Mikhail Gorbachev (Russian: Михаи́л Серге́евич Горбачёв, IPA: [gərbəˈtɕof], commonly anglicized as Gorbachev; born 2 March 1931) was leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991. His attempts at reform helped to end the Cold War, but also ended the political supremacy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and dissolved the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
- Certain people in the United States are driving nails into this structure of our relationship, then cutting off the heads. So the Soviets must use their teeth to pull them out.
- As quoted in TIME magazine (9 September 1985)
- Democracy is the wholesome and pure air without which a socialist public organization cannot live a full-blooded life.
- Speech to the 27th Party Congress, Moscow (25 February 1986)
- If the Russian word "perestroika" has easily entered the international lexicon, this is due to more than just interest in what is going on in the Soviet Union. Now the whole world needs restructuring, i.e. progressive development, a fundamental change.
- Perestroika: New Thinking For Our Country and the World (1987)
- Our rockets can find Halley's comet, and fly to Venus with amazing accuracy, but side by side with these scientific and technical triumphs is an obvious lack of efficiency in using scientific achievements for economic needs, and many Soviet household appliances are of poor quality.
- Perestroika: New Thinking For Our Country and the World (1987)
- Variant: Soviet rockets can find Halley's comet and fly to Venus with amazing accuracy, but . . . many household appliances are of poor quality.
- As quoted in TIME magazine (4 January 1988)
- The Soviet people want full-blooded and unconditional democracy.
- Speech (July 1988)
- We are witnessing most profound social change. Whether in the East or the South, the West or the North, hundreds of millions of people, new nations and states, new public movements and ideologies have moved to the forefront of history. Broad-based and frequently turbulent popular movements have given expression, in a multidimensional and contradictory way, to a longing for independence, democracy and social justice. The idea of democratizing the entire world order has become a powerful socio-political force. At the same time, the scientific and technological revolution has turned many economic, food, energy, environmental, information and population problems, which only recently we treated as national or regional ones, into global problems. Thanks to the advances in mass media and means of transportation, the world seems to have become more visible and tangible. International communication has become easier than ever before.
- Speech to the UN General Assembly (7 December 1988)
- Why not?
- When asked by a reporter if he thought the Berlin Wall should be dismantled (May 1989), as quoted in "How Reagan and Gorbachev sowed 'seeds of freedom'" in National Post (6 November 2009)
- Dangers await only those who do not react to life.
- Speech in East Berlin (7 October 1989), in German: Gefahren warten nur auf jene, die nicht auf das Leben reagieren, but often cited as "Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben", hence the English translation: "He who comes too late is punished by life". (Frankfurter Allgemeine, 3 October 2004)
- The market is not an invention of capitalism. It has existed for centuries. It is an invention of civilization.
- Statement (8 June 1990), as quoted in The Economics of the Environment and Natural Resources (2004) by R. Quentin Grafton, p. 277
- Variant: The market came with the dawn of civilization and it is not an invention of capitalism. … If it leads to improving the well-being of the people there is no contradiction with socialism.
- As quoted in The Guardian [London] (21 June 1990)
- I believe, as Lenin said, that this revolutionary chaos may yet crystallize into new forms of life.
- As quoted in The Times [London] (18 May 1990)
- For a new type of progress throughout the world to become a reality, everyone must change. Tolerance is the alpha and omega of a new world order.
- During a tour of the United States, as quoted in The New York Times (5 June 1990)
- My life’s work has been accomplished. I did all that I could.
- The Observer [London] (15 December 1991)
- Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.
- As quoted in The London Daily Telegraph (16 June 1992)
- We have retreated from the perennial values. I don't think that we need any new values. The most important thing is to try to revive the universally known values from which we have retreated.
As a young man, I really took to heart the Communist ideals. A young soul certainly cannot reject things like justice and equality. These were the goals proclaimed by the Communists. But in reality that terrible Communist experiment brought about repression of human dignity. Violence was used in order to impose that model on society. In the name of Communism we abandoned basic human values. So when I came to power in Russia I started to restore those values; values of "openness" and freedom.
- I believe in the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. Look at the sun. If there is no sun, then we cannot exist. So nature is my god. To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.
