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Russian гласность
Romanization glasnost'
Literal meaningpublicity

In the Russian language the word glasnost ( /ˈɡlæznɒst/ ; Russian: гласность, 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]


In the Russian Empire of the late-19th century, the term was particularly associated with reforms of the judicial system, among which were reforms permitting attendance of the press and the public at trials whose verdicts were now to be read aloud. In the mid-1980s, it was popularised by Mikhail Gorbachev as a political slogan for increased government transparency in the Soviet Union.

Historical usage

Human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva argues that the word glasnost has been in the Russian language for several hundred years as a common term: "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 it acquired a revived topical importance in discourse concerning the cold-war era internal policy of the Soviet Union.

In the USSR

The dissidents

On 5 December 1965 the Glasnost rally took place in Moscow, considered to be a key event in the emergence of the Soviet civil rights movement. Protesters on Pushkin Square led by Alexander Esenin-Volpin demanded access to the closed trial of Yuly Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky. The protestors made specific requests for "glasnost", herein referring to the specific admission of the public, independent observers and foreign journalists, to the trial that had been legislated in the then newly issued 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.

Such protests against closed trials continued throughout the post-Stalin era. Andrei Sakharov, for example, did not travel to Oslo to receive his Nobel Peace Prize due to his public protest outside a Vilnius court building demanding access to the 1976 trial of Sergei Kovalev, an editor of the Chronicle of Current Events and prominent rights activist. [3]


In 1986 Mikhail Gorbachev and his advisers adopted "glasnost" as a political slogan, together with the obscure term "perestroika" in order to invoke the term's historical and contemporaneous resonance.

Glasnost was taken to mean increased openness and transparency in government institutions and activities in the Soviet Union (USSR). [4] Glasnost reflected a commitment of the Gorbachev administration to allowing Soviet citizens to discuss publicly the problems of their system and potential 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, makes a critical definition of the term in suggesting it was "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 Soviet citizens which further eased pressures on international exchange between the Soviet Union and the West. [8]

International relations

Gorbachev's interpretation of "glasnost" can best be summarised 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 holding of near-complete control of the economy and bureaucracy of the Soviet Union by a concentrated body of officials and bureaucratic personnel.

During Glasnost, 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. It was in the late 1980's when most people in the Soviet Union began to learn about the atrocities of Stalin, and learned about previously suppressed events such as the first manned moon landing by the United States, the marches and speeches of the American civil rights movement, the full information of the Decolonisation of Africa.

Information 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 however has been the subject of ongoing controversy in contemporary Russia owing to heightened governmental interventions restricting access to information to Russian citizens and pressure by government-operated media outlets to not publicise or discuss certain events or subjects in recent years. Monitoring of the infringement of media rights in the years from 2004 to 2013 found 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.
  3. "Before the Trials of Kovalyov and Tverdokhlebov, March-October 1975 (38.2)". March 7, 2016.
  4. Milestones in Glasnost and Perestroyka: Politics and People . Brookings Institution Press. 1991. ISBN   0-8157-3623-1.
  5. H., Hunt, Michael (2015-06-26). The world transformed : 1945 to the present. p. 315. ISBN   9780199371020. OCLC   907585907.
  6. H., Hunt, Michael (2015-06-26). The world transformed : 1945 to the present. p. 316. ISBN   9780199371020. OCLC   907585907.
  7. "Фонд Защиты Гласности".
  8. Arefyev, V.; Mieczkowski, Z. (1991). "International Tourism In The Soviet Union In The Era Of Glasnost And Perestroyka". Journal of Travel Research. 29 (4): 2–6. 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. "Поиск по сайту | Конституция Российской Федерации".
  14. "Russia - Conflicts in the Media since 2004, a database. Censorship.".

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