Mikhail Gorbachev: The Nobel Lecture, 1990



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.



such was the actual situation in the country.  ... The misinformed society under the spell of propaganda was hardly aware of what was going on and what the immediate future had in store for it. The slightest manifestations of protest were suppressed. Most people considered them heretical, slanderous and counter-revolutionary. ... there was a great temptation to leave things as they were, to make only cosmetic changes. This, however, meant continuing to deceive ourselves and the people. ... Perestroika, which once again is returning our people to commonsense, has enabled us to open up to the world, and has restored a normal relationship between the country’s internal development and its foreign policy. ... we proposed what was in many ways a different policy, which would genuinely serve the cause of peace, while differing from the prevailing view of what it meant and particularly from the established stereotypes as to how one should protect it. We proposed new thinking in foreign policy. ... 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.


...

Many took fright and wanted to return to the past. It was not only those who used to hold the levers of power in the administration, the army and various government agencies and who had to make room, but also many people whose interests and way of life was put to a severe test and who, during the preceding decades, had forgotten how to take the initiative and to be independent, enterprising and self-reliant. 


The logic of reform has clashed with the logic of rejection, and with the logic of impatience which breeds intolerance. In this situation, which is one of great opportunity and of major risks, at a high point of Perestroika’s crisis, our task is to stay the course while also addressing current everyday problems – which are literally tearing this policy apart – and to do it in such a way as to prevent a social and political explosion.


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.


Steering a peaceful course is not easy in a country where generation after generation of people were led to believe that those who have power or force could throw those who dissent or disagree out of politics or even in jail. For centuries all the country’s problems used to be finally resolved by violent means. All this has left an almost indelible mark on our entire “political culture”, if the term is at all appropriate in this case.


I will never agree to having our society split once again into Reds and Whites, into those who claim to speak and act “on behalf of the people” and those who are “enemies of the people”. 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.


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. Fortunately, the present generation of policy-makers, for the most part, are becoming increasingly aware of this interrelationship, and also of the fact that now that Perestroika has entered its critical phase the Soviet Union is entitled to expect large-scale support to assure its success. ... In these months much is being decided and will be decided in our country to create the prerequisites for overcoming the systemic crisis and gradually recovering to a normal life.

The multitude of specific tasks to be addressed in this context may be summarized within three main areas:


  1. Stabilizing the democratic process on the basis of a broad social consensus and a new constitutional structure of our Union as a genuine, free, and voluntary federation;
  2. Intensifying economic reform to establish a mixed market economy based on a new system of property relations;
  3. Taking vigorous steps to open the country up to the world economy through ruble convertibility and acceptance of civilized “rules of the game” adopted in the world market, and through membership in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


These three areas are closely interrelated.


If we fail to reach an understanding regarding a new phase of cooperation, we will have to look for other ways, for time is of the essence. But if we are to move to that new phase, those who participate in and even shape world politics also must continue to change, to review their philosophic perception of the changing realities of the world and of its imperatives. Otherwise, there is no point in drawing up a joint program of practical action.


The USSR and the USA, the two nuclear superpowers, have moved from confrontation to interaction and, in some important cases, partnership. This has had a decisive effect on the entire international climate. This should be preserved and filled with new substance. The climate of Soviet-US trust should be protected, for it is a common asset of the world community. Any revision of the direction and potential of the Soviet-US relationship would have grave consequences for the entire global process.


De-ideologizing relations among States, which we proclaimed as one of the principles of the new thinking, has brought down many prejudices, biased attitudes and suspicions and has cleared and improved the international atmosphere. I have to note, however, that this process has been more intensive and frank on our part than on the part of the West.


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.

We can already see many obstacles and dangers on the road to a lasting peace, including:


How can the world community cope with all this? All these tasks are enormously complex. They cannot be postponed. Tomorrow may be too late.


I am convinced that in order to solve these problems there is no other way but to seek and implement entirely new forms of interaction. Such interaction is indispensable if we are to consolidate positive trends which have emerged and are gaining strength, and which we simply must not sacrifice.


However, to accomplish this 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. 


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. 



