Karl Herbet Frahm, known as Willy Brandt, was born on 18th december, 1913, in northern Germany. He changed his name in the early 1930s and fled to Norway to avoid being arrested by the Nazis. After the German occupation of Norway, in 1940, he fled to Sweden where he lived until 1945, then he returned to Germany after the World War II. Willy Brandt began his political career in 1948 and held various positions within the Social Democratic Party (SPD). He was Mayor of West Berlin between 1957 and 1966. During this period, he became internationally known, at the same time, the Berlin Wall was being built. Brandt was the party’s leading figure and Chancellor candidate of the Federal Republic of Germany; However, he did not hold this role until 1969. He was Chancellor from 1969 to 1974, when he resigned due to a political scandal with one of his personal assistants who proved to be an East German spy.As a Chancellor, Willy Brandt bet on foreign policy and sought to reconcile and strengthen the relationship between West Germany and East Germany, as well as Poland and the Soviet Union, raising a policy known as “Ostpolitk”. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 due to this work. Despite his resignation as a Chancellor, Willy Brandt remained the Party leader until 1987 and became his honorary President until his death. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in the end of 1989, Willy Brandt promoted the reunification of both parts of Germany and the union of Europe. He died after prolonged illness in October 1992. Source: https://www.willy-brandt-biography.com/
Helmut Heinrich Waldemar Schmidt was born in 23rd of december, 1918, in Hamburg, Germany. He was a social democratic politician, specifically a Chancellor of West Germany between 1974 and 1982. Schmidt succeeded as a Chancellor of West Germany after the resignation of Willy Brandt. He served the German Army during World War II. After the war, in 1946, Schmidt joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD), reaching the role of Party Vice President in 1968. As a student of economics at the University of Hamburg, Schmidt worked in the sector in the city’s municipal government from 1949 to 1953 and in 1953 he was elected to the Bundestag, German parliament, where he remained until 1961. Between 1961 and 1965, he returned to Hamburg, when he was reelected to the Bundestag. He was Minister of Defense and Finance in the different governments of Chancellor Willy Brandt between 1969 and 1974. After the resignation of Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt was elected Chancellor of West Germany and held this role until 1982, when he resigned after losing the majority of votes in the Bundestag. His successor was Helmut Kohl, of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). During his tenure, he gained international respect, although he hadn’t the charisma of his predecessor, Willy Brandt, and didn´t benefit from the parliamentary majorities and diplomatic opportunities of his successor, Helmut Kohl. Schmidt remained a member of the Bundestag until 1986, when he retired from political life. He has written several books about German political affairs and European international relations. From 1983 until his death, Schmidt was also co-editor of “Die Zeit” newspaper. Helmut Schmidt passed away on 10th November of 2015, in Hamburg.
Helmut Kohl was the Chancellor of West Germany between 1982 and 1990 and he was also the first Chancellor of the unified Germany, from 1990, having remained in the role until 1998. Kohl led Germany to reunification and he also defended the euro as the single European currency. Helmut Kohl was born on April 3, 1930, in Germany, and received a PhD in Political Science at the University of Heidelberg. He became interested in politics from an early age and in 1947 he began to collaborate with a youth organization in his hometown, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Kohl was elected the Vice President of the Party in 1969 and he became President of the Party in 1973. In 1976, he was at the running for election, but he had lost that position to Helmut Schmidt of the SPD. Helmut Kohl became Chancellor of West Germany only ten years later, in 1983, through a coalition of three parties; CDU, CSU and FDP. This happened because the former Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, received a vote of no confidence in the Bundestag by his coalition partners of the government. Between 1983 and 1987, the following elections, which were also won by Kohl and the coalition of ruling parties, the policies of this Chancellor’s government focused on West Germany’s commitments to NATO. In 1989, when the Soviet Union eased its grip on East Germany, Kohl led German reunification. In October 1990, East Germany was dissolved, and its constituent states joined West Germany, reuniting the country. In December 1990 the first free and fully German parliamentary elections since 1932 took place, where Kohl and his ruling coalition CDU-CSU-FDP won a majority in the Bundestag. Helmut Kohl passed away on June 16, 2017.
