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   July 19
 Survival Guide
From Thaw to Perestroika (1950-90s)
Thaw and Stagnation (1950-80s)

Stalin's successor was Nikita Khrushchev. Once loyal to Stalin, he suddenly transformed into comparatively liberal Soviet governor. At the 20th Party Congress he denounced Stalin's crimes; as a result thousands of political prisoners were released and rehabilitated, forbidden books were published and many Stalin's crimes were revealed. Artists, poets, writers could breathe rather freely and many very interesting works in every art were created. This period is known as "the Thaw".

In the mean-time, the Soviets continued to be rather aggressive in their foreign affairs. In 1956 Soviet tanks invaded Hungary and in 1962 the world was one millimetre away from the nuclear war after Khrushchev's decision to base nuclear missiles on Cuba. Right after the World War II the Soviet Union and the USA started an arms race (Cold War), each trying to prove its position as the leading state. Under Khrushchev the Soviets made fantastic progress in space industry and in 1961 won the race sending the first man to space. The name of the Soviet hero was Yury Gagarin.

Khrushchev's Thaw was followed by a period of stagnation and political marasmus when Leonid Brezhnev came to power bringing bureaucracy and corruption. After his death the Politburo (the ruling top of the Communist Party) had no intention of letting a younger generation in, so Brezhnev was succeeded by a 68-year-old Andropov and a 72-year-old Chernenko. People joked that it was a period of the "Swan lake" ballet because it was shown on TV all day long when another General Secretary would leave this sinful planet forever.

Glasnost and Perestroika (1980-90s)

Mikhail Gorbachev was the man to change the situation. He became General Secretary in 1985 and announced his policies of Perestroika (restructuring) and Glasnost (openness). Gorbachev was a dynamic leader, full of new ideas and willingness to revitalize economics and make the Soviet Union more liberate. He was also the first Soviet politician to be welcomed abroad.

Gorbachev's reforms made an immense impact on the system. For the first time during the Soviet period the elections to the Congress of People's Deputies were not a complete profanation and contained an element of a true choice. In March 1990 the First Congress of National Deputies of the USSR declared a transition to the presidential system of governing and elected Mikhail Gorbachev as first President of the Soviet Union. The first and the last.

In 1990, the Soviet Union was about to collapse. Soviet republics declared their independence one after another. Boris Yeltsyn was elected first President of the Russian Republic in 1991. An end to the existence of the Soviet Union was put after the military coup organized by Defence Minister Dmitry Yazov and Vice President Georgy Yanayev in August 1991. Gorbachev was placed under house arrest, military units surrounded the building of Russian Government and tanks appeared in Moscow streets. But after three days this new provisional government was unseated, and Boris Yeltsin who stood against the tanks became a national hero. These events accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union and brought a new state into the world - the Russian Federation.
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