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 


This is an imperative of the growing integrity of the modern world and of the interdependence of its components.


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M. Gorbatschow, "Das Kapital ist schuld", 19.11.2008 (in Cache)

Die Gier und Unvernunft einiger weniger zieht uns alle mit in die Abgründe der Finanzkrise.

Die Folgen des derzeitigen Globalisierungsmodells zeigen sich in der Deindustrialisierung ganzer Regionen sowie in verfallener Infrastruktur, nicht funktionierenden sozialen Strukturen und in Spannungen, die durch unkontrollierte und nicht regulierte wirtschaftliche und soziale Vorgänge und Migrationsprozesse verursacht wurden. ... Das Konzept des freien Handels als Patentrezept für jedwedes Problem hat das der nachhaltigen Entwicklung, welches die Umwelt zugunsten der nachfolgenden Generationen schützen soll, verdrängt. ... Darüber hinaus ist es aber auch unerlässlich, die Grundlagen des sozioökonomischen Modells der modernen Gesellschaft zu überdenken, ich würde sogar sagen, bis hin zu der dahinterstehenden Philosophie. Dieses Modell hat sich als ziemlich primitiv erwiesen und basiert gänzlich auf Profit, Konsumverhalten und persönlicher Bereicherung.


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Mikhail Gorbachev,

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1985–2015. The Values of Perestroika in the Context of Today's Russia (im Cache)

Tatiana Vorozheikina, Vasily Zharkov, Andrey Zakharov, Andrey Kolesnikov, Alexei Levinson, Nikolay Petrov, Andrey Ryabov

The Gorbachev Foundation, 10 August 2015


Perestroika (1985–1991), the process of political reforms initiated in the second half of the 1980s in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, became a watershed event in the late 20th century, which changed the world and our country.

Perestroika was not transplanted from the "outside"; it ripened within Soviet society. The need for change was recognized by a significant part of the political elite, the intelligentsia and the more active citizens, tired of the stagnation and gerontocracy in the country’s political leadership. By 1985, different strata of Soviet society had not only come to an understanding that the country’s course of development had no prospects but had also become convinced that it had to be changed.


Reformers in the Soviet leadership encountered a gradually growing, hidden and open resistance from opponents to the new course. Reformers made mistakes and miscalculations but persisted in their efforts to revitalize the political and public life through glasnost and democratization, to build a rule-of-law-based state, overcome the Stalinist totalitarian legacy, end confrontation with the outside world and the Cold War, and reform the Soviet Union based on a new Union Treaty and through granting different statuses to republics within the Union State.


This policy was ideologically formalized in the concept of "new thinking", which combined a critical analysis of the state of society, the priority of human values and the ability to properly respond to the challenges of the time. "New thinking" was linked to the process of rethinking the values and purpose of government.


The realization of the fact that government was just a means to provide the environment and conditions for the sustainable development of society, not a sacred goal in and of itself, spurred internal political competition domestically and at the same time reduced the level of international confrontation.


In terms of the traditional geopolitical struggle for global leadership, the actions of the Soviet leadership, which consented to the unification of Germany, withdrew troops from the Eastern bloc countries and ceased to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, looked like surrender of the positions previously gained. But in terms of emphasizing universal human values over geopolitical and military victory at any cost, this policy was fundamentally new, really modern, realistic and rational. As a result, when Perestroika started, the danger of a global nuclear conflict was sharply reduced, freeing up colossal resources that could be used for economic, social and cultural development of the country. 


That approach was in contrast with the one observed today, when, as in the times of "High Communism", international relations once again become an arena of confrontation, with unpredictable implications. Today’s lack of "new thinking" leads to a new threat to humankind, multiplying political and economic risks. Therefore, in the sphere of international relations, the legacy of Perestroika needs rethinking and rebuilding.


Politically, Perestroika has been defeated, though its main victory was the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War, and the adoption of democratic values in a substantial part of the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Central and Eastern Europe.

Perestroika did not envisage a scenario of a collapsing Soviet Union. However, the resistance shown by anti-Perestroika forces culminated in the August 1991 coup, which disrupted the signing process for the new Union Treaty, fueled separatist sentiments of republican political elites, which sought full control over the economic assets of their respective regions, and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. 