- "Nature Is My God" - interview with Fred Matser in Resurgence No. 184 (September-October 1997)
- My ambition was to liquidate communism, the dictatorship over all the people. Supporting me and urging me on in this mission was my wife, who was of this opinion long before I was. I knew that I could only do this if I was the leading functionary. In this my wife urged me to climb to the top post. While I actually became acquainted with the West, my mind was made up forever. I decided that I must destroy the whole apparatus of the CPSU and the USSR. Also, I must do this in all of the other socialist countries. My ideal is the path of social democracy. Only this system shall benefit all the people. This quest I decided I must fulfil.
- I began to feel the desire for something more; I wanted to do something to make things better.
- On his ambitions as a youth, in an Academy of Achievement interview (28 October 2000)
- If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven't done much today.
- 101 Best Ways to Get Ahead: Solid Gold Advice from 101 of the World's Most Successful People (2004) by Michael E. Angier and Sarah Pond, p. 30
- With Yeltsin, the Soviet Union broke apart, the country was totally mismanaged, the constitution was not respected by the regions of Russia. The army, education and health systems collapsed. People in the West quietly applauded, dancing with and around Yeltsin. I conclude therefore that we should not pay too much attention to what the West is saying.
- As quoted in USA Today (5 April 2006)
- Americans have a severe disease — worse than AIDS. It's called the winner's complex.
- ABC News (12 July 2006)
- I express the very deepest condolences to the family of the deceased on whose shoulders rest major events for the good of the country and serious mistakes.
- We had 10 years after the Cold War to build a new world order and yet we squandered them. The United States cannot tolerate anyone acting independently. Every US president has to have a war.
- As quoted in an interview with The London Daily Telegraph (7 May 2008)
- We desperately need to recognise that we are the guests, not the masters, of nature and adopt a new paradigm for development, based on the costs and benefits to all people, and bound by the limits of nature herself rather than the limits of technology and consumerism.
- As quoted in Planet Savers : 301 Extraordinary Environmentalists (2008) by Kevin Desmond, p. 248
Nobel Address (1991)
- Preparing for my address I found in an old Russian encyclopedia a definition of "peace" as a "commune" — the traditional cell of Russian peasant life. I saw in that definition the people's profound understanding of peace as harmony, concord, mutual help, and cooperation.
This understanding is embodied in the canons of world religions and in the works of philosophers from antiquity to our time.
- Today, peace means the ascent from simple coexistence to cooperation and common creativity among countries and nations.
Peace is movement towards globality and universality of civilization. Never before has the idea that peace is indivisible been so true as it is now.
Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences.
And, ideally, peace means the absence of violence. It is an ethical value.
- I see the decision to award me the Nobel Peace Prize also as an act of solidarity with the monumental undertaking which has already placed enormous demands on the Soviet people in terms of efforts, costs, hardships, willpower, and character. And solidarity is a universal value which is becoming indispensable for progress and for the survival of humankind.
But a modern state has to be worthy of solidarity, in other words, it should pursue, in both domestic and international affairs, policies that bring together the interests of its people and those of the world community. This task, however obvious, is not a simple one. Life is much richer and more complex than even the most perfect plans to make it better. It ultimately takes vengeance for attempts to impose abstract schemes, even with the best of intentions. Perestroika has made us understand this about our past, and the actual experience of recent years has taught us to reckon with the most general laws of civilization.
- I began my book about perestroika and the new thinking with the following words: "We want to be understood". After a while I felt that it was already happening. But now I would like once again to repeat those words here, from this world rostrum. Because to understand us really — to understand so as to believe us — proved to be not at all easy, owing to the immensity of the changes under way in our country. Their magnitude and character are such as to require in-depth analysis. Applying conventional wisdom to perestroika is unproductive. It is also futile and dangerous to set conditions, to say: We'll understand and believe you, as soon as you, the Soviet Union, come completely to resemble "us", the West.
No one is in a position to describe in detail what perestroika will finally produce. But it would certainly be a self-delusion to expect that perestroika will produce "a copy" of anything.
