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Gorbachev’s period in power (1985-1991, b. 1931) was marked by complex and conflicting developments in Soviet society. The perestroika reform, which he introduced, was itself interpreted in different, sometimes diametrical, ways by various individuals, social groups, and political forces within the Soviet Union. For some, it stood for the dismantling of the Stalinist system and a transition to democracy. Others wanted to limit perestroika to replacing some outdated elements of the socialist system, claiming that its foundations were sound.

Initially, the personality and actions of the new general secretary were received with enthusiasm by the Soviet public. His confident manner, unconventional behavior during unscheduled walks about Moscow, even his ability to smile and his sense of humor made him look different from his predecessors and instilled optimism. He conveyed the impression of a modern and dynamic leader, who knew in which direction to lead the country to overcome what he described as a “precrisis situation.”

However, with each passing year popular trust in Gorbachev waned and faded. By 1990 Boris Yeltsin had moved into first place as the most popular politician. A nationwide opinion poll conducted by the All-Union Center for the Study of Public Opinion in February 1991 asked about the qualities that marked Gorbachev as a political leader. The answers revealed that 28 percent of those interviewed thought that Gorbachev’s main characteristic as a political leader was “duplicity and hypocrisy.” About 20 percent believed that he had “flexibility and skills of political maneuvering”; a similar number thought that Gorbachev was “weak and indecisive.” Eighteen percent believed that the Soviet leader showed “indifference to human suffering,” only 7 percent credited Gorbachev with “decisiveness,” and just 4 percent thought that he possessed strategic foresight.

Perestroika-era jokes usually addressed Gorbachev's slogans and ineffective actions, his irritating verbosity and poor grammar, his birth mark, and Raisa Gorbachev's poking her nose everywhere.

        In a restaurant:

― Why the meatballs are of cubic shape?
― Perestroika! (restructuring)
― Why are they undercooked?
― Uskoreniye! (acceleration)
― Why are they bitten?
― Gospriyomka (state approval)
― Why are you telling me all this so brazenly?
― Glasnost! (openness)

It is interesting to note that jokes gradually spread up the hierarchy until Mikhail Gorbachev himself was telling them to conservative leaders in an attempt to explain that they had to change. Once he attended a TV show in England where he told the following joke:

  A man is queuing for food in Moscow. Finally he's had enough. He turns round to his friend and says "That's it. I'm going to kill that Gorbachev," and marches off. Two hours later he comes back. "Well," says the friend, "did you do it?" "No," replies the other, "there was an even longer queue over there."

At the same time the then president of the U.S., Ronald Reagan, was also telling jokes about the Soviet state to show his attitude to the changes taking place in the USSR. He asked his ambassadors in communist countries to collect all the jokes they heard and send them to him in a weekly memo. When Gorbachev came to Washington, Reagan delivered one of his favourites, and later boasted that the Soviet leader had laughed.
Two men are walking down a street in Moscow. One asks the other,
‘Is this full communism? Have we really passed through socialism and reached full communism?’
The other answers:
‘Hell, no. It's gonna get a lot worse first’.

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