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Who is Mikhail Gorbachev?

By J. Beam
Updated May 23, 2024
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Mikhail Gorbachev, 1990 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and former leader of the Soviet Union, is the man the Western world credits with helping to end the Cold War. He is most famously recognized by his unique birthmark located on top of his head. The Russian politician graced the cover of Time magazine several times while he was in office, including as Man of the Year in 1988. Gorbachev is considered by many to be one of the most innovative and revolutionary world leaders of all time.

Mikhail Gorbachev was born on 2 March 1931 to an impoverished family living near Stavropol. Despite his family’s economic position, Mikhail joined the Communist Party and earned a law degree at Moscow University in 1953. His political career began in the early 1960s when he became the head of the Stavropol region’s department of agriculture. Throughout the next two decades, he garnered the attention of top party political figures who all shared an interest in political reform and ending corruption and inefficiency within the country’s government.

At age 54, Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party. Though many of his ideas were considered radical at the time, he began implementing domestic policies that he hoped would help the economy and improve the standards of living in the Soviet Union. Beginning early in office with alcohol reform, a move Gorbachev hoped would reduce the rising rates of alcoholism in Russia, many of his policies weakened an already stalling economy.

Though many in his country saw Gorbachev as a threat to domestic stability, foreign policy yielded different challenges. From the beginning of his six-year term, he was in favor of ending the arms race with the West. His political initiatives served as a positive catalyst for freedom and democracy, but his economic policies were slowly causing the country to collapse. As political reform made headway, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union began to lose control.

Gorbachev became the first-ever President of the Soviet Union, elected by the Congress of People’s Deputies on 15 March 1990. The newly elected president created a presidential council of 15 politicians, but his position would be short-lived as the Soviet Union had already begun to disintegrate. As Boris Yeltsin (1931 – 2007) gained popularity and power as president of the Russian Federation, following the Soviet coup attempt in 1991, Gorbachev was forced to resign as president of a country that no longer existed.

Mikhail Gorbachev is widely recognized as a strong influence and perpetuator of worldwide freedom. He was the first recipient of The Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in 1992, after already having received a Nobel Peace Prize. Even after his resignation from political office, he continued to remain politically active on a global scale, and he represented Russia at Ronald Reagan’s funeral in 2004.

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Discussion Comments
By anon269394 — On May 17, 2012

This man saved the world from a nuclear war.

By uzumba2 — On May 17, 2011

Speaking from experience, it was a relief to see the U.S. and the former Soviet Union's leaders finally bringing an end to the hatred and distrust between the two nations. It was a heady time.

One of Mikhail Gorbachev's quotes that I always liked still inspires: "If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven't done much today."

By chrysalis — On May 16, 2011

Nothing was mentioned here about Mikhail Gorbachev's wife, Raisa. She was so cultured and smart, together they really helped to change the way the former Soviet Union was viewed by the rest of the world.

They also had to rise above the name that Ronald Reagan used to describe the Soviet Union — "the evil empire", can you imagine? I guess it was just a different time.

By Denha — On May 15, 2011

When I see him in the news at public events, Gorbachev always seems like a very calm man. I can imagine that anyone less calm might not have accomplished the things he did, at least not while maintaining some level of peace.

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