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If you like Mikhail Gorbachev's story, you might also like:
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Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Mikhail Gorbachev in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Democratic Process

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Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
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Mikhail Gorbachev Interview

Nobel Prize for Peace

October 28, 2000
London, England

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  Mikhail Gorbachev

May we begin by asking you to remember what it was like growing up in a Russian village, in the countryside in the 1930s?

Mikhail Gorbachev: What I remember is a prewar village, and the life of the peasants, since I myself come from peasant stock. It was a very poor village, the housing was very poor, and so were our clothes, and there was a great deal of work, and even more anxiety. So this was a very serious life experience for children. And then of course there was the war. We lived on the German-occupied territory. That too is part of my memory. The front passed through our village, and then was pulled back, and then moved forward again, and this was all happening right in front of our eyes, the eyes of the children. Thus, you see, I belong to the so-called "children of the war" generation. The war left a heavy mark on us, a painful mark. This is permanent, and this is what determined a lot of things in my life.

Because of growing up in a peasant family, and my experience of life and the war -- which I saw myself, all this blood and destruction, horrible destruction -- all this had great significance. This was all when I was a child, and yet that whole period is as clear as if it happened yesterday. I have forgotten a great deal of what happened in my life, but all that hasn't left me. At that time, I began to feel the desire for something more; I wanted to do something to make things better. This was unconscious; it was just something that was brewing inside of me, without my really being aware of it. So, when my father said, "If you want, why don't you go and try to get an education. If not, you can go on working the land with me." And I said, "I want to try." I ended up at the university, and this was a completely different world, the start of a whole new life. The university was like a door opening up on the whole world. For a young man thirsting for knowledge -- coming from the sticks, from the back of beyond, coming to the capital, to Moscow, to the university -- it was cataclysmic.

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Mikhail Gorbachev Interview Photo
You worked your way through the ranks of the Young Communists League, the Komsomol. What led you in that direction?

Mikhail Gorbachev: I guess that by nature I am one of those people whom nature has given what they call leadership qualities. This perhaps is too strong a word -- leadership qualities. What I mean is that among my peers I was always the one who took charge. I liked being the boss, but the main thing was my friends trusted me, and that's why I say that most likely such qualities were innate in me. I always wanted to do something, accomplish something, or take the initiative. In school they kept choosing me to be the leader. I joined the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) while the war was still going on. That was really where it all started. Yet of course...

There were many such people with initiative in the Soviet Union, very many, and they wanted to find ways for self-actualization. There was the Party, there was Komsomol, and naturally, since the Party was actually the only party available, everyone joined it. There was only one Party, everyone joined the same party. Also, I must confess, I remember that at the time the Party's slogans appealed to me, they made quite an impression on me. It was very seductive, very attractive, and I took it all on faith. A lot of time still had to pass before I began to understand what the purpose and nature of the Party slogans really were, and what real life was, and what the Party meant for the country. And that the Party, which I had joined, itself badly needed to be reformed and reoriented toward democracy. And through this, the country could begin to gain some freedom. That came later, but it all started with the desire to do something and show initiative. That was what led many good people to join the Komsomol and the Party.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

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