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Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, the son of an agricultural mechanic on a collective farm, was born in Privolnoye in the Soviet Union on 2nd March, 1931. When he was a child Privolnoye was occupied by the German Army.

Gorbachev worked as a combine harvest operator before studying law at Moscow University. While a student Gorbachev joined Communist Party (CPSU) and married Raisa Titorenko.

After leaving university Gorbachev became a full-time official with Komsomol (Communist Youth Organization). In 1955 Gorbachev he was appointed first secretary of the Komsomol Territorial Committee. Gorbachev made rapid progress and by 1960 he was the top Komsomol official in Stavropol. The following year he was a delegate from Stavropol to the 22nd Communist Party Congress in Moscow.

Gorbachev studied for a second degree at the Stavropol Agricultural Institute (1964-67) and in 1970 was appointed First Secretary for Stavropol Territory. His work in this post impressed Yuri Andropov, who was at that time the head of the Committee for State Security (KGB). Andropov now used his considerable influence to promote Gorbachev's career.

In 1971 Gorbachev became a member of Communist Party Central Committee. He later moved to Moscow where he became the Secretary of Agriculture. In 1980 Gorbachev became the youngest member of the Politburo and within four years had become deputy to Konstantin Chernenko.

On the death of Chernenko in 1985 Gorbachev was elected by the Central Committee as General Secretary of the Communist Party. As party leader he immediately began forcing more conservative members of the Central Committee to resign. He replaced them with younger men who shared his vision of reform.

In 1985 Gorbachev introduced a major campaign against corruption and alcoholism. He also spoke about the need for Perestroika (Restructuring) and this heralded a series of liberalizing economic, political and cultural reforms which had the aim of making the Soviet economy more efficient.

Gorbachev introduced policies with the intention of establishing a market economy by encouraging the private ownership of Soviet industry and agriculture. However, the Soviet authoritarian structures ensured these reforms were ineffective and there were shortages of goods available in shops.

Gorbachev also announced changes to Soviet foreign policy. In 1987 he met with Ronald Reagan and signed the Immediate Nuclear Forces (INF) abolition treaty. He also made it clear he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe and in 1989 announced the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Aware that Gorbachev would not send in Soviet tanks there were demonstrations against communist governments throughout Eastern Europe. Over the next few months the communists were ousted from power in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany.

Gorbachev's attempts to make the Soviet Union a more democratic country made him unpopular with conservatives still in positions of power. In August 1991 he survived a coup staged by hard-liners in the Communist Party. Gorbachev responds by dissolving the Central Committee. However, with the Soviet Union disintegrating into separate states, Gorbachev resigned from office on 25th December, 1995.

 (1) Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika (1987)

Europe is indeed a common home where geography and history have closely interwoven the destinies of dozens of countries and nations. Of course, each of them has its own problem, and each wants to live its own life, to follow its own traditions. Therefore, developing the metaphor, one may say: the home is common, that is true, but each family has its own apartment, and there are different entrances too.

The concept of a 'common European home' suggests above all a degree of integrity, even if its states belong to different social systems and opposing military-political alliances.

One can mention a number of objective circumstances which create the need for a pan-European policy:

(1) Densely populated and highly urbanized, Europe bristles with weapons, both nuclear and conventional. It would not be enough to call it a 'powder keg' today.

(2) Even a conventional war, to say nothing of a nuclear one, would be disastrous for Europe today.

(3) Europe is one of the most industrialised regions of the world. Its industry and transport have developed to the point where their danger to the environment is close to being critical. This problem has crossed far beyond national borders, and is now being shared by all of Europe.

(4) Integrative processes are developing intensively in both parts of Europe. The requirements of economic development in both parts of Europe, as well as scientific and technological progress, prompt the search for some kind of mutually advantageous cooperation. What I mean is not some kind of 'European autarky', but better use of the aggregate potential of Europe for the benefit of its peoples, and in relations with the rest of the world.

(5) The two parts of Europe have a lot of their own problems of an East-West dimension, but they also have a common interest in solving the extremely acute North-South problem.

Our idea of a 'common European home' certainly does not involve shutting its doors to anybody. True, we would not like to see anyone kick in the doors of the European home and take the head of the table at somebody else's apartment. But then, that is the concern of the owner of the apartment. In the past, the Socialist countries responded positively to the participation of the United States and Canada in the Helsinki Process.

 (2) Mikhail Gorbachev, Nobel Lecture (5th June, 1991)

Today, peace means the ascent from simple coexistence to cooperation and common creativity among countries and nations.

Peace is movement towards globality and universality of civilization. Never before has the idea that peace is indivisible been so true as it is now.

Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences.

