Born in the agricultural region of
Stavropol (1931), Gorbachev studied law at Moscow
University and in 1953 married a philosophy student, Raisa Maksimovna Titorenko. Returning to Stavropol, he moved gradually upward in the local Communist party. In 1970, he became Stavropol party leader and was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Regarded as a skilled technocrat and a reformer, Gorbachev joined (1978) the Communist party secretariat as agriculture secretary, and in 1980 he joined the
Politburo as the protégé of Yuri Andropov. After Andropov's ascension to party leadership, Gorbachev assumed (1983) full responsibility for the economy.
Following the death of Chernenko in 1985, Gorbachev was appointed General
Secretary of the party despite being the youngest member of the Politburo. He embarked on a comprehensive program of political, economic, and social liberalization under the slogans of
glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl (1986) forced Gorbachev to allow even greater freedom of expression. The government released political prisoners, allowed increased emigration, attacked corruption, and encouraged the critical reexamination of Soviet history.
In a series of summit talks (1985-88), Gorbachev improved relations with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, with whom he signed an Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) arms limitation treaty in 1987. By 1989 he had brought about the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan
and had sanctioned the end of the Communist monopoly on political power in Eastern Europe. For his contributions to reducing East-West tensions, he was awarded the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize. By 1990, however, Gorbachev's
perestroika program had failed to deliver significant improvement in the economy, and the elimination of political and social control had released latent ethnic and national tensions in the Baltic states, in the constituent republics of Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, and
A newly created (1989) Congress of People's Deputies voted in March 1990, to end the Communist party's control over the government and elected Gorbachev executive president. During 1990 and 1991, however, the reform drive stalled, and Gorbachev appeared to be mollifying remaining hardliners, who were disgruntled over the deterioration of the Soviet empire and increasing marginalization of the Communist party. An unsuccessful anti-Gorbachev coup by hardliners in
August 1991 shifted greater authority to the Russian Republic's president, Boris Yeltsin, and greatly accelerated change. Gorbachev dissolved the Communist party, granted the Baltic states independence, and proposed a much looser, chiefly economic federation among the remaining republics. With the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on Dec. 8, 1991, the federal government of the Soviet Union became superfluous, and on Dec. 25, Gorbachev resigned as president.
He currently heads the Gorbachev Foundation (1992), Green Cross
International (1993), and the Civic Forum movement (1996).
Gorbachev biography (Indiana)
The Gorbachev Foundation of North America
Green Cross International
Time 100: Leaders and Revolutionaries - Mikhail Gorbachev
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