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PoliticsWorldMikhail Gorbachev, the leader who lifted the iron curtain covering Soviet Union

Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader who lifted the iron curtain covering Soviet Union

As a child, he had seen the condition of peasants and, as a youth, the work atmosphere in the regime of Joseph Stalin. He had found something amiss, believing socialism — means of production and distribution under state control — would not work, but at that stage, he could not do anything about it. Decades later as the last President of the Union of Soviet Social Republics (USSR), he exposed communism through glasnost and perestroika. Unable to handle the rot and the public knowledge thereof, the practical application of Karl Marx's theory collapsed and disintegrated. That Soviet leader of transparency, Mikhail Gorbachev, died today at 91, following a prolonged and severe illness.

Gorbachev became the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985 and was forced to step down in 1991, a year after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, due to the collapse of the USSR.

Gorbachev was born in Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai, to a poor peasant family of Russian and Ukrainian heritage. Growing up under the rule of Joseph Stalin, in his youth, he operated combine harvesters on a collective farm before joining the Communist Party, which then governed the Soviet Union as a one-party state according to the prevailing interpretation of Marxist-Leninist doctrine.

Studying at Moscow State University, he married fellow Raisa Titarenko in 1953 and received his law degree in 1955.

Moving to Stavropol, he worked for the Komsomol youth organisation and, after Stalin's death, became a keen proponent of the de-Stalinisation reforms of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He was appointed the first party secretary of the Stavropol Regional Committee in 1970, in which position he oversaw the construction of the Great Stavropol Canal. 

In 1978, he returned to Moscow to become a secretary of the party's central committee. In 1979, he joined its governing politburo. Three years after the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. following the brief tenures of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, in 1985 the politburo elected Gorbachev as general secretary, the de facto leader.

Although committed to preserving the Soviet state and its socialist ideals, Gorbachev believed significant reform was necessary, particularly after the 1986 Chernobyl (Ukrainian spelling "Chornobyl") disaster. He withdrew from the Soviet-Afghan War and embarked on summits with President Ronald Reagan to limit nuclear weapons and end the Cold War.

Domestically, his policy of glasnost ("openness") allowed for enhanced freedom of speech and press while his perestroika ("restructuring") sought to decentralise economic decision-making to improve its efficiency. His democratisation measures and formation of the elected Congress of People's Deputies undermined the one-party state.

Gorbachev declined to intervene militarily when various Eastern Bloc countries abandoned Marxist-Leninist governance in 1989-1990. 

Internally, growing nationalist sentiment threatened to break up the Soviet Union, leading Marxist–Leninist hardliners to launch the unsuccessful August Coup against Gorbachev in 1991. In the coup's wake, the Soviet Union dissolved against Gorbachev's wishes. After resigning from the presidency, he launched the Gorbachev Foundation, became a vocal critic of Russian presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, and campaigned for Russia's social-democratic movement.

Widely considered one of the most significant figures of the second half of the 20th century, Gorbachev remains the subject of controversy. The recipient of a wide range of awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, he was praised for his role in ending the Cold War, introducing new political and economic freedoms in the Soviet Union, and tolerating both the fall of Marxist–Leninist administrations in eastern and central Europe and the reunification of Germany. Conversely, in Russia, he is often derided for accelerating the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an event which weakened Russia's global influence and precipitated an economic collapse in Russia and associated states.

Mikhail Gorbachev at 91

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