Cover image for Conversations with Gorbachev : on perestroika, the Prague Spring, and the crossroads of socialism
Conversations with Gorbachev : on perestroika, the Prague Spring, and the crossroads of socialism
Gorbachev, Mikhail Sergeevich, 1931-
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xxv, 225 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Reading Level:
1330 Lexile.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DK290.3.G67 A5 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Mikhail Gorbachev and Zdenek Mlynar were friends for half a century, since they first crossed paths as students in 1950. Although one was a Russian and the other a Czech, they were both ardent supporters of communism and socialism. One took part in laying the groundwork for and carrying out the Prague spring; the other opened a new political era in Soviet world politics.

In 1993 they decided that their conversations might be of interest to others and so they began to tape-record them. This book is the product of that "thinking out loud" process. It is an absorbing record of two friends trying to explain to one another their views on the problems and events that determined their destinies. From reminiscences of their starry-eyed university days to reflections on the use of force to "save socialism" to contemplation of the end of the cold war, here is a far more candid picture of Gorbachev than we have ever seen before.

Author Notes

Born into a peasant family in the Stavropol region of southern Russia, Gorbachev witnessed the destruction of parts of his homeland by Germans in World War II. In 1952, he entered Moscow University, where he studied law and joined the Communist party. After graduating, he returned to Stavropol to work as an agricultural specialist. At the same time, he began to rise steadily in the Communist hierarchy, becoming party leader of the Stavropol region in 1970, a member of the Central Committee in 1971, a full member of the Central Communist party committee, the Politburo, in 1980, and in 1982, the right-hand man of Soviet leader and Communist party secretary Yuri Andropiv. In 1985, Gorbachev became Soviet leader and general secretary of the Communist party. His coming to power marked a historic moment in the history of the Soviet Union. No other Soviet leader had displayed the charisma, charm, sophistication, and confident personality that is Gorbachev's.

Since coming to power, Gorbachev, through his programs of "glasnost" and "perestroika", has led the reorganization of the Soviet Union's political and economic structure has allowed greater freedom and openness in the Soviet society. As part of the Soviet Union's political restructuring, Gorbachev assumed the new position of president in 1989. In 1990, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in foreign affairs - withdrawing Soviet forces from Afganistan, permitting political reforms in Eastern Europe, and easing tensions with the United States. In 1991, after a failed coup against him, he abolished the Communist party and resigned as its head. He then freed the Baltic states, after which he set up a power-sharing agreement with the remaining republics. Due in part to his efforts, the cold war was effectively ended and prospects for peace between the world's superpowers seemed greater than any time during the past 50 years.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This is an extraordinary transcription (and translation) of three blunt and probing conversations during the early 1990s between two old friends--former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and Zdenek Mlynar, one of the theoreticians and leaders of the Prague Spring. They befriended one another as students in Moscow in the early 1950s, but they neither saw nor spoke to one another for 22 years following the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. When Gorbachev assumed power, Mlynar wrote articles extolling his friend and expressing his belief in Gorbachev's positive qualities and his being the man who could bring about reform. The topics of the conversations are exactly what the book's subtitle says, though at times Mlynar, who died in 1997, uses the forum to push Gorbachev into explaining his strategy vis-a-vis the historical outcome. The two also discuss their personal paths toward and away from communism. The most interesting of their discussions, however, centers on their views of socialism: how it differed from Soviet communism; why it is compatible with democracy; and the direction(s) it may take in the future. --Frank Caso

Publisher's Weekly Review

Only a little more than 10 years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev was the one of the world's two most pivotal leaders. Now, more often than not, he appears to be a historical relic. This volume, which features an extended, dry conversation between Gorbachev and former Czech dissident Mlynar, does nothing to dispel the perception that events have passed Gorbachev by. The two cover the similarities in their biographies: the attraction of socialist ideas when they were both young, their rise to power in their respective Communist parties. But it's the differences in their lives that are most striking. After the Prague Spring of 1968, Mlynar became a dissident, first leaving his post in the Communist Party, then fleeing to the West. Gorbachev, on the other hand, remained a Soviet apparatchik, rising to become party secretary and then the Soviet president in 1990. As they reminisce, Mlynar presses his longtime friend to explore other possibilities: that he could have taken a more critical stance within the Soviet Union before he began to try to reform it, that he might have taken steps to prevent the U.S.S.R.'s dissolution, which occurred on his watch. Despite Mlynar's pressing, Gorbachev is unwilling to probe behind his well-known views on this the U.S.S.R.'s collapse occurred, Gorbachev contends, because of the vindictiveness of the reactionary forces and the excessive revolutionism of the radicals or on other issues, leaving this book with little new or surprising to offer. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Gorbachev and Mlynaer (d. 1997) had been friends since their university years in Moscow at the end of the Stalin period, 50 years ago. Mlynaer was a leader of the Prague Spring movement in 1968, helped to draft Charter 77, and went into exile in 1977, while Gorbachev rose through the ranks of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and led the reforms of the late 1980s. In 1993-94, the two friends tape-recorded these three conversations, in which they reflect on their careers, recalling how they felt at critical junctures and what they hoped to accomplish. Conversations cover their formative years at university and in early positions, their respective reform efforts, and Russia's place in the community of nations. Both men are well read in the classic writers of socialism and retain an allegiance to their fundamental tenets. This record will be useful to future historians in evaluating the late Soviet period and the end of the Soviet Union; at present, its interest will be limited mainly to specialists. Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction By Archie Brownp. vii
Translator's Notep. xxv
Conversations with Gorbachevp. 0
Author's Prefacep. 1
Conversation One: The Criss-Crossing of Our Pathsp. 11
1 Student Communistsp. 13
2 New Hopes and New Disappointmentsp. 28
3 Twenty Years, Divergent Pathsp. 39
Conversation Two: How We Sought to Reinvigorate Socialismp. 55
1 The Prague Spring and Its Defeatp. 57
2 More Democracy, More Socialismp. 66
3 Freedom of Choice Either Exists or It Doesn'tp. 75
4 An Airplane Took Off, Not Knowing Where It Would Landp. 91
5 What to Do with the Party?p. 102
6 Can the Use of Force "save Socialism"?p. 127
Conversation Three: There's Only One Worldp. 135
1 Breaking out of the Dead End of the Cold Warp. 137
2 Socialism is Alive as a World Processp. 146
3 At a Crossroads of Civilizationp. 172
Concluding Thoughts: The Conscience of the Reformerp. 195
Indexp. 215