The death of the former leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Mikhail Gorbachev, brought an end to an era marked by fundamental reforms in Russian history. Through his glasnost and perestroika reforms, Gorbachev ensured greater freedoms for the people as well as free enterprise which ultimately led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In addition to ensuring more freedom of expression and access to information, Gorbachev ended the Cold War and engaged more with the West.
His regime also witnessed the dismantling of many nuclear weapons. He was considered a promoter of world peace. Gorbachev, who died August 30 at age 91, was the last leader of the defunct Soviet Union. He served from 1985 to 1991, when the Russian Empire disintegrated. Born in 1931 from a modest family, the late Gorbachev, a lawyer by training, was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 and Head of State in 1988. He was Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 1988 to 1989, chairman of the Supreme Soviet from 1989 to 1990 and sole president of the Soviet Union from 1990 to 1991.
Gorbachev initially adhered to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, but moved towards social democracy in the early 1990s. He came to power at a critical time in the political history of the Soviet Union of then, triggering sweeping reforms that fundamentally altered the shape and structure of the Republic.
Although determined to preserve the Soviet state and its socialist ideals, Gorbachev believed that significant reforms were needed, particularly after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. He withdrew his troops from the Soviet-Afghan War and embarked on summits with President Ronald Reagan of the United States (USA) to limit nuclear weapons and end the Cold War. More than any other action, the agreement with the United States reduced the tension that characterized the then bipolar international relations.
Domestically, his policy of glasnost (openness) allowed greater freedom of speech and of the press, while his perestroika (restructuring) sought to decentralize economic decision-making and improve its efficiency. His democratization measures and the formation of the elected Congress of People’s Deputies transformed the one-party state structure of the Union and introduced some form of democracy into place. His attempt to transform the Soviet Union through democratic reforms ultimately brought about his demise. Widely considered one of the most important figures of the second half of the 20th century, Gorbachev will be remembered as a controversial figure. Affectionately known in the West as Gorby, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for negotiating a historic nuclear arms pact with US leader Ronald Reagan. He has been praised for his role in ending the Cold War, bringing new political and economic freedoms to the Soviet Union, his significant role in the reunification of Germany, and the signing of a historic arms reduction pact. nuclear weapons with the United States. Approval of the nuclear arms reduction pact helped strengthen US-Soviet relations.
However, Gorbachev was often ridiculed at home for facilitating the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an event that weakened Russia’s global influence and the economy of Russia and associated states. After his resignation, he launched the Gorbachev Foundation and campaigned for the Russian social democratic movement and world peace. There is no doubt that Gorbachev’s exit would create a huge void in his native Russia and in the global community where he earned a reputation as a peacemaker. Currently, the world still urgently needs such charismatic leaders to steer it away from a nuclear holocaust. After his passing, world leaders praised the former Russian leader for his remarkable social and political reforms in the pursuit of world peace. Without a doubt, Gorbachev was a great leader and reformer. His contributions to world peace are indelible.
No matter how his compatriots judge him, history will be kind to Gorbachev, the leader who lived by his own convictions and worked so hard to secure greater freedoms for his people. It would be good for the Russian people if their current leader, Vladimir Putin, could take a lesson or two from Gorbachev’s reforms and use them to moderate his despotic grip on power.