On June 5, 1991, the President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, as the winner of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, delivered a speech in Oslo, Norway.
This occasion marked the high point of his presidential career, as he became a world renowned personality in whose time in power the de facto break-up of the Soviet Union occurred.
Gorbachev, the first and only president of the Soviet Union, was also hugely admired in the West for his political and economic reforms in the Soviet Union known as "perestroika" (restructuring). In his speech, he clearly explained his political conviction and strongly defended Perestroika by saying, "Perestroika, which is returning our people to common sense once again, has enabled us to open up to the world, and has restored a normal relationship between the internal development of the country and its foreign policy. ...We thus embarked on a path of major changes, which may turn out to be the most significant in the 20th century - significant for our own country and for its peoples, but also for the entire world."
The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Gorbachev the widely acclaimed prize "for his leading role in the peace process, which today characterizes important parts of the international community". He was praised for his contribution to easing tensions between the Soviet Union and the West, thus ending the Cold War. Gorbachev was able to do this by extensively traveling throughout the West and establishing close contact with other world leaders, like US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The Soviet Union no longer lived behind the Iron Curtain, and the Russian people were no longer seen as the enemy.
Other important aspects that earned him the Nobel Prize were the numerous initiatives Gorbachev took in order to stop and reverse the nuclear arms race of the 1980s, when the two superpowers had accumulated vast arsenals of nuclear arms and war seemed a constant threat which made the world a dangerous place to live in. He also underlined this success in his emotional speech: "The Cold War is over. The risk of a global nuclear war has practically disappeared. The Iron Curtain is gone. Germany has reunified, which is a momentous milestone in the history of Europe... 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."
Gorbachev was successful in restructuring the Soviet Union and taking on the democratization of the Soviet regime without the outbreak of civil war. He understood the difficulty of this major task, saying, "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 of the country's problems have been finally resolved through 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."
Although he was praised for this in the West, he was unpopular at home for his domestic policies, which led to economic chaos. Vitaly Tretyakov, editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, wrote in an article the day after Gorbachev had delivered his lecture, that "since, as it has apparently turned out over six years of more or less unsuccessful reform, there is not much hope to be placed on the Soviet people, Gorbachev now prefers to rely on Westerners, and especially their leaders." By this time, his program had caused a severe crisis, with declines in production and growing inflation, and an extraordinary rise in organized crime. By October 1991, nearly all of the Soviet republics had declared their independence from the USSR. Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president in December, of that year and the USSR ceased to exist.