The man who brought the ideas of Glasnost and Perestroika to the Soviet Union and the only President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev tried to beat widespread alcoholism in the country and breathe new life into the staggering Soviet economy. Some call him a legendary reformist, others say he’s enemy number one, responsible for the collapse of a Superpower… This is Mikhail Gorbachev.
Born into a peasant family in the Stavropol Region, it’s highly unlikely anyone expected Mikhail Gorbachev would become the last leader of the Soviet Union, when in his teens he operated combine harvesters on collective farms. But life changed dramatically when Mikhail managed to get into Moscow State University, graduating with a degree in law in 1955. It was during his student years that Gorbachev joined the Communist Party, taking on a political career. Within a few years he managed to quickly work his way up through the Party, becoming the Head of the Department of Party Organs in his home region in 1963. Seven years later came another achievement – Gorbachev was appointed the First Party Secretary of the region, becoming one of the youngest provincial Party chiefs in the country. After several new appointments, in 1980 Gorbachev became the youngest member of the Politburo – the highest authority in the Soviet Union.
During Yury Andropov’s leadership of the USSR (1982-1984) Mikhail Gorbachev became one of Politburo’s most visible and active members. Responsible for personnel, together with Andropov they managed to replace around 20 percent of government ministers, often with younger men. Gorbachev’s job gave him a unique opportunity to travel abroad, which was impossible for most. It’s thought that these trips, especially to Western countries, were responsible for the political views he developed and later put into reality as the leader of the country. After Andropov’s death in 1982, aged Konstantin Chernenko took power but soon died, making it clear – it was time for a younger leader. Mikhail Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Politburo in 1985, only three hours after Chernenko’s death.
After coming to power, Mikhail Gorbachev announced his main goal was to revive the Soviet economy, which was stalled. He called for urgent reorganization and modernization, but soon realized that without reforming the political and social structure of the whole nation, reaching this goal would be impossible.
The anti-alcohol campaign in 1985 was among the first reforms Gorbachev introduced. It was designed to fight widespread alcoholism in the USSR by raising prices for vodka, wine and beer. However, the ambitious plan served as a huge blow to the economy, cutting both alcohol sales and government revenues.
The “Perestroika” policy was announced in 1986 and was another attempt to reorganize the economy. For the first time in Soviet history, the word “Glasnost” was spelled out to the nation. Gorbachev wanted to bring freedom to the people, ease the Party’s control over the media and release thousands of political prisoners. This was a radical change since control of speech and suppression of any government criticism had previously been the foundation of the Soviet regime.
In 1988 the Law on Cooperatives became among the most radical economic reforms Gorbachev started. For the first time since Vladimir Lenin’s “New Economic Policy” in the 1920s, the bill permitted private business in the country. As a result, private restaurants, shops and other businesses were introduced to the Soviet public, while several major “All-Union” companies fell into restructuring. Air giant Aeroflot was split up, eventually becoming several independent airlines that were encouraged to seek foreign investment.
In his strive to reduce the Party’s control over the government, Gorbachev proposed a change to a presidential system and created a new political body known as the Congress of People’s Deputies which was formed in the Soviet Union’s first free democratic election. On 15 March 1990, following another vote, Mikhail Gorbachev became President of the USSR. ...
See also The Nobel Peace Prize 1990