François Mitterrand was born on October 26th, in 1916, in France, and he was a French politician who served the country, as a President, for two terms. Mitterrand studied Law and Political Science, in Paris, and in 1946 he was elected to the National Assembly. The following year he became Minister of Cabinet in the coalition government of Paul Ramadier. During the years after, Mitterrand held various positions in various governments of the Fourth French Republic. Since 1958, François Mitterrand became an opposition to Charles de Gaulle, who would become President the following year. In 1965, Mitterrand ran against De Gaulle as a candidate for the French Presidency and took the election to a second round. In 1971, he was elected as the first secretary of the Socialist Party and started the party reorganization. In 1974, Mitterrand ran again for the Presidency and was defeated again. He acceded to the Presidency only in 1981, after the defeat of President Giscard d’Estaing. He was the first Socialist President of the Fifth Republic. During Mitterrand’s term of foreign policy, France developed its relationship with the United States, maintaining a tougher stance towards the Soviet Union. In 1986, Mitterrand had Jacques Chirac as the Prime Minister, in a power-sharing agreement called “Cohabitation”, however, Mitterrand maintained the country’s foreign policy. Two years later, in 1988, Mitterrand ran again for the Presidency and at the same time he started the promotion of European unity. He is one of the main defenders of the 1991 European Union Treaty, which sought a European banking system, a common currency and a unified foreign policy. His second term ended in May, 1995, with the election of Jacques Chirac. François Mitterrand died of prostate cancer, at the age of 79, less than a year after he ended his second presidential term.
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was a French politician, who served as President of the Fifth Republic of France, between 1974 and 1981.Giscard d’Estaing was born on February 2nd, in 1926 and he participated in the French Resistance during World War II. When he was 18, he joined the French Army, having been awarded with the “Croix de Guerre” due to his participation in campaigns during the World War II.This French politician studied at the Polytechnic School and the National School of Administration, and he joined General Finance Inspection, in 1952.Between 1956 and 1974, he was a deputy in the French National Assembly of Puy-de-Dôme, and he was a delegate to the General Assembly of United Nations, between 1956 and 1958. In 1962, he became Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs for President Charles de Gaulle, position which he held until 1966. Between 1969 and 1974, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was Minister of Economy and Finance of President Georges Pompidou. At the age of 48, Giscard d’Estaing was elected President of France against the candidate François Mitterrand, on May 19, 1974. During this period which lasted until 1981, the French President played an important role in the creation of European Council and european monetary system as well as the European Parliament’s universal suffrage. In 1981, Giscard d’Estaing was defeated in a second round with François Mitterrand, but returned to politics the following year as a general counsel for the department of Puy-de-Dôme, where he remained until 1988. Between 1984 and 1989, he was elected to the National Assembly of Puy-de-Dôme again, and he was re-elected in 1993 and 1997. Between 1989 and 1993, the former French President was a Member of the European Parliament and in 2001 the European Council made him President of the Convention on the Future of Europe. At the age of 94, Giscard d’Estaing is the longest-lived French President in history.
Leonid Ilich Brezhnev was born in Ukraine on December 19, in 1906 and he was the leader of the Soviet Union for 18 years.
Brezhnev became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1931 and during the World War II he was a political commissioner of the Red Army. He became Major General in 1943 and led the political commissioners on the Ukrainian front. Brezhnev’s career flourished during Stalin’s regime and, in 1939, he became Secretary of the Regional Committee of the Dnepropetrovsk Party.
After the war, in 1952, Brezhnev became a member of the Party’s Central Committee and also a candidate for membership of the Politburo. However, after Stalin’s death, in 1953, Brezhnev lost his positions and it was Nikita Khrushchev who, in the following year, chose him as the second secretary of the Kazakhstan Communist Party. He became first secretary in 1955 and, a year after, he was re-elected to the same positions in the Central Committee and the Politburo.
Brezhnev succeeded Nikita Khrushchev as the leader of the Soviet Communist Party in 1964, with Aleksey Kosygin as Prime Minister. In the late 1960s, Brezhnev developed the Brezhnev Doctrine, which says the Soviet Union had the right to interfere in cases where its interests were being threatened. During the 1970s, Cold War tensions started a period known as Détente. Brezhnev became President, in the late 1970s, in 1977, through a new Constitution, becoming the first Party and State leader at the same time. He was the Secretary General of the Party for 18 years, until his death on November 10, 1982.
