Mikhail Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931 in the village of Privolnoye, Krasnogvardeisky District, Stavropol Territory, in the south of the Russian republic into a Russian – Ukrainian peasant family who moved to the Stavropol Territory from the Russian Voronezh Region and from the Chernigov Province in the Ukraine.
His father Sergei Gorbachev worked as a combine harvester operator. In June 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. In August he was drafted to the regular army and put in charge of a combat engineering squad. He was in many historic battles of Great Patriotic War. In the end of May 1944 the Gorbachev family received a “killed in action” notice for Mikhail’s father. For three days the family was weeping for their loss, but, fortunately it was a mistake: Mikhail’s father had survived though was badly wounded in the leg. For his exploits during the war he got government medals – Medal for Bravery and two Orders of the Red Star. After he returned home, Sergei Gorbachev continued to work as a machine operator and taught Mikhail to operate a combine harvester. “Father knew perfectly how to operate the combine, and he taught me,” Gorbachev recalls. “After a year or two I could adjust any mechanism. I am particularly proud of my ability to detect a fault in the combine instantly, just by the sound of it.” For outstanding results in bringing in the bumper crop in 1949 Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. He was only seventeen then and became the youngest recipient of this high award.
His mother, Maria Gorbachev (nee Gopkalo), was a farmer and all her life she worked on a collective farm.
“Purges” of the 1930s affected the Gorbachev family: in 1937 Mikhail Gorbachev’s grandfather Pantelei Gopkalo was arrested on charges of “being a member of a counter-revolutionary Trotskyite organization”. He was kept in prison for 14 months under investigation and torture. Assistant Attorney General of Stavropol saved him from execution. In December 1938 he was released from prison and returned home. In 1939 he was once again elected chairman of the collective farm.
The other grandfather of Mikhail Gorbachev – Andrei Gorbachev – initially was uneager to join a collective farm and farmed by himself on his individual farmstead. In 1933 there was a severe drought in southern Russia and the region was hit by mass famine. His three children out of six died of starvation. In spring 1934 Andrei Gorbachev was arrested for not fulfilling the sowing campaign plan: there was nothing to sow. As a “saboteur” Andrei Gorbachev was sent to a hard labor camp in the Irkutsk Region, Siberia, where he worked as a timber feller. Two years later, in 1935, on account of his good work he was released before his sentence term expired. He came back to Privolnoye and immediately joined the collective farm where he worked to the end of his life. Pantelei Gopkalo enjoyed great respect among his fellow-farmers.
Before he started school, Mikhail mostly lived with his grandparents Pantelei and Vasilisa Gopkalo who doted on their grandson.
Mikhail Gorbachev was doing extremely well at school. In those early school years he developed a passion for knowledge, an interest in everything new, and he kept those makings for the rest of his life. His hobby was a drama studio at school where he performed on the stage. Once the drama studio went on a show tour to the villages within the region. The young performers earned some money from tickets to their performances and with this money they bought 35 pairs of shoes for kids from very poor families who had been barefoot at school.
In 1950 Gorbachev graduated from high school with a silver medal. His father insisted that the youth continued his education, and Mikhail chose the Moscow State University as the best university in the USSR. He was enrolled to the university without entrance exams and even without an interview. He was summoned to the university by cable saying that he was “enrolled and provided with a hostel accommodation”. There were several reasons for that: Gorbachev’s origin as a farmer, his work record, a high government award - the Order of the Red Banner of Labor and also the fact that in 1950 (when doing his last year of studies at the secondary school) he was admitted candidate member of the Communist Party. Gorbachev recalls: “My years at the university were not just extremely interesting but also a period of hard work. I had to do a lot of catching up – I knew I had knowledge gaps from my village school. The gaps made themselves felt, especially at first, when I came to the university. But, frankly, I always had a lot of ambition”.
“ … The Moscow University gave me fundamental knowledge and an intellectual potential that determined my career. It was here that the long process of reassessing my country’s history, its present and its future began and continued over so many years”
When a university student, Gorbachev met his future wife Raisa Titarenko. She was also a student of the Moscow University, philosophy faculty She was one year his junior but joined the university one year before him. They married on September 25, 1953.
Having received his law degree cum laude in 1955, Gorbachev returned to Stavropol. At first he was assigned to a job in the Stavropol Territorial Prosecutor’s Office.
In Stavropol Gorbachev was remembered from his activity in the Young Communist League branch at school as a committed youth and a gifted organizer. So almost at once Gorbachev was offered a position of an assistant director of the Propaganda Department at the Territorial Committee of the Komsomol youth league (YCL). So, his work record at the Prosecutor’s Office lasted only ten days (from August 5 to August 15, 1955).
In September 1956 Gorbachev became First Secretary of the Stavropol City Komsomol Committee, on April 25, 1958 he was elected Second Secretary of the Stavropol Territorial Komsomol Committee, and on March 21, 1961 –First Secretary of the Stavropol Territorial Komsomol Committee.
On September 26, 1966 Gorbachev becomes First Secretary and Bureau member of the Stavropol City Communist Party Committee. On August 5, 1969 –Second Secretary of the Stavropol Territorial Communist Party Committee
On April 10, 1970 Gorbachev was approved as the First Secretary of the Stavropol Territorial Communist Party Committee. A most important element in his program for developing the Stavropol region was the rational placement of agricultural facilities, their specialization, the establishment of advanced poultry farms and agrarian complexes, the introduction of industrial production processes, the construction of the Greater Stavropol Canal and of the irrigation and water supply systems that were vitally important to the region with its risky farming because dry lands accounted for one half of its agricultural area, and the completion of modernization in the light and food industries.
