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For other uses, see Glasnost (disambiguation).
Russian гла́сность
Romanization glasnost
Literal meaning publicity

In Russian language the word glasnost (Russian: гла́сность, IPA: [ˈɡlasnəsʲtʲ]) has several general and specific meanings. Its meaning "publicity" in the sense "the state of being open to public knowledge" has been used in Russian at least since the end of the 18th century.[1] In the Russian Empire of the later 19th century the latter meaning was particularly associated with reforms of the judicial system, ensuring that the press and the public could attend court hearings and that the sentence was also read out in public. It was revived and made popular again in the 1980s by Mikhail Gorbachev as a slogan for increased government transparency.

Dissident demand borrowed by Gorbachev[edit]

A dissident demand[edit]

The demand for glasnost was revived in the mid-1960s on the eve of the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial in Moscow. On 5 December 1965 protestors gathered on Pushkin Square in central Moscow (at what became known as the Glasnost Meeting) to demand that the Soviet authorities guarantee an open trial (glasny sud) for Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel in accordance with the Russian Federation Code of Criminal Procedure (1961). Specifically, this meant admitting the media to the trial (including foreign correspondents) and the public, among them relatives and friends of the accused.[2] From then onwards this would be a regular, but only sometimes successful, demand of those who became known as dissidents. In 1975, for example, rather than travel to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, Andrei Sakharov stood outside a courthouse in Vilnius (Lithuanian SSR) demanding access to the trial of human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov.

Glasnost, explained Soviet human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva[3] is a word that

had been in the Russian language for centuries. It was in the dictionaries and lawbooks as long as there had been dictionaries and lawbooks. It was an ordinary, hardworking, nondescript word that was used to refer to a process, any process of justice or governance, being conducted in the open."

A term revived by Yakovlev and Gorbachev[edit]

In 1986 the term was revived by Mikhail Gorbachev as a generalized appeal for increased openness and transparency in government institutions and activities in the Soviet Union.[4] Critics aware of the term's recent history regarded the Soviet authorities' new slogan as a vague and limited alternative to more basic liberties: according to Alexei Simonov of the Glasnost Defence Foundation "Glasnost is a tortoise crawling towards freedom of speech".[5]

In the six years when the USSR attempted to reform itself glasnost was often linked with the similarly vague slogans of perestroika (literally: restructuring or regrouping) and democratisation. Glasnost was frequently invoked by Gorbachev in connection with policies aimed at reducing corruption at the top of the Communist Party and the Soviet government and moderating the abuse of administrative power in the Central Committee.

Distinctive term defining a brief period[edit]

Glasnost can also be used to define the brief and distinctive period from 1986 to 1991 with which Soviet history, and the USSR, came to an end. It was a time of decreasing pre-publication and pre-broadcast censorship and greater freedom of information, but censorship or the central control of information by the government and the Party remained a fundamental element of the Soviet system until the very end.

Glasnost in Russia since 1991[edit]

The outright prohibition of censorship was enshrined in Article 29 of the new 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation.[6] This did not end attempts by officials to restrict access to information in post-Soviet Russia or pressure by the authorities on media outlets not to publicise or discuss certain events or subjects. Monitoring of the infringement of media rights in the years from 2004 to 2013 would find that instances of censorship were the most commonly reported type of violation (see "Russia - Conflicts in the Media" website and database).[7]

There were also periodic concerns about the extent of glasnost in court proceedings, as restrictions were placed on access to certain cases for the media and for the public.

The evolution and limits of Gorbachevian glasnost[edit]

Gorbachev's policy interpretation of "glasnost" can best be summarized, translated, and explained in English with one word: "openness". While "glasnost" is associated with freedom of speech, the main goal of this policy was to make the country's management transparent and open to debate, thus circumventing the narrow circle of apparatchiks who previously exercised complete control of the economy. Through reviewing the past or by opening up the censored literature in the libraries[8][9] and a greater freedom of speech: a radical change, as control of speech and suppression of government criticism had previously been a central part of the Soviet system. There was also a greater degree of freedom within the media.

In the late 1980s, the Soviet government came under increased criticism, as did Leninist ideology (which Gorbachev had attempted to preserve as the foundation for reform), and members of the Soviet population were more outspoken in their view that the Soviet government had become a failure. Glasnost did indeed provide freedom of expression, far beyond what Gorbachev had intended, and changed citizens' views towards the government, which played a key role in the demise of the Soviet Union.

Greater transparency[edit]

Under glasnost, relaxation of censorship resulted in the Communist Party losing its grip on the media, and Soviet citizens were able to learn significantly more about the past and the outside world.

