The End of the Cold War • Fall of the Soviet Union
Objective: Learn about Mikhail Gorbachev and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, then write a speech as Gorbachev accepting the Nobel Prize.
- Why do you think the final collapse of the Soviet Union was largely peaceful?
Notes on Implementation:
- Extend this activity by having students write speeches or opinion articles about the collapse of the Soviet Union from different viewpoints. These can be from the point of view of Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, a citizen of the Eastern European allies, etc. As a class, have a few students read their speeches, then discuss the differences in perspectives. Do certain people focus on some reasons for the collapse more than the others, and why?
- Students may also record their speeches using equipment at school or at home and then share them with their family, answering any questions the viewers have about the end of the Cold War.
- Gorbachev's actual acceptance speech is available in translation on the Nobel Prize website (for students who wish to compare their versions to his). (https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1990/gorbachev/acceptance-speech/)
Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in The End of the Cold War Topic Center within the World History: The Modern Era database.
During the 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to democratize his country's political system with his reform policies of glasnost and perestroika. Although he was ultimately forced to resign from office, Gorbachev's programs led to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. The collapse of one of the world's two great superpowers (the other being the United States) greatly altered the geopolitical landscape that had existed since World War II.
In this activity, you will learn about the collapse of the Soviet Union and how the dissolution was mostly peaceful. Then you will write a speech as Gorbachev, accepting the Nobel Prize for your work.
- As you read and watch the content in the Resources, think about how Gorbachev's policies and influence contributed to making the dissolution of the Soviet Union happen peacefully. Take notes on specific policies like glasnost and perestroika, as well as more general guiding principles, like letting the countries in the Eastern bloc handle their own affairs.
- In 1990, Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. According to the committee, he received the prize "for his leading role in the peace process which today characterizes important parts of the international community"—and, more specifically, for bringing the Cold War to a peaceful end. Imagine you are Gorbachev and write a short acceptance speech for the prize. Use your notes to write a speech of 200 words or less. Your speech must cover the following factors:
- Glasnost and perestroika
- The ending of the war in Afghanistan
- The reunion of East Germany and West Germany
- Ideological wars do not have physical endings
- Weapons of mass destruction increase the impact and importance of political policy
- The global focus on human rights influenced political regimes and economic structures
Possible Answers for Activity:
Students' speeches should demonstrate understanding and analysis of the policies and ideology that led Gorbachev to dissolve the Soviet Union and end the Cold War peacefully. A sample speech is below:
Thank you, Nobel Prize committee, for bestowing upon me this great honor. When I instituted the policies of glasnost and perestroika, the original intention was to improve our society by creating more opportunities for movement in the economic and social spaces—but it soon became clear that these policies could create positive results throughout the world. Actions like ending the war in Afghanistan and allowing Eastern bloc countries to change leadership without violent interference took the work of many, as did lessening tensions and formally ending the Cold War with the U.S. I did not tear down the wall in Berlin and unite East and West peacefully. But this prize shows I will be remembered for my personal, peace-making contributions to those events, and I am humbled and forever grateful to be memorialized in this fashion. Thank you again.
"Fall of the Soviet Union." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Content/2043228?cid=257. Accessed 20 Oct. 2019.