Mikhail Gorbachev was born on March 2, in 1931, in Russia and he was the Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, between 1985 and 1991, and the President of the Soviet Union, between 1990 and 1991. He also received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, for his contribution to the end of the Cold War. It was with Gorbachev that the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991.
In 1952, Gorbachev got into college to study Law and, at the same time, he became a member of the Communist Party. He graduated in 1955 and he held various positions in the Communist Party Youth Organization, known as Komsomol, and in regular party organizations, becoming First Secretary of the regional Party Committee in 1970. In the following year, he was chosen as a member of the Committee Central of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In 1978, he became the Secretary of Agriculture of the Party. A year after, Gorbachev became a candidate to the Politburo and a full member the following year.
Mikhail Gorbachev was elected Secretary General of the Communist Party in 1985 and President of the Soviet Union in 1990. During his tenure, Gorbachev created policies such as Glasnost and Perestroika, which started in the late 1980s. The first intended to be a policy of open discussion of political and social issues, especially in terms of freedom of expression and information, and the second, a program to redevelop politics and economy.
In foreign policy, Gorbachev maintained close relationships with some western political leaders, such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Tatcher or Helmut Kohl. It should be noted that Gorbachev played an important role for the end of the Cold War, for the fall of the Berlin wall and for German reunification.
Lech Wałęsa was born on September 29, in 1943, in Poland. He was an activist who formed and led the first independent union in communist Poland, Solidarity. Wałęsa received the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1983, and he was the President of Poland between 1990 and 1995.
Son of a carpenter, Wałęsa received professional education and, in 1967, he started working as an electrician at the Lenin shipyard, in Gdańsk. In 1976, after protests against the Communist government in Poland, Lech Wałęsa emerged as an anti-government union activist and lost his job. On August 14, in 1980, during some protests at the shipyard, Wałęsa led a strike which started a wave of strikes across the country and communist authorities were forced to negotiate the Gdańsk Agreement with Wałęsa. This agreement gave workers the right to strike and to have an independent union.
On September 22, in 1980, Solidarity was formally founded when 36 regional unions came together and in the following year, Lech Wałęsa was elected President of the union, officially recognized by the government. When the Polish government imposed martial law, Wałęsa’s party was banned, most of its leaders were arrested, including Wałęsa, who was in jail for almost a year. The government criticized the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Wałęsa in 1983, however, he was recognized for his peaceful struggle for workers’ rights.
In 1988, the government made Solidarity a legal party that participated in free elections and won the majority of seats in the upper house of parliament. However, Wałęsa refused the post of Prime Minister, but he became President of Solidarity in April 1990. In December of the same year he was elected President of the Republic of Poland, a position he held until November 1995. That same year, Wałęsa announced he was leaving political life and he would dedicate himself to the Lech Wałęsa Institute, which aimed to promote democracy and civil society.
Vaclav Havel was born in Prague on October 5, in 1936. He was a writer, a dramatist as well as a politician of the Czech Republic. He was also an activist for human rights and he fought for the freedom of expression since the Prague Spring, in 1968. After the communism falling, Vaclav Havel became the president of Czechoslovakia between 1989 and 1992 and the Czech Republic between 1993 and 2003.
Havel began his career at a theater company in Prague, in 1959, where he began to write plays, and he became a residente dramatist at the Balustrade theatre company in the late 1960s. Havel was an active participant in the Prague Spring, in 1968. After that, his plays were censored. Between the 1970s and 1980s, Havel was in jail for several periods because of his activities defending the human rights, including an arrest of four years, between 1979 and 1983. In January 1977, people knew about “Letter 77”. Vaclav Havel was one of the signatories, co-authors, as well as spokesperson, of that document.
With the end of the communist regime, Havel was named President of the Republic, a position he had held between 1989 and 1992. However, the country became divided with the declaration of Slovakia’s Independence and Havel resigned. In January 1993, Havel returned to the Presidency, having been elected by Parliament. During his presidency, between 1993 and 1998, Havel was involved in strengthening civil society and giving help to some Central European countries to became part of NATO as well as part of the European Union. Havel defended the minorities’ rights and he was against the influence of political parties on society and economy.
