Glasnost is the policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of all government institutions in the Soviet Union, together with freedom of information, introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev.
The word is a transliteration of the Russian word Гласность and was frequently used by Gorbachev to specify the policies he believed might help reduce the corruption at the top of the Communist Party and the Soviet government, and moderate the abuse of administrative power in the Central Committee.
Glasnost can also refer to the specific period in the history of the USSR during the 1980s when there was less censorship and greater freedom of information.
This word appeared in 1985-1990 as a part of the program of reforms called perestroika, whose goals included combating corruption and the abuse of privilege by the political classes. In the broadest sense, it aimed to liberalize freedom of the press gradually, and to allow for freedom of dissent. The policy met resistance during the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, when authorities hid the true extent of the nuclear accident for several days.
Through his policy of glasnost, Gorbachev pressured conservatives within the Communist Party who opposed perestroika, his programs of economic restructuring. By cultivating a spirit of intellectual and cultural openness which encouraged public debate and participation, Gorbachev hoped to increase the Soviet people's support for and participation in perestroika.
Glasnost gave new freedoms to the people, such as a greater freedom of information by opening the secret parts for unallowed literature in the libraries 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 collapse of the Soviet Union.
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 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. Violence against local Azeris was then reported on Soviet television, which provoked massacres of Armenians in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait.
The freedoms generated under Glasnost enabled increased contact between Soviet citizens and the western world, particularly with the United States. Restrictions on travel were loosened, allowing increased business and cultural contact. For example, one key meeting location was in the U.S. at the Dakin Building, then owned by American philanthropist Henry Dakin, who had extensive Russian 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 U.S.-U.S.S.R. Initiatives, which helped more than 1000 Americans visit the Soviet Union and more than 100 then-Soviet citizens visit the U.S.
While thousands of political prisoners and many dissidents were released in the spirit of glasnost, Gorbachev's original goal of using glasnost and perestroika to reform the Soviet Union was not achieved. In 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved following a failed coup by conservative elements who were opposed to Gorbachev's reforms.