Mikhail Gorbachev, 1990 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and former leader of the Soviet Union, is the man the Western world credits with helping to end the Cold War. He is most famously recognized by his unique birthmark located on top of his head. The Russian politician graced the cover of Time magazine several times while he was in office, including as Man of the Year in 1988. Gorbachev is considered by many to be one of the most innovative and revolutionary world leaders of all time.
Mikhail Gorbachev was born on 2 March 1931 to an impoverished family living near Stavropol. Despite his family’s economic position, Mikhail joined the Communist Party and earned a law degree at Moscow University in 1953. His political career began in the early 1960s when he became the head of the Stavropol region’s department of agriculture. Throughout the next two decades, he garnered the attention of top party political figures who all shared an interest in political reform and ending corruption and inefficiency within the country’s government.
At age 54, Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party. Though many of his ideas were considered radical at the time, he began implementing domestic policies that he hoped would help the economy and improve the standards of living in the Soviet Union. Beginning early in office with alcohol reform, a move Gorbachev hoped would reduce the rising rates of alcoholism in Russia, many of his policies weakened an already stalling economy.
Though many in his country saw Gorbachev as a threat to domestic stability, foreign policy yielded different challenges. From the beginning of his six-year term, he was in favor of ending the arms race with the West. His political initiatives served as a positive catalyst for freedom and democracy, but his economic policies were slowly causing the country to collapse. As political reform made headway, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union began to lose control.
Gorbachev became the first-ever President of the Soviet Union, elected by the Congress of People’s Deputies on 15 March 1990. The newly elected president created a presidential council of 15 politicians, but his position would be short-lived as the Soviet Union had already begun to disintegrate. As Boris Yeltsin (1931 – 2007) gained popularity and power as president of the Russian Federation, following the Soviet coup attempt in 1991, Gorbachev was forced to resign as president of a country that no longer existed.
Mikhail Gorbachev is widely recognized as a strong influence and perpetuator of worldwide freedom. He was the first recipient of The Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in 1992, after already having received a Nobel Peace Prize. Even after his resignation from political office, he continued to remain politically active on a global scale, and he represented Russia at Ronald Reagan’s funeral in 2004.