March 2, 1931
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev grew up in Stalin’s Russia and survived Nazi occupation. He attended a local school and worked on the local collective farms. He joined the Communist Party before he turned twenty and was married at twenty-two.
He experienced a rapid rise through the ranks of the Communist Party and became General Secretary (essentially the leader of the U.S.S.R.) at 54. He immediately began addressing problems with the Soviet economy and the terms “perestroika” and “glasnost”, meaning reconstruction and opening up, entered into the world vocabulary. His policies encouraged freedom of speech that had long been missing from the area and enabled businesses to blossom.
Gorbachev also opened up communication with Western leaders, especially Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl. He started reducing his nation’s military presence in Europe and proposed the reduction of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.
He resigned from his post in 1991 as the Soviet empire began falling apart with nations declaring their independence. The following year he founded the Gorbachev Foundation with a special focus on the environment.