The Soviet media began to expose numerous social and economic problems in the Soviet Union, which the Soviet government had long denied and covered up, such as poor housing, food shortages, alcoholism, widespread pollution, creeping mortality rates, the second-rate position of women, as well as the history of state crimes against the population. Although Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's personality cult, information about the true proportions of his atrocities was still suppressed. These revelations had a devastating effect on those who believed in state communism and who had never been exposed to this information, as the driving vision of society was built on a foundation of falsehood and crimes against humanity.[10]

In addition, information about the higher quality of life in the United States and Western Europe began to be exposed to the Soviets,[10] along with western popular culture, which Soviet publishers did not consider worth promoting.[11]

Calls for greater autonomy and independence[edit]

Political openness continued to produce unintended consequences. In elections to the regional assemblies of the Soviet Union's constituent republics, nationalists swept the board. As Gorbachev had weakened the system of internal political repression, the ability of the USSR's central Moscow government to impose its will on the USSR's constituent republics had been largely undermined. During the 1980s, calls for greater independence from Moscow's rule grew louder. This was especially marked in the Baltic Republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which had been annexed into the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin in 1940. Nationalist feeling also took hold in other Soviet republics such as Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Starting in the mid-1980s, the Baltic states used the reforms provided by glasnost to assert their rights to protect their environment (for example during the Phosphorite War) and their historic monuments and, later, their claims to sovereignty and independence. When the Balts withstood outside threats, they exposed an irresolute Kremlin. Bolstering separatism in other Soviet republics, the Balts triggered multiple challenges to the Soviet Union. Supported by Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, the Baltic republics asserted their sovereignty.

The rise of nationalism under glasnost also reawakened simmering ethnic tensions throughout the union. For example, in February 1988, Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian region in the Azerbaijan SSR, passed a resolution calling for unification with the Armenian SSR, which sparked the Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Release of political prisoners[edit]

Late in 1986 Anatoly Marchenko died as the result of an extended hunger strike in protest against the policies then pursued by the Politburo towards former dissidents. Thereafter hundreds of political prisoners and dissidents were pardoned and released from imprisonment or internal banishment, without being obliged to offer guarantees that they would not resume political activities on regaining their freedom.

Their concepts of free speech and other liberties differed significantly from those held by members of the ruling Communist Party, whether they were labelled liberal or conservative.

Contacts with the outside world[edit]

Glasnost enabled greater contact between Soviet citizens and the Western world, particularly with the United States. Restrictions on travel were loosened, allowing increased business and cultural contact. One significant centre for such citizen diplomacy in the USA was provided by American philanthropist Henry Dakin, with his extensive Soviet contacts:

During the late 1980s, as glasnost and perestroika led to the liquidation of the Soviet empire, the Dakin building was the location for a series of groups facilitating United States-Russian contacts. They included the Center for US-USSR Initiatives, which helped more than 1,000 Americans visit the Soviet Union and more than 100 then-Soviet citizens visit the US.[12]

Aims and failure of Gorbachev's glasnost[edit]

Gorbachev's original goal of using glasnost and perestroika to reform the Soviet Union while maintaining control by the Communist Party was not achieved. The policy allowed Soviet citizens to speak out and criticise the Communist Party and the Soviet system itself. It also inadvertently released long-suppressed national sentiments in the "republics" that wanted to assert their independence; undermining the authority of the Soviet central-government. Both policies exposed the extremely weak Soviet Economic system when the discipline of the Communist Party was removed. In December 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved months after the August failed coup by conservative elements who were alarmed by the forces unleashed by Gorbachev's reforms.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Словарь Академии Российской. Часть II (in Russian). СПб.: Императорская Академия Наук. 1790. p. 72. 
  2. ^ Robert Horvath, The Legacy of Soviet Dissent, 2005, p 50 onwards.
  3. ^ Alexeyeva, Lyumila and Paul Goldberg The Thaw Generation: Coming of Age in the Post-Stalin Era Pennsylvania: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.
  4. ^ Milestones in Glasnost and Perestroyka: Politics and People. Brookings Institution Press. 1991. ISBN 0-8157-3623-1. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Constitution of the Russian Federation, 1993, Article 29, point 5
  7. ^ Russia - Conflicts in the Media since 2004, a database. Censorship.
  8. ^ Glasnost im sowjetischen Bibliothekswesen (by Peter Bruhn)
  9. ^ А.П. Шикман: Совершенно несекретно in: Советская библиография, 1988,6 (231), P.3-12
  10. ^ a b Shane, Scott (1994). "Letting Go of the Leninist Faith". Dismantling Utopia: How Information Ended the Soviet Union. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. pp. 212 to 244. ISBN 1-56663-048-7. All this degradation and hypocrisy is laid not just at the feet of Stalin but of Lenin and the Revolution that made his rule possible. 
  11. ^ Shane, Scott (1994). "A Normal Country: The Pop Culture Explosion". Dismantling Utopia: How Information Ended the Soviet Union. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. pp. 182 to 211. ISBN 1-56663-048-7. forces had taken over publishing... 
  12. ^ "Cyberspace", San Francisco Chronicle, Page A-14, 20 November 1995.


  • Cohen, Stephen F.; Katrina Vanden Heuvel (1989). Voices of Glasnost: Interviews With Gorbachev's Reformers. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-30735-2. 
  • Gibbs, Joseph (1999). Gorbachev's Glasnost: The Soviet Media in the First Phase of Perestroika. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 0-89096-892-6. 
  • Horvath, Robert (2005). The Legacy of Soviet Dissent: Dissidents, democratisation and radical nationalism in Russia. London & New York: Routledge Curzon. ISBN 0-415-33320-2.