodies of the Party and continuing his education in agronomy and economics.

s an agricultural administrator and party leader in his native region, he acquired a reputation for innovation and incorruptible honesty, and he soon rose in the Party hierarchy. He was first elected to the Supreme Soviet in 1970, and served on commissions dealing with conservation, youth policy, and foreign affairs. In 1971 he was elected to the Central Committee. In 1978 he became First Secretary of the Stavropol territorial committee and by 1980 was a full member of the Politburo.

The death of the long-time General Secretary of the Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev, presented a brief opportunity for change in the Soviet Union. Brezhnev's successor, Yuri Andropov, appeared to be grooming Gorbachev as his own successor, but after Andropov's unexpected death, Gorbachev was passed over for the top spot and the aged Konstantin Chernenko came to power. When Chernenko too died barely a year after taking power, it was at last clear to the Party hierarchy that younger leadership was needed and Gorbachev became General Secretary. Gorbachev's main opposition, Gryshin, was removed and replaced by Boris Yeltsin in December 1984. He was ready to make long overdue reforms in the Soviet system.

For six years Gorbachev carried off a delicate balancing act, forcing reforms on a recalcitrant old guard, while trying to contain the demand for change from radical reformers within and without the Communist Party. He permitted an unprecedented freedom of expression in the USSR and ended the disastrous Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan.

By 1989 the demand for reform had spread to the Soviet satellite states of Central Europe. Gorbachev notified the Communist leaders of those coutries that he would not intervene militarily to keep them in power as his predecessors had done. Without the support of the Red Army, these dictatorships were quickly forced to yield to their democratic opposition, and Gorbachev began the withdrawal of the remaining Soviet forces from Central Europe. In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his foreign policy initiatives.

Gorbachev continued to press for democratization in the Soviet Union and permitted free elections in Russia and the other republics of the Soviet Union. He survived an attempted coup by Communist hardliners in 1991 but relinquished office after the elected presidents of the constituent republics undertook to replace the old Soviet Union with a Confederation of Independent States.

Since leaving office, he has continued to advocate the development of private ownership in a market economy, and the non-violent resolution of conflicts in a democratic society. He is President of the International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies, known as the Gorbachev Foundation, which conducts political and economic research, and promotes international exchange, and a President of the Green Cross International.

"We need a new system of values, a system of the organic unity between mankind and nature and the ethic of global responsibility" - Mikhail Gorbachev.

He ran for the Presidency in 1996 but only received 1% of the vote. He is considered as having been a negative part of Russia's history.
He is recognized around the world as one of the most influential statesman of the 20th century.

August Coup

August Coup (Aug. 18–22, 1991) was attempted against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. On the eve of the signing ceremony for a new union treaty for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, members of the Politburo and the heads of the Soviet military and security services detained Gorbachev at his villa in the Crimea. Claiming that Gorbachev had been removed from his position as president due to illness, the leaders of the coup formed an eight-man Committee of the State of Emergency and attempted to assume control of the government. Russian parliamentarians, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, led popular resistance to the Committee's leadership. Soldiers and tanks sent to arrest Yeltsin found the Russian Parliament building surrounded by both armed and unarmed civilians. The soldiers then turned around, either returning to their barracks or joining the resistance. Many junior officers and officials in the Moscow ministries, as well as the leadership of the Soviet Union's constituent republics, denounced the new leadership. The coup collapsed as the Committee found itself lacking either the will or the loyalty of the military necessary to put down the burgeoning resistance movement. Gorbachev was released from detention and flown to Moscow. Real power in Russia, however, had devolved to Yeltsin, who used the coup's failure to eliminate the political power of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. The August Coup resulted in a minimal loss of life (3 deaths in Moscow and 3 in the Baltic States), the end of the Communist party dominance, and hastened the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Time magazine cover of January 4, 1988 featuring Mikhail Gorbachev as Man of the Year.
Time magazine cover of January 4, 1988 featuring Mikhail Gorbachev as Man of the Year.

The most noteworthy of Gorbachev's actions as a head of the USSR were his broad agricultural reforms and, of course, Perestroika, a broad "restructuring" of the Soviet socialist system.

The Russian people and the old Soviet regimists were unhappy with some of Gorbachev's policies. Perestroika, although, a novel idea did not bring about the changes promised. Throw in the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the Vietnam-like incident in Afghanistan in 1987 and the Coal Miner's Strike in Siberia in 1987 and you've got one volatile situation.

Aside from being awarded the Nobel Prize, 1990 was the beginning of the end of Gorbachev's reign and with him the whole Soviet Union as the world knew it then.

In 1989 the Berlin Wall, separating Communist controlled East Germany from the West, came down and Soviet presence in that area was forced to pull out. Today this is looked at as the beginning of the end for the Soviet Era.

Unrest in the USSR itself also led to this end. In March of 1990, Lithuania declares it's independence from the Soviet Union. Gorbachev is also elected president (a new office) of the USSR in that month. The political unrest which had begun back when Gorbachev had taken office continued to increase and Gorbachev was forced to reorganize the upper pylon of officials.

Michael Gorbachev.Right after his election, he created the Soviet of the Federation and the President's Council. The President's Council was dissolved later that year along with the Soviet of Ministers which was replaced with the Cabinet of Ministers. The role of the Soviet of the Federation was also changed at this time. In the beginning of 1991, more unrest in the Baltic States continued causing more and more crackdowns from Gorbachev but his power seemed to be waining.

In August 1991, Gorbachev was kidnapped from his vacation home near the Black See. The coup released him 2 days later as the attempted coup seemed to have failed.

President Michail Gorbachev with his wife Raisa.

In December of that year, however, Gorbachev resigned as President and the USSR ceased to exist. Boris Yeltsin took control of the new democratic government.


To learn mora about Gorbachev visit Gorbachev - My First Day on the Job, Gorbachev's Legacy, Gorbachev Wins Nobel Peace Prize, (in English), Gorbachev's official site, jokes about Gorbachev (in Russian)

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