Mikhail Gorbachev, Last Soviet Leader Dies at 91
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the United Socialist Soviet Republic, passed away on Tuesday, August 30th. He died in Russia after a long battle with an illness, reportedly linked to his kidney. Gorbachev was 91 years old.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the son of peasants, was born in Stavropol in southwestern Russia on March 2nd, 1931. In 1952, Gorbachev enrolled at Moscow State University to study law. He joined the Communist Party in the same year and slowly rose up the party’s leadership chain until he became its leader, the secretary general in 1985.
A leader who made a significant impact on global politics, Gorbachev was applauded and reviled by many. Gorbachev is famous for being the last leader of the USSR. His tenure led to its dismantling and the fostering of the idea of democracy in Russia. “After decades of brutal political repression, he embraced democratic reforms.
He believed in glasnost and perestroika – openness and restructuring – not as mere slogans, but as the path forward for the people of the Soviet Union after so many years of isolation and deprivation,” US President Joe Biden said.
The Soviet Union had gained a reputation for being secretive and intentionally telling lies in order to protect itself from its perceived enemies. The withholding of the truth was also used as a mechanism to keep the Soviet Union intact.
The policy of glasnost brought openness to Soviet society. The restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information were dismantled. The press and media were allowed greater freedom to publish news as well as criticisms against the government.
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The totalitarian idea of government was completely removed. Perestroika is the policy of restructuring that saw the Soviet political and economic system undergo a revamp. While secret votes continued for certain elections, public elections now saw multiple candidates.
Gorbachev is credited with allowing the Iron Curtain to fall. The Iron Curtain was the division of east and western Europe. When the Iron Curtain fell, Gorbachev could have ordered the use of military force to stop it but he did not, likely preventing what would have been a Third World War.
The falling of the Iron Curtain realized the peaceful reunification of Germany. Former Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel applauded this act as she feared the armed conflict would have taken place when she was a young citizen of Eastern Germany. “Gorbachev wrote world history. He exemplified how a single statesman can change the world for the better,” she said.
Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 as he was hailed for his response to the Cold War. According to multiple reports, he enjoyed a very warm and positive perception in the West while he was criticized in his country.
The now deceased leader is said to have shared warm relationships with the United Kingdom’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former US President Ronald Reagan.
Gorbachev was so well received in the West that he even appeared in an advertisement for American fast-food institution, Pizza Hut, a complete contrast to Communist ideals.
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While Gorbachev was warmly welcomed outside his homeland, there were many who despised him in his country. The anti-Gorbachev sentiment came from the fact that he dismantled the USSR, something Vladimir Putin called the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
Putin and Gorbachev are said to have had a strained relationship. The Russian President did, however, send his condolences to Gorbachev’s family. “He led the country during difficult and dramatic changes, amid large-scale foreign policy, economic, and social challenges,” Putin said. “He deeply realized that reforms were necessary and tried to offer his solutions for the acute problems.”
According to reports, Putin paid his respects by placing flowers at Gorbachev’s coffin in the Moscow hospital where he died. He did not attend Gorbachev’s funeral, which was not declared a state funeral and was held at the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions, a prestigious mansion near the Kremlin used for state funerals since the Soviet days. Gorbachev was buried at the Novodevichy cemetery next to his wife Raisa on September 3rd.