Despite having laid the foundations of a modern market economy and the statehood of the Russian Federation, the reforms initiated in the 1990s, in post- Soviet Russia, did not lead to sustainable, long-term positive results and the country's shift to a modern, dynamic model of development:



However, Perestroika was not a "false start": the values it proclaimed should be retained, and those who argue that Russian society is not ready for democracy or even "rejects" a democratic path of development should be proved wrong.


Perestroika: An alternative to the state-centric model and chaos

For centuries, the authoritarian state, which was totalitarian in 1930s–1950s, had been the main driving force of Russian history. 


There are two important features that have played a decisive role in Russian political history. 


With this approach, the history of Russia has been and is still perceived by many just as a never-ending struggle to choose between two extremes: 


The Soviet system became the ultimate representation of the state-centric model. The internal erosion of the Soviet ideology and the imminent systemic crisis of the state showed that since at least the second half of the 1970s, the model had exhausted itself. Manageability of social development, which was critical to the success of the state-centric model, was becoming increasingly problematic. By the mid-1980s, this had become an important factor of stagnation and imminent crisis.


Although the war was part of the past, the Soviet government used continuity with the Victory in World War II as a source of own legitimacy and the solemn celebration of the Victory Day was meant to emphasize the absence of war in the present. Meanwhile, the demobilized country continued fighting, sending troops to Afghanistan and getting involved in military conflicts in other parts of the world. Starting from the late 1970s, year after year, the Afghan War had been eating away the resources of the country already weakened by the tragic events of the 20th century.



By the mid-80s, the Soviet economy had started to show a marked decline in the national income growth rate and, accordingly, in the rates of growth in living standards. In 1983, Member of the Russian Academy of Science Tatyana I. Zaslavskaya wrote that the system of state management of the economy in the USSR, which had taken shape fifty years earlier, "has never been subjected to a thorough re-design to reflect fundamental changes in the state of productive forces."


The Soviet foreign policy had run into a deadlock: the Soviet Union found it increasingly difficult to compete with the West to keep the "socialist camp" countries in its orbit of influence. The possession of nuclear weapons served as a deterrent against foes in international politics; however, continued military competition with the West was becoming increasingly difficult.

In the 20th century, Perestroika became the second major attempt (after the February Revolution of 1917) to take the country away from the trajectory of previous development and overcome its path dependence. The political changes implemented in 1985–1991 on the initiative and under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev – glasnost, and the country’s first free and contested election to the supreme governing bodies of the state, which broke the monopoly of the CPSU, – created conditions and prerequisites for the development of a law-based state and a break with the state-centric model.


Perestroika was aimed at overcoming the totalitarian past and releasing the transformative power of society by turning it into an independent actor in the process of historical change. In other words, Perestroika offered an alternative to both the state-centric tradition and chaos.


Overcoming path dependence

During the Perestroika years, there was little talk about path dependence or some "historical curse" affecting Russia. The transformations that were taking place were seen as a logical step towards modernization that had stalled in the preceding years of "stagnation" and now required "acceleration". From the perspective of Soviet history, Perestroika from the very start was placed alongside 


Thus, the entire previous experience of peaceful change in the Soviet Union was seen by the initiators of Perestroika as a foundation for a new but logical stage of accelerated development and improvement of the socialist social system.


At the same time, Perestroika was consonant with those periods in Russian history when society and the government had tried to jointly move towards freedom. The most obvious and common parallel with Perestroika in the Russian pre- revolutionary history are the Great Reforms of the mid-19th century, when serfdom was abolished in Russia, strong and independent courts were introduced, foundations for local self-government (zemstvo) were laid, and the word "glasnost" was for the first time introduced into the political lexicon.


