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Russian гла́сность
Romanization glasnost'
Literal meaningpublicity

In the Russian language the word Glasnost ( /ˈɡlæznɒst/ ; Russian : гла́сность, IPA:  [ˈɡɫasnəsʲtʲ] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen )) has several general and specific meanings. It has been used in Russian to mean "openness and transparency" since at least the end of the eighteenth century. [1]

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.


In the Russian Empire of the late-19th century, the term 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 read out in public. In the mid-1980s, it was popularised by Mikhail Gorbachev as a political slogan for increased government transparency in the Soviet Union.

Russian Empire former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire was an empire that extended across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

Mikhail Gorbachev 20th-century General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a Russian and formerly Soviet politician. The eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union, he was General Secretary of its governing Communist Party from 1985 until 1991. He was the country's head of state from 1988 until 1991, serving as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 1988 to 1989, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet from 1989 to 1990, and President of the Soviet Union from 1990 to 1991. Ideologically, he initially adhered to Marxism-Leninism although by the early 1990s had moved toward social democracy.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Historical usage

"For centuries", human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva has explained, the word glasnost has been in the Russian language: "It was in the dictionaries and lawbooks as long as there had been dictionaries and lawbooks. It was an ordinary, hardworking, non-descript word that was used to refer to a process, any process of justice or governance, being conducted in the open." [2] In the mid-1960s, however, as Alexeyeva recounts, it acquired a new and topical importance.

Human rights Inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled

Human rights are moral principles or norms that describe certain standards of human behaviour and are regularly protected as natural and legal rights in municipal and international law. They are commonly understood as inalienable, fundamental rights "to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being" and which are "inherent in all human beings", regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin, or any other status. They are applicable everywhere and at every time in the sense of being universal, and they are egalitarian in the sense of being the same for everyone. They are regarded as requiring empathy and the rule of law and imposing an obligation on persons to respect the human rights of others, and it is generally considered that they should not be taken away except as a result of due process based on specific circumstances; for example, human rights may include freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva Russian historian and activist

Lyudmila Mikhaylovna Alexeyeva was a Russian historian and human rights activist who was a founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group, and one of the last Soviet dissidents active in modern Russia.

In the USSR

The dissidents

On 5 December 1965, a key event in the emergence of the Soviet civil rights movement, often known as the Glasnost rally, took place in Moscow when protesters on Pushkin Square led by Alexander Yesenin-Volpin demanded access to the closed trial of Yuly Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky. They specifically asked for "glasnost", i.e. the admission of the public, independent observers and foreign journalists, to the trial, something that was required in the newly issued, but not widely available, Code of Criminal Procedure. With a few specified exceptions, Article 111 of the Code stated that judicial hearings in the USSR should be held in public.

Yuli Daniel Soviet writer and poet

Yuli Markovich Daniel was a Soviet dissident writer, poet, translator, and political prisoner. He frequently wrote under the pseudonyms Nikolay Arzhak and Yu. Petrov.

Andrei Sinyavsky Russian writer, dissident, political prisoner, emigrant, Professor of Sorbonne University, magazine founder and publisher

Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky was a Russian writer, dissident, political prisoner, emigrant, Professor of Sorbonne University, magazine founder and publisher. He frequently wrote under the pseudonym Абрам Терц.

Such protests against closed trials continued throughout the post-Stalin era. Andrei Sakharov, famously, did not travel to Oslo to receive his Nobel Peace Prize because he was standing outside a court building in Vilnius (Lithuania), demanding access to the 1976 trial of Sergei Kovalev, an editor of the Chronicle of Current Events and prominent rights activist. [3]

Andrei Sakharov Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov was a Russian nuclear physicist, dissident, Nobel laureate, and activist for disarmament, peace and human rights.

Nobel Peace Prize One of five Nobel Prizes established by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel, along with the prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature. Since March 1901, it has been awarded annually to those who have "done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

Sergei Kovalev Russian politician

Sergei Adamovich Kovalyov is a Russian human rights activist and politician and a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner.


In 1986, aware of the term's historical and more recent resonance, Mikhail Gorbachev and his advisers adopted "glasnost" as a political slogan, together with the obscure "perestroika".

Perestroika political movement for reformation

Perestroika was a political movement for reformation within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the 1980s and 1990s and is widely associated with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his glasnost policy reform. The literal meaning of perestroika is "restructuring", referring to the restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system.

Glasnost was taken to mean increased openness and transparency in government institutions and activities in the Soviet Union (USSR). [4] Glasnost apparently reflected a commitment to getting Soviet citizens to discuss publicly the problems of their system and seek solutions. [5] Gorbachev encouraged popular scrutiny and criticism of leaders, as well as a certain level of exposure by the mass media. [6] Some critics, especially among legal reformers and dissidents, regarded the Soviet authorities' new slogans as vague and limited alternatives to more basic liberties.

Alexei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, would define the term as follows: "Glasnost is a tortoise crawling towards Freedom of Speech". [7]

Various meanings

Between 1986 and 1991, during an era of reforms in the USSR, glasnost was frequently linked with other generalised concepts such as perestroika (literally: restructuring or regrouping) and demokratizatsiya (democratisation). Gorbachev often appealed to glasnost when promoting 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.

The ambiguity of "glasnost" defines the distinctive five-year period (1986–1991) at the end of the USSR's existence. There was decreasing pre-publication and pre-broadcast censorship and greater freedom of information.

The "Era of Glasnost" saw greater contact between Soviet citizens and the Western world, particularly the United States: restrictions on travel were loosened for many, allowing increased business and cultural interchange [8] .

International relations

Gorbachev's interpretation of "glasnost" can best be summarized, translated, and explained in English as "openness". While associated with freedom of speech, the main goal of this policy was to make the country's management transparent, and circumvent the narrow circle of bureaucrats who previously exercised complete control of the economy.

Soviet history under Stalin was re-examined; censored literature in the libraries was made more widely available; [9] [10] and there was a greater freedom of speech for citizens and openness in the media.

Propaganda about the supposedly higher quality of consumer goods and quality of life in the United States and Western Europe began to be transmitted to the Soviet population, [11] along with western popular culture. [12]

In Russia since 1991

The outright prohibition of censorship was enshrined in Article 29 of the new 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation. [13] 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. [14]

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.[ citation needed ]

See also


  1. Словарь Академии Российской. Часть II (in Russian). СПб.: Императорская Академия Наук. 1790. p. 72.
  2. Alexeyeva, Lyudmila and Paul Goldberg The Thaw Generation: Coming of Age in the Post-Stalin Era, Pennsylvania: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990, pp. 108-109.
  4. Milestones in Glasnost and Perestroyka: Politics and People. Brookings Institution Press. 1991. ISBN   0-8157-3623-1.
  5. H., Hunt, Michael. The world transformed : 1945 to the present. p. 315. ISBN   9780199371020. OCLC   907585907.
  6. H., Hunt, Michael. The world transformed : 1945 to the present. p. 316. ISBN   9780199371020. OCLC   907585907.
  8. "International Tourism In The Soviet Union InThe Era Of Glasnost And Perestroyka". doi:10.1177/004728759102900401.
  9. Glasnost im sowjetischen Bibliothekswesen (by Peter Bruhn)
  10. А.П. Шикман: Совершенно несекретно in: Советская библиография, 1988,6 (231), P.3-12
  11. 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.
  12. 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...
  13. Constitution of the Russian Federation, 1993, Article 29, point 5
  14. Russia - Conflicts in the Media since 2004, a database. Censorship.

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