I consider the decision of your Committee as a recognition of the great international importance of the changes now under way in the Soviet Union, and as an expression of confidence in our policy of new thinking, which is based on the conviction that at the end of the twentieth century force and arms will have to give way as a major instrument in world politics.

I see the decision to award me the Nobel Peace Prize also as an act of solidarity with the monumental undertaking which has already placed enormous demands on the Soviet people in terms of efforts, costs, hardships, willpower, and character. And solidarity is a universal value which is becoming indispensable for progress and for the survival of humankind.

But a modern state has to be worthy of solidarity, in other words, it should pursue, in both domestic and international affairs, policies that bring together the interests of its people and those of the world community. This task, however obvious, is not a simple one. Life is much richer and more complex than even the most perfect plans to make it better. It ultimately takes vengeance for attempts to impose abstract schemes, even with the best of intentions. Perestroika has made us understand this about our past, and the actual experience of recent years has taught us to reckon with the most general laws of civilization.

This, however, came later. But back in March-April 1985 we found ourselves facing a crucial, and I confess, agonizing choice. When I agreed to assume the office of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee, in effect the highest State office at that time, I realized that we could no longer live as before and that I would not want to remain in that office unless I got support in undertaking major reforms. It was clear to me that we had a long way to go. But of course, I could not imagine how immense were our problems and difficulties. I believe no one at that time could foresee or predict them.

Those who were then governing the country knew what was really happening to it and what we later called "zastoi", roughly translated as "stagnation". They saw that our society was marking time, that it was running the risk of falling hopelessly behind the technologically advanced part of the world. Total domination of centrally-managed state property, the pervasive authoritarian-bureaucratic system, ideology's grip on politics, monopoly in social thought and sciences, militarized industries that siphoned off our best, including the best intellectual resources, the unbearable burden of military expenditures that suffocated civilian industries and undermined the social achievements of the period since the Revolution which were real and of which we used to be proud - such was the actual situation in the country.

As a result, one of the richest countries in the world, endowed with immense overall potential, was already sliding downwards. Our society was declining, both economically and intellectually.

And yet, to a casual observer the country seemed to present a picture of relative well-being, stability and order. The misinformed society under the spell of propaganda was hardly aware of what was going on and what the immediate future had in store for it. The slightest manifestations of protest were suppressed. Most people considered them heretical, slanderous and counter-revolutionary.

Such was the situation in the spring of 1985, and there was a great temptation to leave things as they were, to make only cosmetic changes. This, however, meant continuing to deceive ourselves and the people.

This was the domestic aspect of the dilemma then before us. As for the foreign policy aspect, there was the East-West confrontation, a rigid division into friends and foes, the two hostile camps with a corresponding set of Cold War attributes. Both the East and the West were constrained by the logic of military confrontation, wearing themselves down more and more by the arms race.

The mere thought of dismantling the existing structures did not come easily. However, the realization that we faced inevitable disaster, both domestically and internationally, gave us the strength to make a historic choice, which I have never since regretted.

Perestroika, which once again is returning our people to commonsense, has enabled us to open up to the world, and has restored a normal relationship between the country's internal development and its foreign policy. But all this takes a lot of hard work. To a people which believed that its government's policies had always been true to the cause of peace, we proposed what was in many ways a different policy, which would genuinely serve the cause of peace, while differing from the prevailing view of what it meant and particularly from the established stereotypes as to how one should protect it. We proposed new thinking in foreign policy.

Thus, we embarked on a path of major changes which may turn out to be the most significant in the twentieth century, for our country and for its peoples. But we also did this for the entire world.

We want to be an integral part of modern civilization, to live in harmony with mankind's universal values, abide by the norms of international law, follow the "rules of the game" in our economic relations with the outside world. We want to share with all other peoples the burden of responsibility for the future of our common house.

A period of transition to a new quality in all spheres of society's life is accompanied by painful phenomena. When we were initiating perestroika we failed to properly assess and foresee everything. Our society turned out to be hard to move off the ground, not ready for major changes which affect people's vital interests and make them leave behind everything to which they bad become accustomed over many years. In the beginning we imprudently generated great expectations, without taking into account the fact that it takes time for people to realize that all have to live and work differently, to stop expecting that new life would be given from above.

Perestroika has now entered its most dramatic phase. Following the transformation of the philosophy of perestroika into real policy, which began literally to explode the old way of life, difficulties began to mount. Many took fright and wanted to return to the past. It was not only those who used to hold the levers of power in the administration, the army and various government agencies and who bad to make room, but also many people whose interests and way of life was put to a severe test and who, during the preceding decades, had forgotten how to take the initiative

John Simkin

European Union The European Union: integration
process and European citizenship
European Unity
Spartacus Educational

2003 © Juan Carlos Ocaña