MIKHAIL SERGEYEVICH GORBACHEV
most of the 20th century, the United States and the Soviet Union
grappled for power, sweeping most of the world into the conflict
between "communism" and "democracy."
Soviet president Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev's efforts to democratize
the Soviet Union's political system and decentralize its economy
eventually led to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and
the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Upon becoming General Secretary of the Community Party in 1985,
Gorbachev quickly set about resuscitating the Soviet Union's economy,
which had grown stagnant during Leonid Brezhnev's term in power
(1964-1982). He called for rapid technological modernization and
increased worker productivity, and he tried to make the weighty
Soviet bureaucracy more efficient.
From 1987-1988, Gorbachev initiated glasnost ("openness"), which
called for increased freedoms of expression and information, and
perestroika ("restructuring"), which instigated the first attempts
to democratize the Soviet government.
Abroad, Gorbachev cultivated relations and trade with developed
nations in the East and West. He consented to a withdrawal of Soviet
troops from East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslavakia.
In 1990 Gorbachev received the Nobel Prize for Peace for his role
in ending the Soviet Union's oppressive communist regime.
Although Gorbachev was very successful in dismantling the Soviet
Union's totalitarian government, he was less willing to release
the Soviet economy from the grip of centralized government. Gorbachev
and his family were briefly held under house arrest between August
19-21, 1991, during a coup by Communist hard-liners. After the coup,
Yeltsin's Russian government assumed leadership of the collapsing
Soviet government, as various republics agreed to form a new commonwealth
under Yeltsin's leadership.
On Dec. 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned the presidency of the Soviet
Union, which ceased to exist that same day.
Gorbachev's role in the collapse of the Soviet regime in Eastern
Europe reinforced American ideals of democracy and freedom, and
became the defining moment of the 1980s.