On the death of Konstantin Chernenko in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev was elected by the Central Committee as General Secretary of the Communist Party. As party leader he immediately began forcing more conservative members of the Central Committee to resign. He replaced them with younger men who shared his vision of reform.
In 1985 Gorbachev introduced a major campaign against corruption and alcoholism. He also spoke about the need for Perestroika (Restructuring) and this heralded a series of liberalizing economic, political and cultural reforms which had the aim of making the Soviet economy more efficient.
Mikhail Gorbachev introduced policies with the intention of establishing a market economy by encouraging the private ownership of Soviet industry and agriculture. However, the Soviet authoritarian structures ensured these reforms were ineffective and there were shortages of goods available in shops.
In the spirit of Glasnost (Openness) Mikhail Gorbachev revealled to the world that in March 1940, Joseph Stalin had given the orders for the execution of 25,700 Polish soldiers in Soviet prison camps. He also admitted that two other mass graves had been found in the Katyn Forest area.
Gorbachev also announced changes to Soviet foreign policy. In 1987 he met with Ronald Reagan and signed the Immediate Nuclear Forces (INF) abolition treaty. He also made it clear he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe and in 1989 announced the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.
Aware that Mikhail Gorbachev would not send in Soviet tanks there were demonstrations against communist governments throughout Eastern Europe. Over the next few months the communists were ousted from power in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany.
Europe is indeed a common home where geography and history have closely interwoven the destinies of dozens of countries and nations. Of course, each of them has its own problem, and each wants to live its own life, to follow its own traditions. Therefore, developing the metaphor, one may say: the home is common, that is true, but each family has its own apartment, and there are different entrances too.
The concept of a 'common European home' suggests above all a degree of integrity, even if its states belong to different social systems and opposing military-political alliances.
One can mention a number of objective circumstances which create the need for a pan-European policy:
(1) Densely populated and highly urbanized, Europe bristles with weapons, both nuclear and conventional. It would not be enough to call it a 'powder keg' today.
(2) Even a conventional war, to say nothing of a nuclear one, would be disastrous for Europe today.
(3) Europe is one of the most industrialised regions of the world. Its industry and transport have developed to the point where their danger to the environment is close to being critical. This problem has crossed far beyond national borders, and is now being shared by all of Europe.
(4) Integrative processes are developing intensively in both parts of Europe. The requirements of economic development in both parts of Europe, as well as scientific and technological progress, prompt the search for some kind of mutually advantageous cooperation. What I mean is not some kind of 'European autarky', but better use of the aggregate potential of Europe for the benefit of its peoples, and in relations with the rest of the world.
(5) The two parts of Europe have a lot of their own problems of an East-West dimension, but they also have a common interest in solving the extremely acute North-South problem.
Our idea of a 'common European home' certainly does not involve shutting its doors to anybody. True, we would not like to see anyone kick in the doors of the European home and take the head of the table at somebody else's apartment. But then, that is the concern of the owner of the apartment. In the past, the Socialist countries responded positively to the participation of the United States and Canada in the Helsinki Process.
Perestroika - the process of change in our country - started from above. It could not have been otherwise in a totalitarian state. But past experience showed that if the spark of reform was not caught by the masses, it was doomed. We had to
awaken society from its lethargy and indifference as quickly as possible and involve the people in the process of change. I looked on this as a guarantee of the success ofperestroika and spoke about it at the April plenum; this was the
purpose of my trips through the country.