Gorbachev – the unwilling liberator

Fact: Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born into a peasant family on March 2, 1931 in Privolnoye, near Stavropol in southern Russia.

At 21, he joined the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and at 49 he became the youngest member of the Politburo, the party’s inner circle. At 54, he became leader of the Communist Party and thus also leader of one of the world’s two superpowers at the time.

Thanks to his soft rhetoric, Gorbachev was appreciated by then Western leaders Ronald Reagan, Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher.

He concluded several important nuclear disarmament agreements with US President Reagan.

Gorbachev hesitated to strike with force against Eastern Bloc countries that broke away from Moscow’s sphere of power, which helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989.

In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

His “glasnost” and “perestroika” (openness and rebuilding/transformation) led to his downfall: in 1991 the Soviet Union dissolved. Rival Boris Yeltsin, whom he himself had promoted, then outmaneuvered him.

In the 1996 presidential election, won by Yeltsin, Gorbachev received only 0.5 percent of the vote.

On December 25, 1991, the hammer and sickle Soviet flag was hauled over the Kremlin for the last time, and Mikhail Gorbachev reluctantly handed over to Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

The then 60-year-old Gorbachev had tried to hold his crumbling empire together while trying to reform it politically and economically. But failed.

Many of the changes that Gorbachev set in motion, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union, were far more extensive than had been intended. Yet he does not seem to have mourned the consequences of the decisions.

— I am often asked if I would have started all over again if I had the chance to do it all over again. Yes indeed. And with more persistence and determination, he commented on the development to the AP.

US President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev during a press conference in Washington in 1987.

New leadership style

At 49, Mikhail Gorbachev became the youngest member of the Politburo, the innermost circle of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Five years later, in March 1985, he assumed leadership of the party after the recently deceased Konstantin Chernenko.

Gorbachev’s leadership style contrasted with that of his predecessors. He was the youngest party leader since Josef Stalin, dressed and acted casually, was spontaneous and peppered his speech with lively gestures. And he immediately began to make amends with the past.

His policy opened for a rapprochement with the United States, disarmament between the great powers and an increased market economy.

Although the rest of the world benefited from the changes implemented by Gorbachev, the rickety Soviet economy collapsed in the process, bringing enormous economic hardship to the country’s 290 million inhabitants.

Mikhail Gorbachev with his wife Raisa. Image from 1989.

First lady

Uniquely for Soviet leaders, Gorbachev made no secret of his warm relationship with wife Raisa, who became something of the Soviet Union’s “first first lady”.

The couple met during their studies in the early 1950s.

“All my life, wherever I was, Raisa and I never stopped our conversations. When I became general secretary and president, I called Raisa two or three times a day or she called me,” Gorbachev wrote in a 2012 memoir.

Raisa Gorbatyeva died in 1999, aged 67, as a result of cancer.

Mikhail Gorbachev together with then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Image from 1984.

Celebrated in the West

The West praised Gorbachev for the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the liberation of Eastern Europe, disarmament and the end of the Cold War. The Soviet leader was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

But at home, Gorbachev had to bear the brunt of the rapid economic decline and a chronic supply crisis.

He was forced into a power struggle on two fronts – against the hardline traditionalists of the Communist Party and against the political savage Yeltsin.

In an attempted coup on August 19, 1991, Gorbachev and his family were isolated on the Crimean peninsula. In Moscow, it was the Russian leader Yeltsin who led the resistance against the coup plotters. They gave up after three days.

After his return to Moscow, Gorbachev was openly mocked and humiliated by his liberators, led by Yeltsin. All attempts by Gorbachev to regain the political initiative were fruitless. The Baltic states soon gained their freedom. In the following months, one Soviet republic after another declared itself an independent state.

In a desperate attempt to hold the union together, Gorbachev promised to resign as soon as the sub-republics had concluded a new, looser, union agreement. And by December 1991, the battle was definitely lost.

Part-owned independent newspaper

Despite the bitter end in the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev refused to give up politics. He made a disastrous attempt to return to power and ran for president in 1996, but received only 0.5 percent of the vote.

He ran his own foundation, the Gorbachev Fund, until his death.

He was a co-owner of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The newspaper received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, but due to restrictions against Russian media, all publication has been suspended until the war in Ukraine is over.

Gorbachev himself made no public statements about Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, although his foundation called for “a cessation of hostilities and the immediate start of peace negotiations”.

If he is seen in the West as a key figure for the end of the Cold War, many in Russia see him as a traitor responsible for the fall of the Soviet Empire.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s last years in life were marked by increasingly fragile health. He died in a hospital in Moscow, aged 91. He leaves behind his daughter Irina and two grandchildren.


Source: nyheter24.se by nyheter24.se.

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