Taking over the helm of the country 130 years later, Mikhail Gorbachev offered the generations of descendants of the Russian peasants granted personal freedom under Alexander II to essentially complete the process of emancipation by creating a modern democratic society. The problem, however, was that there had been no experience of non-authoritarian modernization in either Russian or Soviet history. The gap between the needs of historical development and the lack of social forces that could drive modernization led to the state, the government assuming the role of a change agent. This pattern, which is generally typical of all catch-up modernization efforts, is clearly seen in different periods of Russian history. It was characteristic of the liberal innovations of Alexander I in the early 19th century and the reforms of his grandson, Alexander II, the “Tsar Liberator”, which paved the way for Russia's transition to capitalism, and of Khrushchev's "thaw" of the late 1950s–early 1960s, which dealt the first blow to the political system built by Stalin.


The weakness of the social forces that had a stake in the successful outcome of reform inevitably lead to all attempts at systemic reform in Russia failing to take the reform through to logical completion. 


So every time when she started a transformation process, Russia did not have enough historical time. The pressure of the problems she had to address almost simultaneously in a historically short period of time eventually outweighed the impetus of reforms, predetermining the country's return to the traditional path of development. However, the unresolved issues and challenges of development, which grew significantly worse and bitter as the reforms unfolded, were eventually used by conservative forces to roll back the transformation process and switch to a policy of counter-reform.


Perestroika also started out as a "revolution from above." And in this sense, it is typologically not different from any previous attempts at systemic change. However, while the previous attempts to overcome the state-centric model of Russia’s development had proved unsuccessful due to the fact that the social groups embracing the values of freedom and self-realization were obviously not numerous, the urbanized, educated later period Soviet society was better placed to address the task. On the eve of Perestroika, Soviet society clearly showed huge demand for change. The paradox was that in their desire for change the Soviet people did not know how to implement it, or what needed to be done to do that, or what "price" they would have to pay for it.


The concept and the thrust of reforms make Perestroika similar to revolution. From the very outset, the architects of Perestroika linked it to the rethinking of the legacy of the October Revolution and works by Vladimir Lenin. Neither Gorbachev nor his closest associates questioned the idea of Socialism. Tellingly, the report Gorbachev made to mark the revolution’s anniversary in 1987 was titled "October and Perestroika: The revolution goes on."


Contrary to popular belief, Perestroika was not borne out of the struggle for power between two factions within the ruling Communist nomenklatura, which had a common goal of preserving the Soviet system but differed over the way to achieve it. According to this view, the conservatives tried to leave everything as it was, while the reformers sought to make the system more flexible through isolated changes. Perestroika’s initiators were guided by the desire to put the country onto a different path of development, rather than by the desire to hold on to power at any cost. Therefore, one of the most important achievements of Perestroika was the institutionalization of elections as a democratic value, a tool to form the government and change it through a free expression of the will by citizens.


At first, the idea of transformation met no resistance. In the public opinion of the time, the word "conservative", used to denote those rejecting and resisting Perestroika, developed a clearly negative connotation.


Historically, the first public opinion surveys conducted in the late 1980s [1] showed that support for Mikhail Gorbachev at times peaked at 80% +/- 5%. At the same time, the polls suggested that the policies of Perestroika and glasnost had the support of not the entire society, but rather mostly of its more dynamically important part that comprised people below 40 years, with higher or specialized secondary education and residing in major and biggest cities. The above socio- demographic characteristics were “axial”, which meant that not all people described by them were supporters of Perestroika. It also meant that other population groups were also among its supporters. It is known that the general support for Perestroika processes even among the "axis" groups was higher than in the north-western regions of the USSR and in Moscow, and lower in southern and eastern parts of the country. In the Baltic republics, the Leningrad Region, and the Moscow region, the number of Perestroika’s supporters was higher due to increased support from older generations, including pensioners, who were often even more active than young people.


[1] The All-Union Center for the Study of Public Opinion was launched with the support of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. Its founders and leaders included Tatyana Zaslavskaya, Boris Grushin, and later Yuri Levada. In 2004, the center’s research team had to leave the organisation, operating since then under the brand name of Levada Analytical Center (the Levada-Centre).


