Oppression of the citizens of Russia began to come to an end when Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Empire, was put into power in the late 80s. He ended oppression with his policies of glasnost, openness, and perestroika, restructuring, and finally opened Russia up to the rest of the world.
The first part of perestroika that Gorbachev exercised was the reformation of the electoral system (White 31).
Previously all elections only had the number of candidates that there were seats for, meaning if there were 100 seats for new chairman there were 100 candidates (White 31-32).
Also, there was no privacy and much suspicion and spying while people voted and thus many people were intimidated to vote differently anyway. The new rules said that there could be an unlimited number of candidates for each position, and there were usually two or three candidates for each position thereafter. (White 34).
In the 1989 elections there were not-so-surprising results; most of the old, hard-style communist leaders of cities were ousted and replaced with younger representatives more into the Gorbachev ideology. The people were finally given their own choice in who would lead them through the difficult times of reform (Sproule 48).
Another, maybe even more important, reform was that of Russian law. Gorbachev was educated a lawyer, and told a newspaper in 1988 that perestroika was just as much a legal reform as a political one (White 42).
... their idleness by paying these people to sit around doing nothing. These people, if not for the welfare reform bill, would have spent ... four grandchildren and fifteen great-grandchildren. Rodriguez is sick of people criticizing her for being on public assistance. 'I'm sick ... welfare is not destroying our culture and creating a dependent people who have learned to abuse certain privileges that come with ...
There had previously not been concrete law, which led to much abuse by the government, and self-exemption of the rules. As the plan came into effect, those who did not listen, such as some of the KGB high officials who had previously abused their power quite often, were imprisoned for making up charges, minor counts of treason, and other charges (Naylor 65).
Gorbachev set up a system of a law council, a group of officials that only focuses on law and its reform, and a system of judges at each level, such as city, state, national, etc., that checked and balanced each other. Even the previously invisible KGB were forced to be more public and open with information, holding press conferences at colleges, etc. They even had a ‘Miss KGB’. The main target of the new law was to go after corrupt officials and organized crime rings, such as one in Uzbekistan that was fed by the proceeds of a cotton harvest, protected by high-level political contacts, and defended by hired assassins (White 43).
Glasnost was the other major half of Gorbachev’s political theories. Glasnost, literally translated, meant openness (White 77).
To Gorbachev, glasnost stopped well short of Western artistic and journalistic freedom (Church).
But to the Russians it meant more than that, and they carried it further than anyone had dreamed (White 77).
It meant it was time for the government to know what the people thought of it, and hear what the people had to say (Naylor 80).
Gorbachev is quoted as saying that the fear and the lies had to stop and people need to know what is good and what is bad (Sproule 40-41).
Russia had been in oppression for 70 years, but in the 1950’s, while in learning, Gorbachev saw Khrushchev’s secret speech denouncing Stalin at the 20th Communist Party Congress, which was a brief taste of freedom, but it was temporary. This gave Gorbachev a large part of his fire today (Church).
Half of glasnost was the freedom to criticize the government. You could say if you didn’t like the president, or what he was doing, or anything about him. Newspaper articles, comic books, pamphlets, and books could be written about new ideas and say things how they were (Sproule 49).
Speeches like Khrushchev’s no longer had to be done in secret (Naylor 82).
... is a Greek word meaning "rule by the people." The idea of a democratic government began in Greece in 700 B. C ... the United States representative democracy. The legislative branch, makes the laws for the country and creates agencies and programs. The judicial ... and crimes. The Judicial Branch of government both interprets and enforces the laws. It interprets the laws by holding court cases that find ...
A large incident that received a lot of attention and gave glasnost its first big push was the Chernobyl incident. A nuclear reactor at Chernobyl melted down and sent radioactive waves hundreds of miles, killing or making thousands of people sick (White 50).
The first news started in a small Baltic newspaper, saying something to the effect of the Government’s irresponsibility, and then newspapers all over the country were criticizing the government. People were picketing and protesting. Gorbachev just took it all in and told the people everything would be all right (Sproule 50).
He did this because he believed, since law school, that people should use the press to distribute and share information and ideas (Church).
Along with the freedom to criticize the government came the freedom of free thinking. This led to the release of many books which were previously taboo, such as Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, which called into question the roots of the Soviet system itself (White 127).
Gorbachev, to push his glasnost ideas, released many political prisoners that had been jailed simply because they disagreed with the government or thought too creatively. One example was in December of 1986 when he freed nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, who won a Nobel Prize for work on Human Rights and had been imprisoned because of it. In Mid-1987 150 more political prisoners were released, and this was just the beginning of wave after wave of political prisoners that would be freed (Sproule 43).
The complete extent of glasnost was more than just a few newspaper articles and books. Overall it was Gorbachev’s idea that people should know what is good, what is bad, and be able to talk about it and decide themselves (Sproule 40-41).
The effects of Gorbachev were more far-reaching than just Russia. By ending everything the oppression, he opened up Russia to the entire world, and let them finally know the truth. He re-wrote school history books in 1987 so they told the truth about previously glorified leaders that, in reality, were horrible, like Lenin and Stalin (Naylor 125).
It was Gorbachev that let Vladimir Dunyev do an informational TV program in 1986 that simply said McDonald’s was a very successful American food chain, and it had previously been looked upon as capitalists exploiting the teenage work force. It was Gorbachev that let Phil Donahue’s talk show air for a full week in Russia (Naylor 218).
... his book Medvedev makes an assumption that the Soviet government would not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and Gorbachev will be ... in style, knowledge and historical vision... Gorbachev represents a younger post-war political generation, a generation which started its ... being in shambles. The leaders admitted that Soviet people did not believe official statements and ideological dogma was ...
These are just a few of the things that happened because Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev used his political power to reform one of the most oppressed countries in history, and let the people finally think for themselves.
Sproule, Anna People Who Have Helped the World: Mikhail Gorbachev United Kingdom; Exley Publications, 1991
White, Stephen Gorbachev and After New York; Cambridge University Press, 1992
Naylor, Thomas H. Opening the Closed Society Lexington; Lexington Books 1987
Church, George J. “TIME Magazine 1987 Man of the Year: The Education of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev” TIME Magazine, 1988. (15 May 1999)