“Mr. Gorbachev Tear Down This Wall”
On June 12th of 1987 Ronald Reagan delivered his now famous speech in front of a large West German crowd near the Berlin wall. Officially, President Reagan was commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin. In reality, his speech harshly mocked the increasingly contradictory nature of the Soviet Union during the 1980’s. Soviet policies under Gorbachev had gradually allowed for increasingly liberal attitudes to take root within Soviet Society. Reagan seized upon these reforms and portrayed them as self-realizations by the Politburo itself that their own system of government was doomed to fail.
Known as “Perestroika” and “Glasnost”, these policies probably contributed way more to the demise of the USSR than any piece of western propaganda or any of Reagan’s speeches. Perestroika basically opened the door to Western ideas of entrepreneurship and market-based economics to a Soviet populace that was eager for a change. During the mid and late 1980’s, perestroika allowed for certain institutions to determine their own production levels based upon consumer demand rather than the traditional system of centralized command of the economy. Individuals were also granted new rights and economic freedoms that would have been considered sacrilegious under Stalin’s regime. Specifically, the 1988 Law on Cooperatives allowed for the combination of personal enterprises with state enterprises, or so-called co-opts. This new system allowed for individuals to produce goods beyond those mandated by the state and allowed the person to keep the profits, legally.
While perestroika allowed for an increasingly liberal economy, Glasnost began chipping away at the monopoly of tyrannical censorship practiced by the Politburo. Russian media also increasingly distanced itself from the Politburo during this time. For the first time, Russians saw many of the more negative aspects of the Soviet Union that had long been censored. Russia’s satellite nations utilized Glasnost to stoke their own unique brands of nationalism, which further weakened the clout and legitimacy of the USSR.
Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president following the USSR collapse, embraced these new-found notions of nationalism and sought to promote similar nationalism among Russians. Aside from Gorbachev, Yeltsin served perhaps the most monumental role in the dissolution of the USSR. He famously challenged the August Coup by climbing atop a tank in Moscow to deliver a speech in open defiance of the coup.
Despite the mainstream media’s tendency to claim the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, powerful though it was, as the culprit behind the Soviet Union’s collapse; it was in fact the Soviets themselves who contributed to their own dissolution through embracing perestroika and glasnost.