Published August 31, 2022 by Tom Porter

Remembering the Last Leader of the Soviet Union

When Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, died on August 30, aged ninety-one, Professor Laura Henry was reminded of the reason she started studying the region and learning the Russian language more than three decades ago.

laura henry's gorbachev t-shirt

Gorbachev’s reforms—which helped liberalize Soviet society, open up the economy, and bring about an end to the Cold War—and the optimism they sparked also lit a spark in Henry, then an undergraduate at Wellesley College. 

“In 1990, I proudly bought a T-shirt honoring Gorbachev. It features a smiley face with his characteristic birthmark and the word ‘glasnost’ (openness), one of his signature policies.” (See image.)

 

Bowdoin's Laura Henry

Henry appreciates Gorbachev “as a person who did not hold on to power at all costs, who prioritized avoiding conflict, and who tried in his own way to make things better for his people, even if he did not always succeed.”

This semester Henry is teaching Post Communist Russian Politics and Society (GOV 2410), which explores the collapse of the Soviet communist system and the social and political upheaval that followed.