- A period of transition to a new quality in all spheres of society's life is accompanied by painful phenomena. When we were initiating perestroika we failed to properly assess and foresee everything. Our society turned out to be hard to move off the ground, not ready for major changes which affect people's vital interests and make them leave behind everything to which they had become accustomed over many years. In the beginning we imprudently generated great expectations, without taking into account the fact that it takes time for people to realize that all have to live and work differently, to stop expecting that new life would be given from above.
- During the last six years we have discarded and destroyed much that stood in the way of a renewal and transformation of our society. But when society was given freedom it could not recognize itself, for it had lived too long, as it were, "beyond the looking glass". Contradictions and vices rose to the surface, and even blood has been shed, although we have been able to avoid a bloodbath. The logic of reform has clashed with the logic of rejection, and with the logic of impatience which breeds intolerance.
- I have long ago made a final and irrevocable decision. Nothing and no one, no pressure, cither from the right or from the left, will make me abandon the positions of perestroika and new thinking. I do not intend to change my views or convictions. My choice is a final one.
It is my profound conviction that the problems arising in the course of our transformations can be solved solely by constitutional means. That is why I make every effort to keep this process within the confines of democracy and reforms.
- Our democracy is being born in pain. A political culture is emerging — one that presupposes debate and pluralism, but also legal order and, if democracy is to work, strong government authority based on one law for all. This process is gaining strength.
- Being resolute today means to act within the framework of political and social pluralism and the rule of law to provide conditions for continued reform and prevent a breakdown of the state and economic collapse, prevent the elements of chaos from becoming catastrophic.
All this requires taking certain tactical steps, to search for various ways of addressing both short- and long-term tasks. Such efforts and political and economic steps, agreements based on reasonable compromise, are there for everyone to see.
- After a time of rampant separatism and euphoria, when almost every village proclaimed sovereignty, a centripetal force is beginning to gather momentum, based on a more sensible view of existing realities and the risks involved. And this is what counts most now. There is a growing will to achieve consensus, and a growing understanding that we have a State, a country, a common life. This is what must be preserved first of all.
- The more I reflect on the current world developments, the more I become convinced that the world needs perestroika no less than the Soviet Union needs it.
- To me, it is self-evident that if Soviet perestroika succeeds, there will be a real chance of building a new world order. And if perestroika fails, the prospect of entering a new peaceful period in history will vanish, at least for the foreseeable future.
I believe that the movement that we have launched towards that goal has fairly good prospects of success. After all, mankind has already benefited greatly in recent years, and this has created a certain positive momentum.
- The new integrity of the world, in our view, can be built only on the principles of the freedom of choice and balance of interests. Every State, and now also a number of existing or emerging regional interstate groups, have their own interests. They are all equal and deserve respect.
We consider it dangerously outdated when suspicions are aroused by, for instance, improved Soviet-Chinese or Soviet-German, German-French, Soviet- US or US-Indian relations, etc. In our times, good relations benefit all. Any worsening of relations anywhere is a common loss.
- Progress towards the civilization of the 21st century will certainly not be simple or easy. One cannot get rid overnight of the heavy legacy of the past or the dangers created in the post-war years. We are experiencing a turning point in international affairs and are only at the beginning of a new, and I hope mostly peaceful, lengthy period in the history of civilization.
With less East-West confrontation, or even none at all, old contradictions resurface, which seemed of secondary importance compared to the threat of nuclear war. The melting ice of the Cold War reveals old conflicts and claims, and entirely new problems accumulate rapidly.
- All members of the world community should resolutely discard old stereotypes and motivations nurtured by the Cold War, and give up the habit of seeking each other's weak spots and exploiting them in their own interests. We have to respect the peculiarities and differences which will always exist, even when human rights and freedoms are observed throughout the world. I keep repeating that with the end of confrontation differences can be made a source of healthy competition, an important factor for progress. This is an incentive to study each other, to engage in exchanges, a prerequisite for the growth of mutual trust.
For knowledge and trust are the foundations of a new world order.
