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Revolutions of 1989

Top left: Round Table in Warsaw. Top right: Fall of the Berlin Wall. Middle left: Romanian Revolution. Middle right: Velvet Revolution in Prague. Bottom: Baltic Way in Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian SSR.
Other names Fall of Communism, Collapse of Communism, Collapse of Socialism, Fall of Socialism, Autumn of Nations
Participants Peoples of the Eastern Bloc
People of China
Location Eastern Bloc
Date 1989-1993
Result Peaceful transfer of power to non-Communist governments in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Albania

German reunification
Violent transfer of power to a non-Communist government in Romania
Breakup of the Soviet Union
Breakup of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Wars
Violent Suppression of the Chinese democracy movement
Dissolution of the Warsaw Pact

Changes in dozens of other countries.

End of the Cold War

The Revolutions of 1989 (also known as the Fall of Communism, the Collapse of Communism, and the Autumn of Nations[1]) are the revolutions which overthrew Soviet-style communism state in Eastern-bloc European countries.

The events began in Poland,[2][3] and continued in Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. Romania was the only Eastern-bloc country to overthrow its communist regime violently.[4] The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 failed to stimulate political change in China.

Albania and Yugoslavia abandoned communism by 1991, the latter splitting into five successor states by 1992: Slovenia, Croatia, Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (comprising Serbia and Montenegro). The Soviet Union was dissolved by the end of 1991, resulting in Russia and 14 new nations that declared their independence from the Soviet Union: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The impact was felt in dozens of socialist countries. Socialism was abandoned in countries such as Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Mongolia. The collapse of communism led commentators to declare the end of Cold War.

The adoption of varying forms of market economy resulted in rising incomes around the world. Political development was mixed. In many countries members of communist instutions kept themselves in power.




Rise of socialism

Ideas of socialism had been gaining momentum among working class citizens of the world since the 19th century, these culminated in the early 20th century when several countries and subsequent nations formed their own Communist Parties. Ordinarily, socialism was undesirable within the circles of the ruling classes of the late 19th/early 20th century states; as such, Communist ideology was repressed - its champions suffered persecution while the nation on the whole was discouraged from adopting the mindset. This had been the practice even in the states which identified as excercising a multi-party system.

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 saw the multi-ethnic Soviets overturn a previously nationalist Russian state along with its monarchy. Soviets then spread socialism to many developing countries. The Bolsheviks comprised ethnicities of all entities which would compose the Soviet Union throughout its phases.

During the interwar period, Communism had been on the rise in many parts of the world (eg. in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, it had grown popular in the urban areas throughout the 1920s). This led to a series of purges in many countries to stifle the movement.

Just as Communism had at some stage grown popular throughout the entities of Eastern Europe, its image had also begun to tarnish at a later time all within the interwar period. As socialist activists stepped up their campaigns against their oppressor regimes, they resorted to violence (including bombings and various other killings) to achieve their goal: this led large parts of the previously pro-Communist populace to lose interest in the ideology. A Communist presence forever remained in place however, but reduced from its earlier size.

After World War II, the Soviet Union had established a presence in a number of countries. There, they brought into power various communist parties who were loyal to Moscow. The Soviets retained troops throughout the territories they had occupied. The Cold War saw these states, bound together by the Warsaw Pact, have continuing tensions with the capitilist west symbolised by NATO. Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China and his communist dictatorship in 1949.

During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a spontaneous nationwide anti-authoritarian revolt, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to assert control. In 1968, the USSR repressed the Prague Spring by organizing the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Problems in socialist countries

In the People's Republic of China, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries and land reform, brought about the deaths of tens of millions of people.[5][6]

The press in the communist period was an organ of the state, completely reliant on and subservient to the communist party. Media served as an important form of control over information and society.[7] The dissemination and portrayal of knowledge were considered by authorities to be vital to communism's survival by stifling alternative concepts and critiques.[7] However, Western countries invested in powerful transmitters which enabled Western services to be heard in the Eastern Bloc, despite attempts by authorities to jam the airways. Samizdat was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet-bloc.

Environmental degradation was heavy in socialist countries. The air pollution, groundwater contamination, Trabant, and the Chernobyl disaster became icons of socialism.

Developments in the 1980s

Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979. In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the US presidential election, vowing to increase military spending and confront the Soviets everywhere.[8] Both Reagan and Thatcher denounced the Soviet Union and its ideology. Reagan labeled the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and predicted that Communism would be left on the "ash heap of history".[9]

New Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping developed the concept of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

By the 1980s, nearly all the economies of the Eastern Bloc had stagnated, falling behind the technological advances of the West.[10] The systems, which required party-state planning at all levels, ended up collapsing under the weight of accumulated economic inefficiencies, with various attempts at reform merely contributing to the acceleration of crisis-generating tendencies.[11]

In Poland, more than 60% of population lived in poverty, and inflation, measured by black-market rate of the U.S. dollar, was 1,500% in the period 1982 - 1987.[12]

1980 strike at Gdańsk Shipyard, birthplace of Solidarity.

Labour turmoil in Poland during 1980 had led to the formation of the independent trade union, Solidarity, led by Lech Wałęsa, which over time became a political force. On December 13, 1981, Communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski started a crack-down on Solidarity, declaring martial law in Poland, suspending the union, and temporarily imprisoning all of its leaders. Throughout the mid-1980s, Solidarity persisted solely as an underground organization, supported by the Catholic Church. However, by the late 1980s, Solidarity became sufficiently strong to frustrate Jaruzelski's attempts at reform, and nationwide strikes in 1988 forced the government to open a dialogue with Solidarity.

