° Сcountless words will be dedicated in the coming days to Mikhail Gorbachevthe Soviet leader who died on August 30 at the age of 91. But his obituaries are likely to repeat two specific words: loudness and perestroika. These two transliterations of Russian words were synonymous with his campaign to reform Soviet society through policies, the latter being the title of his 1982 book. Perestroika: New thinking for our country and the world.
But what do they really mean?
Shortly after Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, he intensified talk of loudness—which means “openness,” especially openness of information—and perestroika, meaning “restructuring”, specifically of the communist economy and political system. The terms went hand in hand because together the reforms they described would make the Soviet Union more democratic and incorporate some features of capitalism to revive the economy.
More specifically, loudness should have been translated to a loosening of state media censorship — “‘Those who try to suppress the fresh voice, the fair voice, according to the old standards and attitudes, must get out of the way,'” as TIME reported Gorbachev as saying in July 1986. speech.
Perestroika was to become the incorporation of some features of a market economy into the Soviet economy, by loosening price controls, encouraging more entrepreneurship and limited private business, and by making it easier to buy imported consumer goods, as TIME explained to readers in 1989. “It is especially important that the actual pay of each worker be closely related to his personal contribution to the bottom line and not be capped,” he said in 1987. speech.
On July 27, 1987 AlibiTIME called the policy “Gorbachev’s revolution” and described the “cool dawn of reform” spreading through Soviet society: “Mikhail Gorbachev’s calls for loudness (openness), democratization (democratization) and perestroika (restructuring) became the watchwords of a bold attempt to modernize his country’s creaking economic machine and revive a society suffocated by 70 years of totalitarian rule.” As a footnote explains, “In current Soviet parlance, [glasnost]The meaning of is not so much openness as public broadcasting or public disclosure.”
The July 27, 1987, cover of TIME
The factors that went into the development of these policies were many.
For example, after 1986 Chernobyl disaster, Soviet news outlets produced what TIME Named “unprecedented candor” about nuclear power plant mismanagement. Even the newspaper True, “the official voice of the Communist Party,” like TIME put it on “abandoned the rosy prose” and pictures of happy workers “in favor of a heavy slap in the face of Soviet incompetence, confusion and cowardice” as it reported on employees who had left their posts after the accident and the dismissal of the plant’s director and chief engineer. This openness about what had gone wrong – a turn to truth rather than propaganda – was just one hint of the coming loudness.
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As for perestroikathat participating, as the magazine put it, “turning the Soviet Union into an economic superpower as well as a military one.” This means modernizing Soviet factories and creating business partnerships with the West. (For example Bloomingdale’s department store in New York started selling Soviet rye bread in 1989) TIME too reported that Gorbachev’s efforts to deal with high rates of alcoholism in the Soviet Union—by raising the drinking age from 18 to 21, reducing liquor store hours, and raising vodka prices—were “personality restructuring,” an attempt for the restructuring of persons.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (C) and his wife Raisa Gorbachev (2nd L) talk to workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on February 23, 1989.
V. Samokhotsky—AFP via Getty Images
Gorbachev himself presented a view of the effectiveness of policies in an interview with TIME around the 20th anniversary of these words entering the international lexicon. “Seventy-seven percent of Russians say they want to live in a free and democratic country,” he said. “This is the legacy of perestroika.” The idea of loudness also empowered the Russian LGBTQ community – which has been under threat for a long time anti-gay government policies – to speak more openly about sexuality.
But the change was not immediate or complete.
Some American firms were initially reluctant to work with Soviet companies, believing that their values were not yet aligned and that there was not enough profit anyway, given the ruble currency conversion problems. “Many Americans Think Aid to Strengthen Soviet Union Could Harm U.S. Interests,” TIME reported in 1988. “And because of Western security concerns, many U.S. commercial technologies will remain off-limits to ventures with the Soviets. . . . Imports of Soviet goods into the U.S. are impeded by a U.S. law that denies favorable trade status to certain countries practicing repressive immigration policies. Result: The Soviets turned to West Germany, Japan, and other industrial partners for investment capital and manufacturing expertise…Meanwhile, their Western partners, who primarily wanted to sell products and services to the Soviet Union, had to deal with the inconvertibility of the Soviet currency . No matter how profitable a Soviet joint venture might be, American companies have little use for rubles.
As a result, there were lack ranging from fresh fruit to clothing, but the policies were part of a movement that would change the Soviet Union—and the history of the 20th century—irrevocably.
The legendary poet of the Soviet Union Yevgeny Yevtushenko described how perestroika and loudness went hand-in-hand with TIME in 1987, and his insight probably still rings profound, more than three decades later: “One can describe loudness metaphorically as the air above and the national economy as the earth below. It is easier and faster to freshen the air than to turn and fertilize the soil, but purified air is necessary before healthy changes can be made to the soil. So it’s too early to talk about economic triumphs, and unlike the old days, no one is making messianic promises. We must wait for the earth to absorb the air and enrich ourselves.
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