- I am an optimist and I believe that together we shall be able now to make the right historical choice so as not to miss the great chance at the turn of centuries and millenia and make the current extremely difficult transition to a peaceful world order. A balance of interests rather than a balance of power, a search for compromise and concord rather than a search for advantages at other people's expense, and respect for equality rather than claims to leadership — such are the elements which can provide the groundwork for world progress and which should be readily acceptable for reasonable people informed by the experience of the twentieth century.
The future prospect of truly peaceful global politics lies in the creation through joint efforts of a single international democratic space in which States shall be guided by the priority of human rights and welfare for their own citizens and the promotion of the same rights and similar welfare elsewhere. This is an imperative of the growing integrity of the modern world and of the interdependence of its components.
- Have we not been able to cross the threshold of mistrust, though mistrust has not completely disappeared? Has not the political thinking in the world changed substantially? Does not most of the world community already regard weapons of mass destruction as unacceptable for achieving political objectives?
- I view the award of the Nobel Prize to me as an expression of understanding of my intentions, my aspirations, the objectives of the profound transformation we have begun in our country, and the ideas of new thinking. I see it as your acknowledgment of my commitment to peaceful means of implementing the objectives of perestroika.
Quotes about Gorbachev
- Although Mikhail Gorbachev is a man of quite outstanding talent and ability, he insisted recently that the story of his own family is actually history itself or in other words the history of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev is in fact a child of the revolution and the world war, of Lenin's, Stalin's, Khrushchev's and Breshnev's Soviet Union. And like most people in this world he is a product of the society in which he grew up. Today, this Soviet society is a historical experiment which is being shaken to its foundations, and this is so not least because Mikhail Gorbachev was also capable of breaking the mould of the society from which he sprang. Or as he personally expressed it in the televised interview, in which he spoke of the perestroika which he symbolises: "We came to the conclusion that we could no longer continue to live the way we were. We needed major changes in every department of life."
- Gidske Anderson, Chairperson of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Award Ceremony Speech (1991)
- Increased openness, was perhaps the most profound change inaugurated by Mr. Gorbachev. The buried secrets of past regimes and the foibles of the present one were exposed to public scrutiny by a press given freedom to reverse decades of organized disinformation and report honestly about Soviet history and life. By permitting increased openness in the press and in cultural endeavors, he also freed the minds of the Soviet people, who began to voice their long-suppressed thoughts.
- He clearly did not foresee (nor did any of us) how quickly and dangerously things would fall apart in Russia once the strong disciplinary hand of the Party was relaxed. What he did in destroying the old system was a great historic service to Russia and the world. And nobody else could have done it. But he is not a good politician in the democratic sense. He has no adequate inter-action with the people at large. Yeltsin, not an intellectual but quite intelligent, is far ahead of him in these respects.
- George F. Kennan, The Kennan Diaries (edited by Frank Costigliola, published in 2014), En route to London, October 8, 1990
- Mr. President, you did a great thing. You gave up your post as general secretary of the Soviet Union, but now you have become the president of peace. Because of your wisdom and courage, we now have the possibility to bring world peace. You did the most important, eternal, and beautiful thing for the world. You are the hero of peace who did God's work. The name that will be remembered forever in the history of Russia will not be "Marx," or "Lenin," or "Stalin." it will be "Mikhail Gorbachev."
- The U.S.S.R. is at a crossroads. If pressing economic and social problems are not alleviated in the near future, further erosion in its economic system is inevitable, thus endangering, in the long term, its very survival. . . . Gorbachev has definitely initiated a new style . . . But whether his stewardship will open a new era for the U.S.S.R. remains to be seen. . . . He faces problems that are almost insurmountable.
- The Gorbachev Foundation
- TIME 100 : Mikhail Gorbachev
- Green Cross International official site
- Profile at the Nobel Prize site
- "Out in the Cold" interview in The Guardian (8 March 2005)
- CNN Cold War — Profile: Mikhail Gorbachev (1998)
- Biography, talks, tributes and quotes at writespirit.net
- Ubben Lecture at DePauw University
- Mikhail Gorbachev's Project Syndicate op/eds
- "Commanding Heights: Mikhail Gorbachev" PBS interview (April 2001)
- USSR — USA: Summit Documents and Materials, Washington May 30 - June 3, 1990
- Gorbachev as McDermott Guest Lecturer at University of Dallas