The last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, died at the age of 92 after a long illness.
Lauded in the West as the man who helped bring down the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War without bloodshed, Mikhail Gorbachev was widely despised at home as the gravedigger of the communist Soviet Union, reported REUTERS.
In June, Gorbachev Foundation spokesman Vladimir Polyakov said that Mikhail Gorbachev was suffering from kidney disease and was undergoing treatment, including hemodialysis. He also linked the deteriorating health of the 91-year-old former president of the USSR to age.
Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931, into a working-class family in the town of Privoljnoye near Stavropol in southern Russia. He grew up under the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin; his grandparents were deported because they were richer peasants (kulaks). Despite his troubles, he excelled in school. He was considered the most intelligent in his class, with a special interest in history and mathematics.
After finishing school, he helped his father reap a record harvest on the collective farm, for which he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. It was rare for someone at his age to receive such a great honor. It is almost certain that this award, along with his intelligence, helped him secure a place at Moscow University, where he studied law. It must also be noted that for a place at such a prestigious university, it was very often necessary to have political aspirations, along with intellectual abilities. While studying in Moscow, he met his future wife, Raisa. They got married in September 1953 and moved to Gorbachev’s hometown, where he graduated in 1955.
His career progressed rapidly
Gorbachev joined the CPSU in 1952 at the age of 21. In 1966, he received an agronomist-economist diploma from the Agricultural Institute. His career progressed rapidly and in 1970 he was appointed First Secretary of Agriculture and the following year became a member of the Central Committee. In 1972, he was the head of the Soviet delegation in Belgium, and two years later, in 1974, he became a representative in the Supreme Soviet and president of the permanent commission for youth issues.
In 1979, Gorbachev was promoted to the Politburo. There he won the favor of Yuri Andropov, head of the KGB, who was also originally from Stavropol, and was promoted further during Andropov’s short time as the head of the Party before his death in 1984. With personnel duties, working alongside Andropov, he dismissed 20 percent of the top government officials ministers and regional governors, often younger people. During that period, Grigory Romanov, Nikolai Ryzhkov and Yegor Ligachev were promoted, and the last two worked closely with Gorbachev, Ryzhkov in economics, and Ligachev with personnel. He was also close to Konstantin Chernyenko, Andropov’s successor, to whom he served as the second secretary.
His positions in the new CPSU created more opportunities for him to travel abroad and this will strongly influence his political and social views in the future when he becomes the country’s leader. In 1975 he led a delegation to West Germany, and in 1983 he led a Soviet delegation to Canada for a meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and members of the Canadian House of Commons and Senate. In 1984, he traveled to the United Kingdom, where he met with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Meeting with Ronald Reagan
After the death of Konstantin Chernenko, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the CPSU on March 11, 1985. He became the first leader of the Party to be born after the Russian Revolution of 1917. As the de facto ruler of the Soviet Union, he attempted to reform the stagnant Communist Party and state economy by introducing Glasnost (“openness”), Perestroika (“restructuring”) and Uskoreniye (“acceleration of economic development”), which were initiated at the 27th Congress of the CPSU in February 1986.
In international politics, Gorbachev wanted to improve relations and trade with the West. He established close relations with several Western leaders, such as Margaret Thatcher – who declared: I love Mr. Gorbachev, we can do business together – West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and US President Ronald Reagan. On October 11, 1986, Gorbachev and Reagan met in Reykjavik to discuss the reduction of intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. This led to the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987.
In February 1988, Gorbachev announced the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The withdrawal ended the following year, although the civil war continued. An estimated 15,000 Soviets were killed in the conflict between 1979 and 1989.
The overthrow of communism
Also during 1988, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union would abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine and allow the nations of the Eastern Bloc to choose their own internal policies. This proved to be the most radical achievement of Gorbachev’s foreign policy reform, which a spokesman for his foreign minister called the Sinatra Doctrine. The abandonment of the Brezhnev doctrine led to a series of revolutions in Eastern Europe during 1989, in which communism was overthrown. With the exception of Romania, the uprisings against pro-Soviet regimes were peaceful.
Ideologically speaking, at the beginning of his political career, Gorbachev was inclined to Marxism and Leninism, but by the early 90s he had turned to the idea of social democracy.
Gorbachev was generally well-regarded in the West after ending the Cold War. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
Yet in Russia, his reputation was very low as he was labeled as having brought about the collapse of the state and being responsible for the economic misery that followed.