Following the death of Konstantin Chernenko (Andropov's successor) in 1985, Gorbachev was appointed general secretary of the party despite being the youngest member of the politburo. He embarked on a comprehensive program of political, economic, and social liberalization under the slogans of glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”). The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl (1986) forced Gorbachev to allow even greater freedom of expression. The government released political prisoners, allowed increased emigration, attacked corruption, and encouraged the critical reexamination of Soviet history.From What is Perestroika, by Kerry Kubelius: "Perestroika literally means 'reconstruction.' In this particular case, in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev, perestroika meant reconstruction of the economy, which was in dire straights right before its collapse."
In a series of summit talks (1985–88), Gorbachev improved relations with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, with whom he signed an Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) arms limitation treaty in 1987. By 1989 he had brought about the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (see Afghanistan War) and had sanctioned the end of the Communist monopoly on political power in Eastern Europe. For his contributions to reducing East-West tensions, he was awarded the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.
From The Significance of Gorbachev's Glasnost and Perestroika, by Chad Hagy:
The significance of Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika was to expose the decades of corruption in the political, economic and social control created by Marx, Lenin and Stalin. This, in turn, gave Russians much more freedom in their daily lives and in the economic dealings. It led to less censorship throughout the country and people were allowed to discuss politics like never before. Eventually, the significance of Gorbachev's plan would change the history of Russia and mold it into a freer capitalist society.While Gorbachev's reforms did in fact lead to the abolishment of state planning in favor of a largely unregulated capitalist system, that was never his intention. He remained a committed socialist throughout the crisis, but events outran his intentions, the rise of Yeltsin led to the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the avatars of "free market capitalism," led by our own Larry Summers, took over, with disastrous results -- for which Gorbachev was, in my opinion, unfairly blamed.
Despite the failure of his reform efforts, Gorbachev was clearly one of history's great political leaders, initiating sweeping, progressive, changes with a boldness and imagination that have rarely been equaled.
Gorbachev calls on Obama to carry out 'perestroika' in the U.S.
MOSCOW, November 7 (RIA Novosti) - Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said that the Obama administration in the United States needs far-reaching 'perestroika' reforms to overcome the financial crisis and restore balance in the world.Can Obama rise to the challenge with policies equally as bold and progressive as those of Gorbachev? All indications point to a crisis in the United States every bit as urgent, and in need of radical reform, as that faced by the former Soviet leader. The question is: does Obama have what it takes to develop a policy of reform every bit as thorough, sweeping -- and progressive -- as that achieved by his Russian counterpart?
The term perestroika, meaning restructuring, was used by Gorbachev in the late 1980s to describe a series of reforms that abolished state planning in the Soviet Union.
In an interview with Italy's La Stampa published on Friday, Gorbachev said President-elect Barack Obama needs to fundamentally change the misguided course followed by President George W. Bush over the past eight years. . .
"This is a man of our times, he is capable of restarting dialogue, all the more since the circumstances will allow him to get out of a dead-end situation. Barack Obama has not had a very long career, but it is hard to find faults, and he has led an election campaign winning over the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton herself. We can judge from this that this person is capable of engaging in dialogue and understanding current realities."