The last Soviet leaderby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
The late 1980’s and the early 90’s were landmark years for US and Russian relations. The Cold War slowly thawed, and the hostility that had plagued the years after World War Two diminished. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, helped bring about this relaxing of tensions.
In 1931, Gorbachev was born to a peasant family in a small village in Southwestern Russia. The entire USSR was at this time ruled with the iron hand of Joseph Stalin. Gorbachev experienced first hand the horrors of the famine caused by the implementation of collectives. His grandfathers were both arrested by the infamous KGB and then released. The arrival of World War Two saw Gorbachev’s home occupied by the German forces in 1942 and 1943, and later liberated by the Soviet army. In spite of all the hardships and difficulties he experience, he retained his faith in the Soviet system of government. He became involved in Communist Youth League 1946, and through hard work and good academics, Gorbachev received several honors and was admitted to the law school in Moscow State University in 1950. He became a full member of the Communist party in 1952, and married a philosophy student in 1953. After his graduation in 1955, he moved back to the main city of his home region.
Gorbachev moved steadily up the political ranks. After being promoted to the regional committee of the Communist Youth League in 1961, he transferred to the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) where he served faithfully, working hard and catching the attention of regional first secretary. He continued to be promoted every two years or so because of his hard work and his connections with high ranking Soviet officials. He experimented with ways of improving worker efficiency and living conditions. In 1978 Gorbachev moved to Moscow to take up the position of Central Committee secretary, with the responsibility of caring for Soviet agriculture. 1979 found him a non-voting member of the famous Politburo, the top policy making body of the Soviet government. At the comparatively young age of 49, Gorbachev was promoted to full member of the Politburo, the youngest person to have that honor.
After the deaths of three different Soviet leaders in three years, Gorbachev rose to be appointed general secretary of the Soviet Union through his connections to one of the deceased leaders, making him the leader of the USSR in 1985. He quickly installed young, more open-minded leaders to key government positions, waged war against corruption, launched a campaign against alcohol consumption, and searched for solutions to the USSR’s economic woes. After the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986, Gorbachev’s policies began to change radical into more radical reforms. The slogans “openness” and “restructure” were used as he attempted to rebuild the USSR’s economy and social policies while allowing more freedom of speech to the media. This same "glasnost" and "perestroika" helped bring an openness to Christian missionaries as religious persecution by the state decreased. Gorbachev called for democratization of the Soviet government in 1987, and attempted to open the market up more, but had a falling out with Moscow Communist Party leader Boris Yelstin, who desired reform at a faster pace. Despite the multitude of reforms in motion, little change was brought about due to a struggle within the Communist Party between hardliners and reformers. This would eventually lead to a measure of civil infighting.
During this time, Gorbachev made efforts to improve the Soviet Union’s foreign relations. He met with President Reagan and President Bush of the United States nine times over the years between 1985 and 1991. Gorbachev signed the INF treaty (Intermediate Nuclear Forces arms limitation treaty) with President Reagan in 1987 and the START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) treaty with President Bush (Sr.) in 1991. He met with numerous other world leaders, demonstrating his country’s changing attitude toward interaction with the West. A millennium of Russian Orthodox Christianity was celebrated in 1988. Even the atheist Gorbachev, who in 1986 had spoken against the harmful influences of religion, now praised the church for its moral fortitude. He met with Pope John Paul II in 1989 at the Vatican and denounced 70 years of religious oppression by the USSR. Gorbachev withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 and removed Soviet support of Communist governments around the globe. These political moves culminated in the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the slow breakup of the Soviet Union as multiple Eastern European countries declared independence during the elections held in 1990. That same year Gorbachev was given the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in improving relations with the West.
The public elections in Russia in 1991 ended with Boris Yelstin as president. Gorbachev attempted to maintain some sort of union among the formerly Soviet countries, and tried to convince the various republics to sign a “Union Treaty”. However, Communist hardliners refused to compromise, and turned against Gorbachev in an attempted coup. The coup was crushed by the public and by Boris Yelstin, who emerged as the hero. Gorbachev endeavored to recreate some sort of central government among the new republics, but there were no takers, and on December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president, effectively marking the end of the great USSR.
Gorbachev went on to create the Gorbachev Foundation and the Green Cross organization. He also ran for the Russian presidency in 1996, but received very few votes. He helped dissolve the icy relations that the USSR had with the West, reversed Stalin’s failed policies, and changed much of the world with his decisions. He was one of the most influential statesmen in the 20th century, and is still a force among other retired politicians.
Gorbachev’s stress in the late 1980s upon glasnost and perestroika triggered a major restructuring in East European ministry as well. Proceeding as usual made less and less sense for Evangelical agencies as the Soviet Union relaxed religious discrimination and restrictions on foreign contacts
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