Thus, Perestroika encouraged vast groups of the population to get involved in the processes of social change. Due to the wide demand for change, it rapidly ceased to be just a "revolution from above." Perestroika period became an era of a great historical shift accompanied with a strong social activism, which implied an overhaul of society’s values. A new social order could not be sustained without the adoption of values such as rule-of-law, freedom of choice, personal responsibility, tolerance, guarantees of private property and entrepreneurial rights, without separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and free media. In effect, reception of the values of democracy, the rule of law and responsible (accountable) government started.


Perestroika became an attempt to answer the fundamental questions that had long being left unanswered in Soviet society – 


Launched as a process of liberalization from above, it triggered an array of trends for self-organization and autonomy of society as against the state.


Glasnost, which destroyed 


prompted society to start rapidly shedding its dilapidated "Soviet" shell. The interests, views, myths and phobias that had prevailed among society started to surface, expressed in increasingly organized forms. Informal movements of the second half of the 1980s were very diverse and emerged from below, from within society, overlapping and interacting, sometimes in quite bizarre ways, and showing ideological or political divisions at the top.


Also emerging was the public sphere, a space for public dialogue, which was gradually transforming into a space of nascent civil society. It was a breeding ground for a variety of civic initiatives – from environmental associations and self- government groups to associations in support of glasnost, and defence of human rights and dignity. This showed that society had retained its self-organization potential.


The generation of Soviet people to which Gorbachev and most intellectuals and managers belonged – the "children of the 20th Party Congress", "men and women of the 60s", the generation which showed support for and promoted the policy of Perestroika, felt continuity with those of its predecessors who, while recognizing the European nature of Russian culture, sought to make Russia a free, prosperous country. The mission and achievement of Gorbachev and the "generation of the 60s" was that in the late 1980s, Russia had embarked on the path of democratization. Whether she has eventually become free is not the question to be asked of those who opened up a historical alternative for her, but the one to be put to those who entered politics after them, the current government, Russian society and every citizen.


An unfinished revolution

Perestroika put forward the fundamental question of whether the Soviet system was reformable in the form it had developed over the years of Soviet power. 

derailed the process of gradual transformation of the Soviet system. Another factor with a decisive impact was the economic crisis, which resulted from both the shriveled resources base of the previous economic model and the inconsistent attempts at its reform, which were not seen through and were based on the outdated stereotypes of economic thinking. 


In his Memoirs, giving an account of the famous April (1985) Plenum of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev wrote: "Looking ahead even then to the development of the social programme for the XXVIIth Party Congress, we wondered whether it was possible simultaneously 

We concluded that this could be done if there was priority development of the production sphere. In other words, our thinking was still in thrall to conventional formulae."


Attempts to maintain stable prices and at the same time make producers more independent were inherently conflicting. And the inclusion of certain elements of new market relations in the old administrative economic system resulted in its unravelling starting from the late 1988, with its economic and financial components becoming unbalanced, and the external debt, the monetary overhang, and the open and latent inflation growing.


Thus, the path of gradual evolution towards liberalization was blocked for the Soviet economic system.


Perestroika remained an "unfinished revolution"; however, despite the political setback, it was Russia’s civilizational success, with a longer term prospect. Historical experience shows that in such cases, many of the things that emerged during the years of systemic change do not disappear completely but in one form or another are adopted in the next era. For example, independent courts and new representative institutions created during the Great Reforms of Alexander II, despite the restrictions of their powers and mandates under Alexander III, continued functioning during the period of counter-reform, setting the stage for future political changes in Russia in the early 20th century. For example, the first Russian revolution of 1905–1907, though defeated, gave rise to a parliamentary system in Russia. Similarly, the values borne out of Perestroika were sustained in the public consciousness and to some extent in the new Russia’s political system.


The value of "fair elections" retained its relevance, which should be recognized as an extremely important factor. The emphasis Mikhail Gorbachev and his political allies made on "real" elections of governing bodies and the head of state (as contrasted to “ritual”, uncontested elections, as was customary in the Soviet Union) got wide support of citizens. Since then, the practice of pre-election campaigns and elections has undergone a lot of “malignant” changes and distortions, which got reflected in public opinion. Up to a quarter of the population, started to invariably expect any upcoming election to be "dirty". But even this poll finding is indicative of the fact that Russian society still places value on "clean"/fair elections.


