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Thursday, 10 March, 2005, 23:24 GMT
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The Gorbachev years
Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Soviet leader.
With the help of the influential Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko the 54yearold Mikhail Gorbachev is elected general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union CPSU.
Acceleration and antialcohol campaign announced
At a plenary meeting of the CPSUs Central Committee Gorbachev speaks about the need to accelerate the economy and revamp Iperestroit I state institutions coining the famous word that will be used to describe his policies. However Iuskoreniye I acceleration remains the key term in the partys propaganda. Simultaneously Gorbachev embarks on the mishandled and unpopular antialcohol campaign.
Glasnost policy kicks off.
After Gorbachev's ally Aleksandr Yakovlev is put in charge of the Soviet press a flow of publications appears cautiously exposing Stalins crimes and other grim pages of Soviet history. People flock to cinemas to watch Tengiz Abuladzes film quotRedemptionquot. It is allegorical but the reference to Stalins repressions is clear to everyone. The new policy encouraging more freedom of speech becomes known as Iglasnost I openness.
Gorbachev meets Reagan.
Gorbachev meets US President Ronald Reagan in Geneva. This summit heralds the beginning of a major thaw in relations between the two superpowers.
Perestroika really begins.
At the 27th Party Congress Gorbachev delivers a speech in which he outlines plans for economic renewal with the emphasis on greater independence for enterprises and limited private initiative. By June of the same year this policy is widely referred to as Iperestroika I.
New relations with the West.
At the Congress Gorbachev also announces a Soviet initiative to destroy all nuclear weapons in the world by 1990. In the spirit of his new thinking he holds four more meetings with President Reagan which lead to the signing of major treaties on nuclear weapons reduction and essentially the end the Cold War.
An accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine leads to the radioactive contamination of vast areas of the country and other parts of Europe. It is the world's worst nuclear disaster and is initially covered up by the Soviet authorities. This helps to fuel the emergence of a nationalist movement in Ukraine.
Academician Sakharov set free.
The government allows the leading Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov to return from exile in Gorky to Moscow.
Political system starts changing.
After a Central Committee plenary meeting the concept of Iuskoreniye I is completely replaced with that of Iperestroika I. Gorbachev coins the term democratisation and talks about the need for real democratic elections to party and state bodies. He also starts getting rid of the Brezhnevera old guard in the Central Committee.
Economic reforms announced.
Another plenary meeting opens the way for cautious economic reform legitimising small business in the form of cooperatives. Gorbachev ponders a Chinesestyle economic reform but never finds the courage to launch it. Deficits of food clothes and nearly everything else get gradually worse throughout the years of perestroika.
Stalin exposed Yeltsin sacked.
At an October plenary meeting Gorbachev for the first time speaks openly about the criminal nature of Stalins regime but suddenly comes under attack from the leader of the Moscow party organisation Boris Yeltsin who urges more radical reforms. A furious Gorbachev sacks Yeltsin sparking a bitter rivalry between the two politicians.
The leaders of Azerbaijans predominantly Armenianpopulated NagornoKarabakh autonomous region officially request to separate from Azerbaijan and join Armenia. The resulting tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan lead to fullscale military conflict in the 1990s. This is just the first of several such problems to beset the Soviet Union in its final years.
The old guard lifts its head.
The Sovetskaya Rossiya newspaper publishes an article in a form of a letter by an unknown teacher Nina Andreyeva who glorifies Stalin and urges the party not to sacrifice principles. This signals a split in Gorbachevs entourage some former allies such as Yegor Ligachev say he went too far in democratising society. He also comes under increasing criticism from the other side for avoiding bold decisions.
Soviets pull out troops from Afghanistan.
After Pakistan and the proMoscow regime in Kabul agree a peace settlement in Geneva the USSR starts withdrawing troops from Afghanistan ending a decadelong occupation.
Political debate becomes public.
Soviet people watch in disbelief the televised and heated discussions at the Partys 19th conference. This adopts a plan to conduct the country's first relatively free elections and officially adopts the policy of glasnost.
