Mikhail Gorbachev stepped onto the world stage in March 1985 as leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) aged only 54.
In a landmark December 1988 speech at the United Nations, he declared that all nations should be free to choose their own course without outside interference. Gorbachev capped this speech by announcing that the USSR would significantly reduce the number of troops and tanks that were based in the Eastern Bloc countries. Gorbachev’s move had unintended consequences. He had hoped that his reforms would revitalize and modernize the Soviet Union. Instead, they unleashed social forces that brought about the dissolution of the USSR (in existence since 1922). In 1989, Communist regimes fell in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. By the end of that year, the Berlin Wall had been dismantled and discussions were under way that would result in the reunification of Germany in October 1990. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was duly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Cold War and for promoting peaceful international relations.
Mikhail Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931 in the village of Privolnoye in the south of the Russian republic into a Russian-Ukrainian peasant farming family.
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born in 1931 in a small village just outside Stavropol, north of the Caucasus Mountains, in a region that forms part of the Russian Republic, adjoining the ancient non-Russian countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. He comes from a peasant farming family and was born 14 years after the great revolution which shook not only the Russian Empire but the entire world. He was born during the dramatic collectivisation of Soviet agriculture, and grew up on a collective farm, where his father worked at a tractor station.
Gorbachev was an eight-year-old schoolboy when the last world war broke out, and 10 years old when Germany attacked the Soviet Union. His schooling was both sporadic and limited by wartime conditions: he was forced to work as a replacement for soldiers fighting at the front. When peace came he was 14 years old, and was able to continue his education, but, in common with most young people of his age, worked during his summer holidays. He was soon involved in the Communist Party’s youth organisation, and was rapidly promoted. As a matter of course he joined the Communist party at the age of 21.
Two years before, he had left his native village in the Northern Caucasus, and made his way to the capital to embark on the study of law at the University of Moscow. Here he not only met Raisa Titorenko, who subsequently became his wife, but was also active in the Communist Party student movement, with responsibility for ideology and propaganda among fellow students in his faculty. Gorbachev earned his degree in law and returned to Stavropol where he was employed full-time in the Communist youth movement. By the age of 25 he was in fact a member of the establishment, with agricultural questions as his chief concern. In 1967, he took a second degree, this time in agriculture, and was rapidly promoted in the local party hierarchy.
On November 27, 1978 the Plenary Session of the CPSU Central Committee elected Gorbachev Central Committee Secretary. On December 6, 1978 he and his family moved to Moscow.
Mikhail Gorbachev displayed himself as a responsible, efficient and principled political figure and two years later became a member of the CPSU CC Politburo, the supreme body of the Soviet Communist Party.
In March 1985 Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee.
Gorbachev hinged his efforts to revitalise the Soviet Union on two plans: glasnost (meaning openness) and perestroika (meaning restructuring). By relaxing bureaucracy and censorship Gorbachev hoped to transform the Stalinist Soviet regime into a more modern social democracy. While glasnost was widely celebrated, his attempts to restructure the Soviet economy largely floundered.
These policies put an end to the totalitarian regime and in 1990 state power moved from the communist party to the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR – the first parliament in Soviet history made on the basis of a free and democratic election. The Congress of People’s Deputies elected Gorbachev President of the USSR on March 15, 1990.
Gorbachev launched an active policy of détente and became a key figure in world politics. The period of 1985 – 1991 fundamentally changed the USSR’s relations with the West. Gorbachev played a prominent role in ending the Cold War, stopping the arms race and unifying Germany.
In recognition of his outstanding services as a great reformer and world political leader, who greatly contributed in changing for the better the very nature of world development, Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 15, 1990.
Unwittingly these actions led to the disintegration of the multinational Union of republics led by Gorbachev. To prevent such an outcome Mikhail Gorbachev made maximum efforts, save the use of force which went against his principles of political vision and morality.
On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev stepped down as Head of State.
Raisa Gorbachev’s died on August 20, 1999, leaving Mikhail Gorbachev with his daughter Irina, grand-daughters Ksenya and Anastasya and great-granddaughter Alexandra.
The Gorbachev Foundation, a research centre and discussion platform, today carries out humanitarian and charity projects with Irina Gorbachev-Virganskaya as Vice-President.
New Policy Forum (NPF), an international organization founded by Mikhail Gorbachev in April 2010 as a successor of the World Policy Forum (2003-2010) brings together political leaders, veterans of international politics, intellectuals and civil society representatives in a common effort to develop new ideas and new policies for the XXI century.
Mikhail Gorbachev took an active part in the 1996 election in Russia and was nominated to stand for the Russian Federation presidency. He is a social democrat, founder of the Russian United Social Democratic Party (2001 – 2007) and the all-Russia public movement “The League of Social Democrats” established in 2007.
“… I was doing my best in bringing together morality and responsibility to people. It’s a matter of principle for me. It was high time to put an end to the rulers’ wild cravings and to their highhandedness. There were a few things I have not succeeded in, but I don’t think I was wrong in my approach. Unless this is done, one can hardly expect that policy can pay its unique part, especially now that we have entered the new century and are facing dramatic challenges”.
Between 1992 – 2008 Mikhail Gorbachev was conferred more than 300 awards, diplomas, certificates of honor, and honorable distinctions. He has published several books in many languages.