Mikhail Gorbachev: Quick Facts
Birth Name: Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev
Date of Birth: 2 March 1931
Place of Birth: Privolnoye, North Caucasus
Date of Death: N/A (Currently 87 Years of Age)
Spouse(s): Raisa Gorbachova (Married in 1953; Died in 1999)
Children: Irina (Born in 1956)
Father: Sergei Andreyevich Gorbachev
Mother: Maria Panteleyevna Gopkalo Gorbachova
Political Party/Affiliation: Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1950-1991); Social Democratic Party of Russia (2001-2004); Union of Social Democrats (2007-2014); Independent (2014-Present)
Education: Moscow State University; Stavropol Agricultural Institute
Awards: Nobel Peace Prize (1990); United States Liberty Medal (2008)
Fact #1: Mikhail Gorbachev was born in Stravropol Krai in 1931 to a peasant family that operated combines on collective farms. Gorbachev’s early years were characterized by mass-famine across the Soviet Union. In his native village of Privolnoye, nearly half of the village died from starvation in 1933, alone. The famine claimed two of Gorbachev’s sisters, as well as his uncle.
Both of Gorbachev’s grandfathers were arrested in the 1930s by Soviet police and were exiled to Siberia. Gorbachev’s father was both a combine operator and served in the Red Army during World War Two. According to Gorbachev’s memoirs, his father (Sergey) fought in the Battle of Kursk, and was a part of operations in Czechoslovakia where he was wounded.
Gorbachev’s mother (Maria) also worked on a collective farm. Because of the hard work and demands of the kolkhoz (collective farm), Gorbachev was raised, predominantly, by his maternal grandparents. Gorbachev also worked on the kolkhoz during his early years, and even became a leader in the Communist Youth known as the “Komsomol.” Gorbachev was known for his work spirit, and even won the “Red Labor Banner” in 1949 for breaking a harvest record alongside his father.
Fact #2: Gorbachev received his education at Moscow State University; earning a law degree in 1955. While attending school, Gorbachev became an active member of the Communist Party. Under the influence of Zdenek Mlynar, Gorbachev quickly became disillusioned with the failed policies of the Stalinist regime. While at college, Gorbachev also met his future wife, Raisa Titarenko. The pair married on 25 September 1953. Four years later, the couple gave birth to their only daughter, Irina.
In the late 1960s, Gorbachev entered a correspondence program at the Stavropol Institute of Agriculture; earning the qualification of “agricultural economist” in his studies.
Fact #3: By 1970, Gorbachev’s active participation in politics prompted Soviet officials to appoint him as “First Party Secretary” of the Stravropol Region Committee. Shortly after, Gorbachev was appointed “First Secretary” to the Supreme Soviet (1974), and later earned a spot in the Politburo (1985).
Fact #4: In 1985, Gorbachev was elected “General Secretary” of the Soviet Union, following a brief rule by Andropov and Chernenko. Gorbachev made great strides to reform Soviet politics; ushering in an era of openness to the West that was unprecedented in Soviet history. In promoting these policy changes, Gorbachev hoped to modernize the Soviet economy, while also eroding the bureaucratic limitations of the Soviet government. These attempts at openness, however, proved fatal to the Soviet system, as his policies encouraged democratization efforts across the Soviet Union.
Historians believe that Gorbachev’s extensive travels abroad helped to shape his political and social views. During the 1970s, Gorbachev had worked extensively with delegates in Belgium, West Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Gorbachev’s main focus with reform was to prevent the Soviet Union and the Communist Party from stagnating any further; a result of the economic and political policies of the Brezhnev years in decades prior. To accomplish this, Gorbachev allowed for greater private ownership across the Soviet Union, greater freedom of speech, and less censorship of the press. Gorbachev also sought to improve relations with the West and end the Cold War, while simultaneously improving the Soviet economy and technology. Gorbachev took reform one step further with the removal and replacement of Politburo members with younger, more open-minded men.
In seeking peace with the West, Gorbachev’s foreign policy also indicated tremendous change for the Soviet Union, as the leader indicated that the Soviet Union would not interfere in the affairs of Eastern Europe any longer. In response, Eastern Germany, Poland, and Hungary took actions to expel Communist officials from their governments. Shortly after, in 1989, German citizens took to the streets of Berlin to tear down the Berlin Wall; a strong symbol of Cold War relations between the Soviet Union and the West.
