Mikhail Sergeyevitsch Gorbachev, born on March 2, 1931 in Priwolnoje (Northern Caucasus, Russia) is a former USSR politician. From 1990 1991 he was Russia’s State President. Whilst introducing his politics of transparency (glasnost) and transformation (perestroika) he ended the Cold War and prepared the ground for German unification. His reforms to democratize the USSR finally led to its breakdown and to the foundation of numerous independent successor states. Outside Russia Gorbachev is still highly appreciated and respected for his political merits. In 1990 he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
After completing primary and secondary school with excellent degrees Gorbachev joined the communist youth organization Komsomol. Descending from a peasant family, he started to work at the machinery and tractor station of a kolkhoz, a collective farm, in 1944. In 1950 he began to study law in Moscow. Two years later he became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). In 1953 he married Raissa Maximowa Titorenko, then student of sociology. One daughter was born of this marriage.
After finalizing his studies in 1955, Gorbachev took up first political posts on a county and regional level in Stawropol. In parallel, he studied agricultural engineering at the Agricultural Institute in Stawropol from which he received his diploma with honors in 1967. His innovative ideas, allowing for significant increases in return, earned him an excellent reputation as an agricultural expert.
His rise to political power began in the late 1970s. With Jurij Andropov, former chef of the Soviet secret service (KGB) and Secretary General of the CPSU being his mentor, Gorbachev climbed up the political ladder. He became member of the Supreme Soviet, member of the Central Committee of the CPSU, secretary for agriculture, candidate (1970) and finally full member (1980) of the politburo of the CPSU. This made him one of the most powerful figures in the Soviet Union, especially as in many areas he filled in for head of state Andropov in the event of illness. Gorbachev’s duties included travelling to western countries which strongly influenced his political and social views. As early as in 1975 he visited the Federal Republic of Germany, followed by visits to Canada in 1983 and Great Britain in 1984. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has been one of the first to recognize Gorbachev’s good intentions. Interviewed by the BBC following the meeting, she famously said: “I like Mr. Gorbachev, we can do business together.” Mainly, this was understood as a positive signal towards US President Ronald Reagan.
Andropov died in 1984. Initially, he was followed by Konstantin Chernenko as a Secretary General, elderly and disease-stricken himself. In March of the following year, 54-year-old Gorbachev was named the second-youngest Secretary General of the CPSU. He aimed to prepare Socialism towards the future by means of reforms and to strengthen the USSR’s international position via reconciliation with the West. On the domestic agenda, he advocated a higher quality of work in industry, agriculture and administration. He fiercely campaigned against corruption and alcoholism. A fundamental transformation of the Soviet society – perestroika – was meant to entail economic upswing. Gorbachev encouraged working people to take individual initiative and introduced market economy elements. By means of glasnost – opening the Soviet society – he fostered adopting a critical view of history and openly discussing the present situation.
With respect to foreign policy, Gorbachev stood up for disarmament and made several moves in this respect towards the USA. As far as nuclear issues were concerned, he intended to cooperate internationally, called for disarming all nuclear weapons and retreated all Soviet military from Afghanistan. In 1987, the so-called zero-solution signed by Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan – completely abolishing medium-range nuclear-tipped missiles in both countries – had been hailed as a historical break-through and formally ended of the Cold War.
In 1988 Gorbachev became head of state, which meant Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. He suspended the Brezhnev Doctrine, allowing member states of the Warsaw Pact, including the GDR, to choose their own course of development. The newly blossoming freedom led to numerous, mainly peaceful revolutions in Eastern Europe. In the GDR, too, people demonstrated in support of freedom and independence. Gorbachev tolerated this and waived the possibility to call deployed Soviet forces to arms. This way, he facilitated German Unification. During a meeting with Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1990, Gorbachev granted reunited Germany full sovereignty as well as free choice of alliance membership. The same year, his role as a head of state had been transformed with the Soviet Communist Party selecting him to become the first President of the Soviet Union.
The Gorbachev’s reforms finally made the Soviet Union collapse – an outcome which Gorbachev himself never had envisaged nor wished for. On 21 December 1991, he and Russian President Boris Yeltzin agreed upon terminating the Soviet Union. On 25 December 1991, Gorbachev announced his resignation.
In 1992, Gorbachev founded the Gorbachev Foundation, researching on socioeconomic and political issues with the aim of supporting international understanding and global peace.