Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, Александр Николаевич Яковлев (December 2, 1923 to October 18, 2005 ) was a Russian economist who was a Soviet governmental official in the 1980s and a member of the Politburo and Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The chief of party ideology, the same position as that previously held by Mikhail Suslov, he was called the "godfather of glasnost and "God's commie as he is considered to be the intellectual force behind Mikhail Gorbachev's reform program of glasnost and perestroika.
Yakovlev was born to a peasant family in a tiny village on the Volga near Yaroslavl. He served in the Red Army during World War II and became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1944. Beginning in 1958, he was an exchange student at Columbia University for one year.
Yakovlev served as editor of several party publications and rose to the key position of head of the CPSU's Department of Ideology and Propaganda from 1969 to 1973. In 1972 he took a bold stand by publishing an article critical of Russian chauvinism and Soviet anti-Semitism. As a result he was removed from his position and appointed as ambassador to Canada remaining at that post for a decade.
In 1983, Yakovlev accompanied Mikhail Gorbachev, who at the time was the Soviet official in charge of agriculture, on his tour of Canada. The purpose of the visit was to tour Canadian farms and agricultural institutions in the hopes of taking lessons that could be applied in the Soviet Union, however, the two renewed their earlier friendship and, tentatively at first, began to discuss the need for liberalisation in the Soviet Union.
In an interview years later, Yakovlev recalled:
Two weeks after the visit, as a result of Gorbachev's interventions, Yakovlev was recalled from Canada by Yuri Andropov and became Director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow. He was succeeded by his friend Yevgeny Primakov in 1985.
When Gorbachev became Soviet leader in 1985, Yakovlev became a senior advisor, helping to shape Soviet foreign policy by advocating Soviet non-intervention in Eastern Europe, and accompanying Gorbachev on his five summit meetings with United States President Ronald Reagan. Domestically, he argued in favour of the reform programs that became known as glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) and played a key role in executing those policies.
For decades, it was the official policy of the Soviet Union to deny the existence of the secret protocol to the Soviet-German Pact. At the behest of Mikhail Gorbachev, Yakovlev headed a commission investigating the existence of such a protocol. In December 1989 Yakovlev concluded that the protocol had existed and revealed his finds to the Soviet Parliament. As a result, the first democratically elected Congress of Soviets "passed the declaration admitting the existence of the secret protocols, condemning and denouncing them".
He was promoted to the Politburo in 1987 but by 1990 he had become the focus of attacks by conservatives in the party opposed to liberalisation. At the 28th Congress of the CPSU in July 1990, a cynical Alexander Lebed caused uproar when he asked Yakovlev: "Alexander Nikolaevich... How many faces have you got?" An embarrassed Yakovlev consulted his colleagues and continued on with the proceedings, ignoring Lebed. As the conservatives gained strength his position became more tenuous, he was ultimately removed from the Politburo and was expelled from the Party two days before the August Coup in 1991. During the coup Yakovlev joined the democratic opposition against it. Following the failed coup attempt, Yakovlev blamed Gorbachev for having been naive in bringing the plotters into his inner circle saying Gorbachev was "guilty of forming a team of traitors. Why did he surround himself with people capable of treason?"
In the years following the fall of the Soviet Union, Yakovlev wrote and lectured extensively on history, politics and economics. He acted as the leader of Party of Russian Social Democracy, which in the mid 1990s fused into United Democrats (a pro-reform alliance that was later reorganized into Union of Right Forces). In 2002, acting as head of the Presidential Committee for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, he was present at the announcement of the release of a CD detailing names and short biographies of the victims of Soviet purges. In his later life, he founded and led the International Democracy Foundation - www.alexanderyakovlev.org. He advocated taking responsibility for the past crimes of communism and was critical of President Putin's restrictions on democracy.
In 2000, he publicly alleged that Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who has become famous for his role in saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust, was shot and killed in Soviet secret police headquarters in 1947.
As the intellectual force behind glasnost and perestroika, Yakovlev is often blamed for the demise of the Soviet Union and the victory of the United States in the Cold War. Latterly an outspoken anti-communist and regarded by most Russians as a traitor, he was accused of being a CIA agent and regularly received death threats. During a newspaper interview in 2001, Yakovlev was approached by a woman in Moscow who demanded: "Aren't you in jail yet?" Yakovlev grinned and replied with an obscenity.
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