Reformer of Communism who led to its demise

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev

The former and only President of the Soviet Union, the last Soviet leader and at the same time a new-generation one heading that state, author of perestroika and glasnost, received the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to the end of the Cold War.

The unprecedented reforms he launched in the Soviet Union in 1985, contributed to the end of the Cold War and downfall of Communist regimes in USSR’s satellite countries all over East-Central Europe. Gorbachev’s leadership of the country also coincided with such breakthrough developments in world politics as the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the end of the Cold War, and Germany’s reunification.

He became USSR’s top leader in 1985 when at the age of merely 54 he began serving as the Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Shortly afterwards he promised perestroika – ‘reconstruction’ meant to democratize the Communist regime and to introduce free market economy, as well as glasnost: policy of transparency in political life: end to lies and falsehood.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to nuclear disarmament and consolidation of world’s security launched after the meeting with US President Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik in 1986. It was these talks and the proposals put forth by Gorbachev that paved way to signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987, providing for the elimination of all INF missiles by 1991. Moreover, after 10 years of negotiations, they resulted in signing the START I Agreement providing for reduction of the strategic arms of over 5,000 km range by ca. per cent over 7 years.

‘Despite all the differences between us, Reagan and I shared the deep conviction that civilized countries should not turn these barbarian arms [nu clear arms] into the pillar of our security. Although we failed to accomplish our highest aspirations in Reykjavik, the summit was, as my counterpart called it the ’, recalled Gorbachev in 2011.
However, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 as the appreciation of the transformation he had initiated in the USSR. ‘I do not regard the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize as an award to me personally, but as a recognition of what we call perestroika and innovative political thinking’, said Gorbachev in his acceptance speech.
At the same time, back in 1990, he admitted that while introducing perestroika he had been unable to imagine how great problems his country was facing.

The essence of perestroika was to democratize the political life and the state system, this eliminating the power monopoly of the Communist; increasing civil freedoms; partial introduction of free-market economy; and a thaw in the relations with the West., In consequence it led to the end of the Communist system; dismantling of the USSR, and disintegration of the Warsaw Pact.

The balance of all the transformation is still heatedly debated over in Russia and despite his popularity in the West, Gorbachev is unquestionably strongly criticized by his countrymen, while his political influence on the domestic stage continues meager. Many Russians still blame him for the disintegration of the empire. The Levada-Centre Poll, an independent survey centre, has for a number years now recorded that between ca. 40 to ca. 50 per cent have a rather critical or definitely critical opinion on Gorbachev. As the recent survey of April 2013 shows, still 66 per cent of the Russians judge that the perestroika resulted more in negative impact on the country than benefit.

In 2010, on the 15th anniversary of ascending to the position of the Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party, the very architect of perestroika, however, claimed that the greatest accomplishment of his reform was glasnost: establishment of democratic institutions in Russia; the first democratic election; and the end of Cold War.

Since he stepped down from office in 1991, the former USSR President had remained active in public life. In 1999 he established the International Foundation for
Socio-Economic and Political Studies, since 1993 heading the Green Cross International, an environmental NGO. Though in 1996 he participated in Russia’s presidential election, he won slightly over 0.5 per cent of the votes. After 2000, he was unsuccessfully trying to establish a Social Democratic Party, similar to those in Western Europe.

Over the past several years he has been a critical commentator on the policy the current authorities in Russia. In his judgment the Kremlin politicians have abandoned the democratic reforms he introduced, having monopolized the power. ‘For Russia, honest and free elections, as well as political competition, are as necessary as fresh air’, Gorbachev wrote in a manifest published in Russian press in 2011 before the parliamentary election.

Gorbachev owes his popularity in the West to his wife Raisa (1932-99) and the fact that he has assigned an appropriate role for himself in the world that emerged after the collapse of Communism, having become an authority on global issues. He has on some occasions been critical of the policy of the Western countries; e.g. he was negative about extending NATO to East-Central Europe. In 2008, when commenting on the plans of deploying elements of the US anti-missile shield in East-Central Europe he criticized the United States that ‘it does not tolerate anyone who acts independently’ and that every American President ‘needs a war’. In the infrequent press interviews Gorbachev sometimes formulates daring theses, like the one that the USA needs its own perestroika.

awl/(PAP)

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