First Soviet McDonalds opens.
A McDonald's outlet the worlds biggest at the time opens on Pushkin square in Moscow. Thousands queue to try American fast food.
Parliamentary opposition appears.
Elections to the Soviet Peoples Congress are held. For the first time in decades voters choose from a list of competing candidates. Both Yeltsin and Sakharov get elected and become leaders of a new parliamentary opposition. Baltic republics vote for proindependence politicians. In December Sakharov dies of heart attack leaving Yeltsin the democrats' most prominent leader.
Protesters massacred in Tbilisi.
Troops clamp down on a peaceful demonstration in the Georgian capital Tbilisi killing about 20 people.
People take to the streets.
The democratic opposition holds its first mass rally at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. Mass rallies also take place in other major Russian cities and Soviet republics. The protests fuelled by the increasing shortage of even basic foods increasingly focus on Gorbachev's indecision and his reluctance to sack hardliners in his entourage. Grobachev is increasingly seen not as an engine of change but as an obstacle.
Baltic republics demand independence.
On the 50th anniversary of the MolotovRibentropp pact residents of Estonia Latvia and Lithaunia form a living chain stretching across all three countries demanding an end to Soviet occupation. The Baltic quotvelvet revolutionquot is now in full swing with proindependence politicians gradually taking over all branches of power. In March 1990 Lithuania officially proclaims independence.
Gorbachev breaks the Wall.
Gorbachevs visit to East Germany precipitates mass protests which after only two months lead to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall as well as the Communist regime in the DDR.
Cold War ends its official.
At the Malta summit with US President George Bush Sr Gorbachev says the USA is no longer a military adversary of the USSR.
People massacred in Baku.
Following pogroms of ethnic Armenians Soviet troops enter Baku killing dozens of people in a heavyhanded clampdown. In the Transcaucasus republics Azerbaijan Georgia and Armenia more and more people embrace the idea of independence.
Warsaw Pact dies.
The USSR and its former satellites in Eastern Europe agree to disband the military structures of the Warsaw Pact the organisation which for decades opposed Nato in the Cold War.
Yeltsin becomes Russian leader.
The newlyelected Supreme Council of the Russian Federation convenes proclaims Russias sovereignty and elects Boris Yeltsin its chairman. Exactly a year later Yeltsin is elected president of the Russian Federation one of the 15 republics of the USSR in the first national leadership elections in Russia's entire history.
Vilnius and Riga events.
Hardliners attempt to topple proindependence governments in Lithuania and Latvia but their plans are foiled by the active resistance of ordinary people. In Moscow thousands of people pour onto the streets to show solidarity with the Baltic countries.
Workers join democratic movement.
Thousands of miners across the country are on strike demanding higher wages and better working conditions. Their demands become increasingly political and strikes are largely coordinated with the Yeltsinled democrats. Gorbachev's position is seriously weakened.
Gorbachev tries to save the USSR.
Gorbachev holds talks with leaders of Soviet republics in a lastditch attempt to save the USSR. The talks focus on a new Union treaty that would give more autonomy to the republics. Yeltsin and his fellow republican leaders appear unenthusiastic while five out of 15 republics simply do not attend the talks.
Hardliners attempt coup detat.
A group of hardliners attempts a military coup. Hundreds of tanks enter Moscow while Gorbachev is put under house arrest at his seaside villa in the Crimea. Yeltsin who leads the resistance rallies thousands of Muscovites to defend the Russian parliament. Three people are killed in an apparent attempt to storm it but troops are clearly unwilling to shoot at civilians. When most combatready units start switching sides it is all over. Yeltsin becomes the people's hero.
Collapse of the Soviet Union.
Following the coup Gorbachev appears a shadow of his former self completely sidelined by Yeltsin. In December the leaders of Byelorussia now Belarus Russia and Ukraine agree to dismantle the USSR at a meeting held in a Byelorussian national park. Gorbachev resigns from the post of the Soviet President. A new era begins.
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