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Russian гла́сность
Romanization glasnost'
Literal meaning publicity

In the Russian language the word glasnost (/ˈɡlæznɒst/; Russian: гла́сность, IPA: [ˈɡɫasnəsʲtʲ] (About this sound 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, 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.

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.

Glasnost in the USSR

Glasnost and 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.

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]

Glasnost and Gorbachev

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".

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] 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 of Gorbachev's "glasnost"

Between 1986 and 1991, when the USSR attempted and failed to reform itself, 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, but censorship and the central control of information by the government and the Party remained a fundamental element of the Soviet system until the very end.

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[citation needed].

The limits of "glasnost" under Gorbachev

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;[8][9] and there was a greater freedom of speech for citizens and openness in the media. This represented a radical and risky change for the Communist regime, as control of speech and suppression of criticism of the government had previously been a central part of the Soviet system[citation needed].

Under glasnost, the Soviet media began to expose social and economic problems which the authorities had long denied or covered up: poor housing, food shortages, alcoholism, widespread pollution, creeping mortality rates, the second-rate position of women, as well as the history of the Soviet State's crimes against the people[citation needed]. Nikita Khrushchev had denounced Stalin's personality cult in 1956, but he himself became a "non-person" in subsequent years and information about the true scale of the atrocities committed by Stalin, and Lenin, was suppressed until the late 1980s.

Information about the higher quality of consumer goods and quality of life in the United States and Western Europe began to be transmitted to the Soviet population,[10] along with western popular culture.[11]

Calls for greater autonomy in the USSR and independence

Political openness continued to produce unintended consequences. In elections to the regional assemblies of the Soviet Union's constituent republics, nationalists swept the board.[citation needed] 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[citation needed]. 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 sentiment 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. By withstanding these outside threats, the Baltic states exposed an irresolute Kremlin, bolstering separatism in other Soviet republics.[citation needed] This was followed by multiple challenges to the Soviet Union. Supported by Russian politician Boris Yeltsin, the Baltic republics asserted their sovereignty in 1991.

The rise of nationalism under glasnost also reawakened simmering ethnic tensions throughout the union.[citation needed]

Glasnost in Russia since 1991

The outright prohibition of censorship was enshrined in Article 29 of the new 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation.[12] 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).[13]

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

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. ^
  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. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Glasnost im sowjetischen Bibliothekswesen (by Peter Bruhn)
  9. ^ А.П. Шикман: Совершенно несекретно in: Советская библиография, 1988,6 (231), P.3-12
  10. ^ 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. ^ Constitution of the Russian Federation, 1993, Article 29, point 5
  13. ^ Russia - Conflicts in the Media since 2004, a database. Censorship.


  • 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. 
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