Havel, the country’s first President after the Velvet Revolution, passed away on December 18, 2011, at the age of 75.
Valery Nikolayevich Chalidze was born in Moscow on the 25th November, 1938. He studied physics at Moscow State University and graduated in 1958. In 1965, the physicist received the equivalent of a PhD in Physics from Tbilisi State University in Georgia. He was the head of a physics laboratory when he became a dissident. Chalidze founded an underground newspaper, entitled “Social Issues” and defended the Jews’ rights to whom were denied emigration from the Soviet Union, and wrote the first document on the subject. Chalidze specialized in repairing typewriters, essential to disseminate prohibited literature in the country (samizdat).
In 1970, Chalidze, together with Sakharov and Andrei Tverdokhlebov, founded the Human Rights Committee in the USSR, one of the first human rights organizations in the Soviet Union.
Chalidze was one of the main activists in the defense of homossexuals’ rights in the Soviet Union. He suffered reprisals from Soviet authorities, who persecuted him, searched his apartment and launched rumors about his sexuality.
In 1972, while Chalidze was in the United States speaking at conferences and forums on human rights, the Soviet government revoked his citizenship. Thus, Chalidze remained in the country and he became an american citizen in 1979.
Chalidze continued his activism in exile, writing books on Soviet political and legal life. He also edited a bimonthly publication “A Chronicle of Rights Human in USSR”, which pointed out arrests and intimidation acts against Soviet political dissidents. The physicist was responsible for launching the publishers Khronika Press and Chalidze Publications, which published classics of literature in Russian and translations of works of history and philosophy.
The physicist settled in Vermont in 1983 and taught at Yale University, however, he has been a visiting professor at other colleges and, in recent years, he has written books on human rights, physics and other topics.
Chalidze passed away in the United States on January 3rd, 2018, at the age of 79.
Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov was a Soviet nuclear theoretical physicist who was born on the 21st May, 1921, in Moscow. Sakharov received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 as an international recognition in the defense of human rights, freedoms and reforms in the Soviet Union.
Andrei Sakharov graduated from the Moscow University Faculty of Physics in 1942 and worked as a scientist until 1945. Then, he started his doctorate at the Lebedev Institute, in the Physics department of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Igor E. Tamm, a renowned theoretical physicist, was his teacher. The physicist’s PhD thesis was about nuclear energy and he was included in a research group working on the development of nuclear weapons. During this period, Sakharov and Igor Tamm made a proposal that led to the construction of the hydrogen bomb.
Sakharov was rewarded by becoming a full member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, when he was just 32, with privileges from the Nomenklatura, the name given to the Soviet Union’s elite membership. During the 1960s, the physicist published an article “Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom”. This article was responsible for his expulsion from the working group and he was deprived of his privileges. Then, he became an assistant professor, at the Lebedev Institute. A decade later, Sakharov, together with Chalidze and Tverdokhlebov, founded the Human Rights Committee in the USSR, to defend human rights and victims of political trials.
He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for defending human rights and for trying to bring the Soviet Union closer to other non-communist nations. He was not allowed to receive it personally. Sakharov continued his work on the subject of Human Rights and, in the early 1980s he was exiled to Gorky with his wife, Yelena Bonner. Only after Mikhail Gorbachev got into power, in 1986, they were allowed to return to Moscow.
In March 1989, the physicist was elected to the First Congress of Popular Deputies, representing the Academy of Sciences. Sakharov saw many of his causes became official policies of Gorbachev and his successors. He died in Moscow on December 14, 1989.
Gorelik, Gennady and Antonina Bouis, (2005), “The World of Andrei Sakharov: A Russian Physicist’s Path to Freedom”, Oxford, Oxford University Press
Lourie, Richard, (2002), “Sakharov: A Biography”, Brandeis University Press
Sidney D. Drell and George P. Shultz (Editors), (2015), “Andrei Sakharov: The Conscience of Humanity”, Hoover Institution Press Publication