During his years in Stavropol Mikhail Gorbachev elaborated and implemented a long-term program of the region’s development.
Those were the years when the young secretary of the territorial committee of the communist party had to deal with decision-making in conditions of command economy and the centralized bureaucratic state. The Stavropol Territory is an extremely beautiful place and one of most popular health resorts in Russia. Soviet top-ranking party leaders spent their vacations here. It was in Stavropol that Gorbachev made acquaintance with Alexei Kosygin, and Yury Andropov. His relations with Andropov were particularly good and close. Some time later Andropov praised Gorbachev as a person with a lot of natural gifts.
Raisa Gorbachev loved Stavropol as her own “homeland”. She did her best to find a job in her profession and started teaching at the faculty of economics of the Stavropol Agricultural Institute. She gave lectures in philosophy, esthetics and problems of religion to undergraduates and post-graduates. On January 6, 1957 Irina, the Gorbachevs’ daughter, was born. In 1967 Raisa Gorbachev got her Ph.D. Her dissertation topic was: “Inception of New Features in Everyday Life of Collective Farmers (Relying on Sociological Studies of the Stavropol Territory)”.
On November 27, 1978 the Plenary Session of the CPSU Central Committee elected Gorbachev Central Committee Secretary. On December 6, 1978 he and his family moved to Moscow.
His first assignment was overseeing the country’s agriculture. He traveled extensively within the USSR and made official visits abroad.
Very soon Mikhail Gorbachev displayed himself as a responsible, efficient and principled political figure. Two years after he moved to Moscow he became member of the CPSU CC Politburo, the supreme body of the Soviet Communist Party.
In March 1985 Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee.
Gorbachev initiated the process of change in the Soviet Union - what was later called perestroika (1985-1991). Glasnost and openness became perestroika’s driving force. A program of reforms was planned to put the nation’s economy on track to a socially oriented market economy This policy put an end to the totalitarian regime in the USSR: in 1990 state power in the USSR moved from the communist party to the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR - the first parliament in Soviet history, made on the basis of free, democratic and contested election. the Congress of People’s Deputies elected Gorbachev President of the USSR on March 15, 1990.
A big shift in international affairs was effected. Gorbachev launched an active policy of détente based on the new thinking associated with his name and became a key figure in world politics. The period of 1985 – 1991 was the time of a fundamental change in the USSR’s relations with the West – a move from the image of an enemy, an “evil empire” to a partner image. Gorbachev’s activity played a prominent role in ending the Cold War, stopping the arms race and unifying Germany.
In recognition of his outstanding services as a great reformer and world political leader, who greatly contributed in changing for the better the very nature of world development, Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (on October 15, 1990).
Destructive processes which the emerging Soviet democracy was unable to curb, eventually led to the disintegration of the multinational Union of republics that Gorbachev led. In his attempts to prevent such an outcome Mikhail Gorbachev made maximum efforts, save the use of force, which would have been against his inner principles of political vision and morality.
On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev stepped down as Head of State.
Since January 1992, Mikhail Gorbachev has been President of the International Non-Governmental Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies (The Gorbachev Foundation). Apart from being a research center and discussion platform, the Gorbachev Foundation also carries out humanitarian charity projects.
After Raisa Gorbachev’s death On August 20, 1999, Mikhail Gorbachev’s family - his daughter Irina, grand-daughters Ksenya and Anastasya and great-granddaughter Alexandra - is playing a great role in his life.
In 1993 at the initiative of representatives of 108 countries Gorbachev established Green Cross International, a non-governmental environmental organization. Its mission is vast education of world public about environmental problems, inculcation of a new environmental consciousness, the overcoming of environmental consequences of the Cold War and the arms race. National organizations of Green Cross International exist in 23 countries of the world.
In 1999 Mikhail Gorbachev was the mastermind of setting up the Nobel Peace Laureates Summits. Annual meetings of the Forum have been discussing global problems of concern for mankind as a whole: violence and wars, problems of poverty, the ecological crisis.
In 2001 – 2003 Gorbachev was the co-chairman of the “St. Petersburg Dialogue” – a series of regular meetings between Russia and Germany – held in turn in both countries. They are attended by the representatives of political structures and the business community as well as by young people.
On May, 2010, the New Policy Forum met in Luxembourg to hold its first meeting of the Academic Advisory Council at which the Board of Founders was set up with Mikhail Gorbachev as its chairman. This is a new international organization founded by Gorbachev to continue the mission of the World Political Forum (2003-2009) – a tribune for informal discussion of the most pressing world policy problems by the most authoritative political and public leaders of the world.
Gorbachev took an active part in the 1996 election in Russia and was nominated to stand for the Russian Federation presidency. Gorbachev is a convinced social democrat, the founder of the Russian United Social Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party of Russia (2001 – 2007) and the all-Russia public movement “The League of Social Democrats” (established in the fall of 2007).
This is the way Gorbachev has formulated his mission and his political article of faith:
“… I was doing my best in bringing together morality and responsibility to people. It’s a matter of principle for me. It was high time to put an end to the rulers’ wild cravings and to their highhandedness. There were a few things I have not succeeded in, but I don’t think I was wrong in my approach. Unless this is done, one can hardly expect that policy can pay its unique part, especially now that we have entered the new century and are facing dramatic challenges”.
During the period of 1992 – 2008 M.S. Gorbachev made 266 visits abroad and visited 50 countries. He was conferred more than 300 awards, diplomas, certificates of honor, and honorable distinctions. Since 1992 Gorbachev published several dozen books in 10 languages of the world.