On October 15, 1990, the President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mikhail Gorbachev took power as the leader of the Soviet Union in March 1985 when he was appointed the General Secretary of the Communist Party. Trained as a lawyer, the 54-year-old Gorbachev had made his career in party administration, moving from his home region in southwestern Russia to the central apparatus in Moscow in 1978. His relative youth and candor gave him the edge over other candidates in 1985, and he proved to be the most resolute reformer ever seen in the Soviet system and eventually the architect of its destruction.
Gorbachev immediately initiated the process of democratization on his accession, bringing in political and economic changes that later became known as “Perestroika”. In the end, however, perestroika brought an end to the totalitarian regime in the USSR. In 1990 Gorbachev pushed through legislation that eliminated the Communist Party's monopoly on power and established the Congress of People's Deputies as the first ever Soviet parliament to be elected on alternative basis at free democratic elections.
The Congress of People's Deputies elected Gorbachev as the new president of the Soviet Union on March 15, 1990. The driving force behind perestroika became “glasnost” (transparency) and “otkrytost” (openness). Gorbachev began building a system based on the principles of freedom, democracy and a socially-oriented market economy. In foreign affairs, Gorbachev embarked on leading an active political reduction of tension with the West on the principle of “new thinking”, becoming one of the key figures in world politics. Gorbachev took numerous initiatives in order to stop and reverse the nuclear arms race of the 1980s.
A radical turning point took place between 1985 and 1991 in the relations between the West and USSR. The Soviet Union went from being viewed as “the Evil Empire” to being a partner. In recognition of immense work in favor of world peace spearheaded by Gorbachev as an eminent reformer, and a world renowned politician, the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize.
The announcement made by the Nobel Committee on this day in 1990 said: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize to Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union, for his leading role in the peace process which today characterizes important parts of the international community. During the last few years, dramatic changes have taken place in the relationship between East and West. Confrontation has been replaced by negotiations…These historic changes spring from several factors, but in 1990 the Nobel Committee wants to honor Mikhail Gorbachev for his many and decisive contributions. The greater openness he has brought about in Soviet society has also helped promote international trust. In the opinion of the Committee, this peace process, which Gorbachev has contributed so significantly to, opens up new possibilities for the world community to solve its pressing problems across ideological, religious, historical and cultural dividing lines.”
His high profile abroad however was a complete contrast with the situation within the Soviet Union. Gorbachev's domestic policies crippled his country with a serious economic crisis, with declines in production, 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.