Mikhail Gorbachev, architect of glasnost and peristroika, turns 90
The first and the last Soviet Union president, Mikhail Gorbachev, celebrates his 90th birthday in a year that also marks the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The milestone birthday invites new attempts to clarify his place in Russian and world history. He has weighed in frequently on both.
The 89th year of the architect of glasnost (restructuring) and perestroika (openness) saw other key anniversaries – the 35th anniversary of his accession as Soviet leader and 30th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize.
His efforts to democratise his country’s political system and decentralise its economy led to the downfall of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union on Dec 26, 1991. The changes ended the Soviet Union’s postwar domination of Eastern Europe.
Gorbachev is reported to be angry about the battles he had to fight in the late 1980s in pursuit of perestroika and glasnost – with the conservatives of the party hierarchy to one side, and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin on the other. He is reported to blame Yeltsin for the "wild capitalism" and "privatisation at a stroke" that led to what Gorbachev regards as the plundering of the country.
Lionised in the West, he was awarded "The German of the Century" title after the unification of Germany and is an honorary member of over 30 universities around the world.
Russian opinion polls reveal a mixed picture of his legacy. President Vladimir Putin famously dubbed the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union the greatest catastrophe of the 20th Century, and he and many Russians have long lamented the blow its demise dealt to Moscow’s great power status. A BBC article timed for Gorbachev’s 75th birthday noted that in those places where life has become easier, many people have a more sympathetic view of Gorbachev’s legacy. In those places where life hasn’t improved since the break up of the USSR, he remains the focus for anger, disillusionment and generations of dashed, unrealisable Soviet dreams.
In shaky health, Gorbachev lives quietly in a dacha outside Moscow – but not silently. He weighs in periodically on current events, and has given scores of interviews since 1991 to tell his side of the events that led up to the dissolution.
He is likely to be sought for his insights on the past and on current events on the birthday.