Gorbachev, Raisa Maximovna

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(19321999), "first lady" of the Soviet Union, spouse of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Raisa Maximovna Titarenko was born on January 5, 1932, in Siberia and died at the age of 67 on September 21, 1999. She married Mikhail Gorbachev, a fellow student at Moscow State University in 1953 and achieved fame as the first spouse of a Soviet leader to accompany him on all his travels. This made a substantial contribution to the favorable impact the Gorbachevs had on their many foreign interlocutors.

Raisa Gorbachev became one of the best-known women in the world, partly because her attractive appearance, vivacity, and self-assurance were so much at odds with the image the wives of high-ranking Soviet politicians had projected hitherto. Her partnership with her husband was exceptionally close. It caused a sensation when Gorbachev revealed, in answer to a question from an American television interviewer, that he discussed everything with his wife, including high-level politics and the affairs of state.

Raisa, as she became universally known, was intellectually well equipped for the role she played. Though she had to attend many different schools as her father, a railway worker, moved from place to place, she gained a gold medal for maximum grades in all subjects and entered the philosophy department at Moscow State University in 1949. Later she did pioneering sociological research, gained the Russian equivalent of a Ph.D., and published a book in 1969 on the way of life of the peasantry in the Stavropol region (where her husband was the First Secretary of the Communist Party). Whereas many Soviet officials had books produced for them by hired hands, Raisa Gorbachev did her own field research and writing.

As a very visible "First Lady" in the Soviet Union between 1985 and 1991, she aroused envy and resentment at home (for her glamour and smart clothes) as well as admiration, but she was much more universally liked and respected abroad. She played a significant part in projecting both the new image and new reality of Soviet politics following the accession of her husband to the highest post in the Kremlin.

See also: gorbachev, mikhail sergeyevich


Brown, Archie. (1996). The Gorbachev Factor. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gorbachev, Mikhail. (1996). Memoirs. London: Transworld.

Gorbachev, Raisa. (1991). I Hope: Reminiscences and Reflections. New York: Harper Collins.

Archie Brown