The policy of glasnost should be recognized as the most important outcome of Gorbachev's reforms. It involved, above all, transparency and openness as essential pre-requisites of the freedom of speech and the right to express an opinion different from the official or dominant views. In spite of everything, the public consciousness continued to recognize the legitimacy of opposition and the right of citizens to protest actions by the authorities. Secondly, glasnost meant revealing the truth about reprisals by the Soviet regime. Russian citizens still view it as glasnost’s important aspect, despite the growth in recent years in positive assessments of Joseph Stalin’s personality and activities.


A detailed analysis of how Russians perceive Perestroika in retrospect, from a historical distance, conducted by the Levada-Center in 2005, showed that 20 years on, the Russian public opinion considered glasnost, seen as an opportunity to speak out publicly, to be Perestroika’s main positive outcome. Freedom to travel abroad took second place. The findings of later polls suggest that this right has retained high importance in people's minds, particularly among young people.


The legacy we have given up

However, already in the 1990s, the continuity of values with the Perestroika period started to erode. 

increased the public’s demand for a return to the authoritarian state, which would drive the country into "order". Following the August 1998 default, a large part of society stopped believing in the ability of market forces to create an effective economy and a just social system. Society expressed its willingness to once again fully entrust its future to the state, the authorities – in exchange for a state policy that would guarantee socio-economic stabilization, and, at a later stage, income growth. This shift in public opinion allowed the new ruling strata to create a system that excluded broad democratic participation, while cementing the monopoly-based privileged position of the country’s new elites in political system and business. After the security services and the bureaucracy subdued oligarchs in the first half of the 2000s, the old dilapidated Soviet political institutions have got their "life after death". The reforms were ultimately wound down as the main focus was shifted to the task of maintaining stability, which meant that the new ruling stratum kept a “controlling stake” of the power and property. 


During the subsequent decade and a half, they were busy successfully taking advantage of the country’s natural resources and the state budget, which was formed mostly by revenues from exports of raw materials, rather than by taxes from citizens. Oil revenues enabled the government to pursue a policy of growth and prosperity and stabilize the political system based on state paternalism.

This course of events excluded large groups of the population from participation in transformations and led to the spread of social and political apathy in society.


The fact that reforms were wound down already during Vladimir Putin’s first presidential term, which was the main cause of the restoration that started, does not remove the question of why the urbanized and highly educated post-Soviet society so easily agreed with the negative assessment of Perestroika, its values and achievements.


Characteristically, attitudes towards Perestroika are consistently dependent above all on the generation a specific respondent belongs to. For example, 


A change in Russia's foreign policy is one of the more serious outcomes of the revision of Perestroika’s gains. As for the reflection of these changes in public opinion, the values of "new thinking" and the idea of joining the "European home" have undergone considerable revision 30 years on since the start of Perestroika. 


According to the Levada-Center, in February 2015, 


Although the later period Soviet society as a whole supported Perestroika, the "revolution of values" within society had just started. It was a difficult process for a longer term, and at the initial stage, it was directly dependent on the success of Perestroika policy. When Perestroika was disrupted in 1991, ushering in the post- Soviet period, the society traumatized by the collapse of the USSR entered it divided and largely disoriented. The subsequent events only deepened the division over values, as evidenced, among other things, by the Russian Federation’s new Constitution of 1993. It provided for monocentriс government, thus laying the groundwork for a possible shift to authoritarianism.


The anatomy of the shift

Perestroika took place under the slogan of bringing the country back into the fold to the world civilization, the development trends of which were set by developed countries of the West. 


According to the surveys conducted by the Levada-Center in 2013, the responses to the question, "Who do you think now was right in the days of the August coup" found that 


The 2000s saw a dramatic strengthening of the state bureaucracy’s positions, with this group becoming one of the biggest influences in modern Russian society. Rising oil prices and a recovery growth during the first decade of the 21st century enabled the government to accumulate huge profits and give up further attempts at social and economic reform of the country to pursue policies that provided for a marked increase in the population incomes – particularly as contrasted to the 1990s.


