Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, born 2 March 1931, is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the country's head of state from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991. He was the only general secretary in the history of the Soviet Union to have been born after the October Revolution. Alongside East Germany's Egon Krenz and Poland's Wojciech Jaruzelski, Gorbachev is one of the last surviving leaders of an Eastern Bloc state as of 2014.
Gorbachev was born in Stavropol Krai into a peasant Ukrainian–Russian family, and in his teens operated combine harvesters on collective farms. He graduated from Moscow State University in 1955 with a degree in law. While he was at the university, he joined the Communist Party, and soon became very active within it. In 1970, he was appointed the First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Kraikom, First Secretary to the Supreme Soviet in 1974, and appointed a member of the Politburo in 1979. Within three years of the deaths of Soviet Leaders Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko, Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by the Politburo in 1985. Before he reached the post, he had occasionally been mentioned in western newspapers as a likely next leader and a man of the younger generation at the top level.
Gorbachev's policies of openness and restructuring as well as summit conferences with United States President Ronald Reagan and his reorientation of Soviet strategic aims contributed to the end of the Cold War, removed the constitutional role of the Communist Party in governing the state, and inadvertently led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in 1989, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 and the Harvey Prize in 1992 as well as Honorary Doctorates from various universities as discussed below.
In September 2008, Gorbachev and business oligarch Alexander Lebedev announced they would form the Independent Democratic Party of Russia and in May 2009 Gorbachev announced that the launch was imminent.This was Gorbachev's third attempt to establish a political party, having started the Social Democratic Party of Russia in 2001 and the Union of Social Democrats in 2007.