Russian History
 

Russia

Glasnost

As perestroika was failing, the two policies designed to promote it, glasnost and demokratizatsiya , were moving out of control. To mobilize the populace in support of perestroika , Gorbachev and his aide Aleksandr Yakovlev introduced glasnost , a policy of liberalized information flow aimed at publicizing the corruption and inefficiency of Brezhnev's policies and colleagues--qualities that the Russian public long had recognized and accepted in its leadership but that had never been acknowledged by the Kremlin. Like perestroika , this policy had unintended results. Gorbachev had meant to shape the new information emanating from his government in a way that would encourage political participation in support of his economic and social programs. Instead, the process of calling into question the whole Stalinist system inevitably led to questions about the wisdom of Lenin, the man who had allowed Stalin to rise in the first place. Because Lenin was the undisputed founder of the Soviet Union, the process then moved even farther as open questioning signified that somehow the Soviet Union, supposedly immune to such doubts, had lost its raison d'Ítre.

The official announcement of glasnost , scheduled for mid-1986, was overtaken by an event that lent new meaning to the term. In April 1986, a reactor explosion at the Chernobyl' Nuclear Power Station, located in northern Ukraine, covered Belorussia, the Baltics, parts of Russia, and Scandinavia with a cloud of radioactive dust (see table 3, Appendix). The efforts to contain the accident and its attendant publicity were handled with exceptional ineptitude, setting glasnost back by six months as official news sources scrambled to control the flow of information to the public.

Despite the clumsy reaction of the Soviet government to the Chernobyl' episode, Gorbachev turned the accident in his favor by citing it as an example of the need for economic perestroika . Taking their cue from Gorbachev, throughout the Soviet Union the news media reported numerous examples of mismanagement of resources, waste, ecological damage, and the effects of this damage on public health. In the Soviet republics, these revelations had the unintended effect of accelerating the formation of popular fronts pushing for autonomy or independence.

The officially controlled phase of glasnost began the examination of "blank pages" in Soviet history. Literary journals filled up with long-suppressed works by writers such as Anna Akhmatova, Joseph Brodsky, Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak, and Andrey Platonov. Newspapers and magazines carried stories of Stalin-era acts of repression, concentration camps, and mass graves. The works of Marxist theoretician Nikolay Bukharin, shot in 1938 for alleged rightist deviation, appeared. By revealing communist party crimes against the Soviet peoples, and the peasants in particular, glasnost further undermined Soviet federalism and contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union.