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Mikhail Gorbachev has died. The first and only President of the USSR, Gorbachev was a Nobel Peace prize laureate and arguably the most significant politician of the 20th century.
Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931 in the village Privolnoye of the Stavropol territory into a peasant family. His father, Sergey Andreevich Gorbachev, was Russian and his mother, Maria Panteleevna Gopkalo, was Ukrainian. Both of his grandfathers faced repression in the 1930s.
From the age of 13, Gorbachev combined his studies at school with occasional work on a collective farm and starting at age 15, he worked as an assistant combine operator.
In 1950 he graduated from high school with a silver medal and entered Lomonosov Moscow State University without taking any exams -this opportunity was provided by a government award.
In 1955 he graduated with honors from the Faculty of Law of Moscow State University, where he met his future wife while still a student. Gorbachev began working in the Komsomol immediately after graduation.
In 1971 he was elected as a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and in 1985 the General Secretary of the Central Committee.
During his role as the leader of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev announced several democratic reforms that changed the history of the world:
- A liberalization course, which he called Perestroika, and a move towards rapprochement with the West (taking place at the end of the Cold War)
- The introduction of the Glasnost policy or “new political thinking,” freedom of speech and the press, and democratic elections
- During Gorbachev’s tenure as a head of state the need for global economic reforms became clear, prompting the leader to initiate the transition from a socialist to a market economy
- The final decision on the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan was made at a meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU on January 25, 1989 and published the next day with the wording “The Soviet Union will remain faithful to the Geneva agreements.” -This was also Gorbachev’s merit
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In February 1990, Gorbachev was elected as President of the USSR, becoming the first and the last person to hold this position.
In August 1991, a group of top Soviet leaders tried to remove him, announcing the creation of the State Committee for the State of Emergency (GKChP), but the coup failed.
Gorbachev, who had been head of state for 6 years, signed a decree for his own resignation in December 1991, after the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus signed the Belovezhskaya Pact to liquidate the USSR and create the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
After leaving politics in January 1992, he created and headed the “Gorbachev Foundation,” which studied the problems of Russian and world history. In March 1993, Gorbachev founded the environmental organization “Green Cross International.” Also since 1993, Gorbachev owned a 10% stake in Novaya Gazeta (an independent Russian newspaper known for its critical and investigative coverage of Russian political and social affairs) along with his old friend Aleksander Lebedev who owns a 14% stake. Levedev is a businessman and oligarch.
Gorbachev was the only president who was loved (popularly referred to as “Gorby”), known and appreciated more in the West than in his homeland. In Russia, many still blame Gorbachev for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
At the same time, people who knew Gorbachev described him as a convinced socialist who tried to save the USSR. As Angela Merkel (former chancellor of Germany) said: “Mikhail Gorbachev wrote world history. He demonstrated how one statesman can change the world for the better. Without the courage of the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU [in his struggle] for Glasnost and Perestroika (…), a peaceful revolution in the GDR would not have been possible.”
However, the main thing that characterized Gorbachev as a leader was humanity. He loved people and adored his dear wife. It was unpopular, not so Russian, not so Soviet, and not so patriarchal. The Deep Folk laughed at his love, disrespecting Gorbachev with mean jokes, mistaking the leader’s sincere love for weakness.
As Vitaly Mansky, the Russian and Latvian documentary film director, once said: “In the martyrology of the heads of the Empire, he was the only Man. Not a titan of thought, not a hero, not a dictator or guide but a living person of blood and flesh in power.
“Gorbachev ruled with naivety and idealism. Qualities that were completely absent in the former rulers of the USSR -a land stuffed with nuclear weapons frozen in a global confrontation with the Western world.
“It was his association with real life, with people, with roots with which he nourished the human temperament throughout his long life that allowed us to gain hope for freedom and dignity. We are so lacking in leadership someone who is able to love and who does not want to fight. Together with Gorbachev love left politics and until it returns, we have no hope of transformation.”
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