This resulted in the emergence of a conservative socio-political model, under which almost all main social and political forces were interested in maintaining the status quo. This model, which relied on high oil market prices for its stability, has entered into a crisis when the oil prices went down and the unfolding events in Ukraine have sharply worsened the relations between Russia and the West.


The ruling elites proved unable in the changed circumstances to propose a new strategy for the country’s development. At the same time, they focused on ensuring the inviolability of their monopoly on power and property by any means, including repression.



These changes also became possible because a large part of the population is still completely dependent on the state, fearing possible changes, the outcomes of which look uncertain to them. Therefore, they perceive the expanding state control

over society and the economy as a more reliable protection against impending problems.


There is no doubt that the persistence of these trends in the coming years will continue driving the drift toward statism and isolationism, which in the era of globalization would result in Russia chronically lagging behind. The logic of the processes that started will push the country in this direction, sometimes perhaps even contrary to the intentions of its leadership. In such circumstances, revisiting the values of Perestroika is not a historical journey but a search for a strategy that would restore to the country the democratic alternative it has lost.


Understanding Perestroika: Why is it important now?

Today, 30 years on since 1985, a significant part of society continues to share the values introduced during the Perestroika period. According to the surveys conducted by the Levada-Center already in 2015, 


Understanding the era of Perestroika and its lessons is critical for today's Russia and, most importantly, for formulating strategic objectives for the coming years and decades. The experience of Perestroika, its achievements, and its political failure prove that democracy is  


Any attempt to ignore the rules, institutions, and procedures that are based on democratic values would lead in the longer term to a profound destabilization of the system.


Modern society can only effectively exist and evolve only when a broad social consensus based on democratic values is reached. Any attempt to divide people into the right and wrong, “us and them”, the majority and renegades, leads not just to a split but in fact to a civil war. The alternative to it is a social system in which different groups/elites do not alternate in suppressing one another but maintain the balance, a political compromise. The attempts of Russian society to embark on this path have not so far been too successful.


Perestroika has also clearly revealed the extreme danger posed by radical nationalism and related ethnic conflicts. At the same time, it was Perestroika that opened up an opportunity for transition to a semi-presidential republic, the most suitable system for Russia, with its ethnic and cultural diversity of forms of political order.


The experience of Perestroika shows the need for open and free public discussion of the more pressing issues. The existence of areas closed to debate leads to distrust, and distrust breeds conflicts, which brew for the years but break out in a matter of days or even hours. It is time to understand that censorship and areas closed to debate can not protect us from problems, while the lack of timely information about the existence of a certain problem usually has very sad consequences. Therefore, the policy of glasnost remains to be one of the most important values of Perestroika and its relevant legacy.


One of Perestroika’s recognized achievements, the concept of "new thinking", proceeds from the premise that Russia should not wage wars against the outside world. She should treat countries both in the West and in the East only as partners, relations with whom are built on the principles of openness, good neighborliness, equality, respect for mutual interests, and cooperation. Russia should remain committed to peaceful settlement of any conflicts, non-use of nuclear weapons and general disarmament, and dialogue and trust between different countries and peoples within the frameworks of international institutions and based on international law.


Today, it is obvious that Perestroika should be seen as a crucial stage in the history of transformations of Russian society and the Russian state. In political terms, Perestroika’s agenda was not delivered, which was largely why Russia has entered the 21st century with the same range of problems she had had when the Perestroika cycle started back in the mid-1980s. It means that a new phase of profound democratic reforms is inevitable, prompted by the same problems that have triggered the renewal processes in the Perestroika period: 


Therefore, a number of political ideas put forward by Perestroika remain relevant from a practical perspective:


Today, the debate on Perestroika is taking on a new dimension: a discussion of the causes and consequences of what happened to us and our country evolves into a drive to explore the lessons of Perestroika, its achievements and failures in search for answers to the questions about a modern strategy for Russia and the country’s future. However, regardless of when a new phase of social transformations begins, the experience of Perestroika, its ideas and values will be inevitably revisited.


Version: 11.11.2015

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Jochen Gruber