The history of the Soviet Union is complicated and fascinating. In the course of only seventy
years this country has seen the development of the totally new system of state, economic growth, the
growth of hopes for the "brighter future", and then the sudden and expected by no one collapse of
the whole system leading to chaos, wars, and confusion. One period is especially important in order
to realize how did things finally started to change after the seventy years of blindly pursuing the
dream of communism which left the Soviet Union in a very bad economical and moral state, and this
period is called perestroika, Russian for restructuring. The main figure behind this process which
began in 1985 is Mikhail S. Gorbachev who became General Secretary of the Communist Party of
the Soviet Union Central Committee in March 1985. The three books that concentrate on the
"Gorbachev phenomenon" were all unfortunately written before perestroika was finished, so they do
not analyze the consequences that it had for the Soviet Union as well as for the whole world . On
the other hand, all three of these books do a good job in explaining the changes that took place in
the course of the first three years after Gorbachev came to power and why were these changes
necessary.
The first book "Gorbachev" was written by Zhores A. Medvedev in 1986 and hence the
author is concentrating on the first year of the new course in Soviet history. The book itself basically
consists of two parts: the first part where the author describes the "making of a General Secretary",
and the second part entitled "Gorbachev in power" which describes Gorbachev\'s first year in the
office. The first part of the book gives a lot of background information which allows the reader to
see the stages in development of the Soviet leader from childhood and youth to second-in-
command. One thing I found to be particularly interesting in Medvedev\'s description of Gorbachev\'s
youth and that is the theory that living with a Czech intellectual for five years changed the future
Soviet leader in such a way that he became more "westernized" which "indirectly provided the Soviet
Union with a new style leader". Medvedev says that during the time from 1950 to 1955 when young
Gorbachev attended the Moscow State University and had to share the room with a Czech student
Zdenek Mlynar he was "profoundly influenced" by the "culture and attitudes of a traditionally
Western nation". This influence lasted for years and the fact that Gorbachev has become
"westernized" in his appearance, manners, dress and the "image he projects of tolerance and cordial
behavior, all the small signs which mark him as different from the usual Komsomol and Party boss",
is according to Medvedev due to a great extent to the fact that Mlynar was Gorbachev\'s roommate
(Medvedev, 1986, p. 43).
Although the first part of the book is certainly interesting and important I would like to
concentrate on the second part of the book since it is directly deals with the subject that interests me
most, that is the years when Gorbachev was in power and the development of the new course in the
Soviet life called perestroika. From just reading the first paragraph it is obvious that the author
approves of the new leader. Medvedev writes: "For the first time in Soviet history, the leadership
succession has meant more than the arrival of a new leader and the possibility of the implementation
of the new policies. The Gorbachev succession marks the appearance of a new political generation
which differs from the old guard in style, knowledge and historical vision....Gorbachev represents a
younger post-war political generation, a generation which started its professional Party or state
career during the more liberal Krushchev era" (p. 165). Medvedev quotes some of the very
enthusiastic Western newspaper comments which called Gorbachev a "bright, incisive, brisk-
mannered man", with "high intelligence, considerable organizational abilities, political acumen".
According to the author no previous Soviet leader had received so much immediate publicity and
such an enthusiastic welcome from the general public. "Gorbachev\'s popularity was closely linked to
his energetic, charismatic, competent and obviously intelligent personality", says Medvedev which
led to this immediate acceptance of Gorbachev as leader (p. 183). Inspite the fact that Gorbachev\'s
new style was popular, some of his methods found less favor. A lot of his actions were purely
administrative, imposed from above without any discussion and seemed coercive and disciplinarian
to some people, especially to intellectuals who expected liberalism. Medvedev