Fact #5: By the end of 1991, many of Gorbachev’s reforms were flatly rejected by Communist Party “hardliners.” In August of 1991, the Communists staged a coup and kidnapped Gorbachev, claiming he was too ill to rule. Gorbachev was eventually set free, following widespread protests, but the Soviet Union never recovered from the incident. On 25 December 1991, Gorbachev officially resigned as leader of the Soviet Union, leaving the Union in disarray. Shortly after, the Soviet Union was divided into 15 different countries; thus, ending a nearly seventy-five year experiment in Communism and socialism.
Fun Facts About Gorbachev
Fun Fact #1: Gorbachev starred in a Pizza Hut commercial in 1997 in order to raise money for his research foundation. In 2007, he also starred in an advertisement for Louis Vuitton.
Fun Fact #2: Gorbachev was influenced by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, in particular, taught Gorbachev much about Leninism and Marxism.
Fun Fact #3: Gorbachev and his wife had only one child (a daughter named Irina). His daughter, however, later died in the 1990s from leukemia. His daughter was survived by two children.
Fun Fact #4: Gorbachev is well known for the large mark on his forehead. The spot is a birth mark that he has had since birth. For this spot, Gorbachev has often been nicknamed, “The Marked Man.”
Fun Fact #5: Mikhail Gorbachev remains active in Russian politics to the current day. He even ran for President again in 1996. In more recent months and years, he has been a major critic of Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
“A society should never become like a pond with stagnant water, without movement. That’s the most important thing.”— Mikhail Gorbachev
Quotes by Gorbachev
Quote #1: “A society should never become like a pond with stagnant water, without movement. That’s the most important thing.”
Quote #2: “We could only solve our problems by cooperating with other countries. It would have been paradoxical not to cooperate. And therefore we needed to put an end to the Iron Curtain, to change the nature of international relations, to rid them of ideological confrontation, and particularly to end the arms race.”
Quote #3: “If current technological processes continue without change, the environment will change, and we, the human species, will either have to mutate or even die, to disappear, as many species have disappeared.”
Quote #4: “Without perestroika, the Cold War simply would not have ended. But the world could not continue developing as it had, with the stark menace of nuclear war ever present.”
Quote #5: “I couldn’t wait to get to the most powerful position, because I thought then I would be able to fix problems that only the leader can fix. But when I got there, I realized we needed revolutionary change.”
Quote #6: “Imagine a country that flies into space, launches Sputniks, creates such a defense system, and it can’t resolve the problem of women’s pantyhose. There’s no toothpaste, no soap powder, not the basic necessities of life. It was incredible and humiliating to work in such a government.”
Quote #7: “Sometimes it is difficult to accept, to recognize one’s own mistakes, but one must do it. I was guilty of overconfidence and arrogance, and I was punished for that.”
Quote #8: “Sometimes people ask me why I began perestroika. Were the causes basically domestic or foreign? The domestic reasons were undoubtedly the main ones, but the danger of nuclear war was so serious that it was a no less significant factor.”
Quote #9: “Starting reforms in the Soviet Union was only possible from above, only from above. Any attempt to go from below was suppressed, suppressed in a most resolute way.”
Quote #10: “It would be naïve to think that the problems plaguing mankind today can be solved with means and methods which were applied or seemed to work in the past.”
Were you surprised by any of these facts about Gorbachev?
In closing, Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule characterized a period of substantial change for the Soviet Union; leading to not only great reforms and policy changes, but to the eventual collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union, in general. Some historians and scholars argue that the collapse of the Soviet Union was an inevitable event due to its economic and social policies that had characterized its culture for decades. However, if not for the actions of Gorbachev, it is clear that the collapse of Communism would not have been as rapid or decisive as scholars proclaim.
As an individual who continues to intertwine himself in Russian politics, it will be interesting to see what else the former Soviet leader contributes to global affairs in the coming years ahead.
Wikipedia contributors, "Mikhail Gorbachev," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mikhail_Gorbachev&oldid=866440033 (accessed October 31, 2018).
© 2018 Larry Slawson