Meanwhile in the Soviet Union, the KGB chief Yuri Andropov successfully joined the Party Secretariat in May 1982 and became General Secretary. According to his former subordinate Securitate general Ion Mihai Pacepa,

"In the West, if Andropov is remembered at all, it is for his brutal suppression of political dissidence at home and for his role in planning the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. By contrast, the leaders of the former Warsaw Pact intelligence community, when I was one of them, looked up to Andropov as the man who substituted the KGB for the Communist party in governing the Soviet Union, and who was the godfather of Russia's new era of deception operations aimed at improving the badly damaged image of Soviet rulers in the West."[13]

Although several Eastern bloc countries had attempted some abortive, limited economic and political reform since the 1950s (Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Prague Spring of 1968), the advent of reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 signaled the trend toward greater liberalization. During the mid 1980s, a younger generation of Soviet apparatchiks, led by Gorbachev, began advocating fundamental reform in order to reverse years of Brezhnev stagnation. The Soviet Union was facing a period of severe economic decline and needed Western technology and credits to make up for its increasing backwardness. The costs of maintaining its so-called "empire" — the military, KGB, subsidies to foreign client states — further strained the moribund Soviet economy.

The first signs of major reform came in 1986 when Gorbachev launched a policy of glasnost (openness) in the Soviet Union, and emphasized the need for perestroika (economic restructuring). By the spring of 1989, the Soviet Union had not only experienced lively media debate, but had also held its first multi-candidate elections in the newly established Congress of People's Deputies. Though glasnost advocated openness and political criticism, at the time, it was only permitted in accordance with the political views of the Communists. The general public in the Eastern bloc were still threatened by secret police and political repression.

Moscow's largest obstacle to improved political and economic relations with the Western powers remained the Iron Curtain that existed between East and West. As long as the specter of Soviet military intervention loomed over Eastern Europe, it seemed unlikely that Moscow could attract the Western economic support needed to finance the country's restructuring. Gorbachev urged his Eastern European counterparts to imitate perestroika and glasnost in their own countries. However, while reformists in Hungary and Poland were emboldened by the force of liberalization spreading from East to West, other Eastern bloc countries remained openly skeptical and demonstrated aversion to reform. Past experiences had demonstrated that although reform in the Soviet Union was manageable, the pressure for change in Eastern Europe had the potential to become uncontrollable. These regimes owed their creation and continued survival to Soviet-style authoritarianism, backed by Soviet military power and subsidies. Believing Gorbachev's reform initiatives would be short-lived, orthodox Communist rulers like East Germany's Erich Honecker, Bulgaria's Todor Zhivkov, Czechoslovakia's Gustáv Husák, and Romania’s Nicolae Ceauşescu obstinately ignored the calls for change.[14] "When your neighbor puts up new wallpaper, it doesn't mean you have to too," declared one East German politburo member.[15]

Polish Round Table Talks

By 1989, the Soviet Union had repealed the Brezhnev Doctrine in favor of non-intervention in the internal affairs of its Warsaw Pact allies, termed the Sinatra Doctrine in a joking reference to the song "My Way". Poland became the first Warsaw Pact state country to break free of Soviet domination. Taking notice from Poland, Hungary was next to follow.

By the late 1980s, Solidarity became sufficiently strong to frustrate Jaruzelski's attempts at reform, and nationwide strikes in 1988 forced the government to open a dialogue with Solidarity. On March 9, 1989, both sides agreed to a bicameral legislature called the National Assembly. The already existing Sejm would become the lower house. The Senate would be elected by the people. Traditionally a ceremonial office, the presidency was given more powers[16] (Polish Round Table Agreement).

Tiananmen Square protests of 1989

In December 1986, Chinese student demonstrators, taking advantage of the loosening political atmosphere, staged protests against the slow pace of reform. Students called for campus elections, the chance to study abroad, and greater availability of western pop culture. Hu Yaobang, a protégé of Deng Xiaoping and a leading advocate of reform, was blamed for the protests and forced to resign as the CCP General Secretary in January 1987. In the "Anti Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign", Hu would be further denounced.

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were sparked by the death of Hu Yaobang on April 15. By the eve of Hu's funeral, 1,000,000 people had gathered at Tiananmen square.

Gorbachev's visit to the People's Republic of China on May 15 during the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989 brought many foreign news agencies to Beijing, and their sympathetic portrayals of the protesters helped galvanize a spirit of liberation among the Eastern Europeans who were watching. The Chinese leadership, particularly Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, having begun earlier than the Soviets to radically reform the economy, was open to political reform, but not at the cost of a potential return to the disorder of the Cultural Revolution.

The movement lasted seven weeks, from Hu's death on 15 April until tanks cleared Tiananmen Square on 4 June. In Beijing, the resulting military response to the protesters by the PRC government left many civilians and military personnel charged with clearing the square of the dead or severely injured. The number of deaths is not known and many different estimates exist.

Revolutions of 1989


In April 1989, Solidarity was again legalized and allowed to participate in parliamentary elections on June 4, 1989 (incidentally, the day following the midnight crackdown on Chinese protesters in Tiananmen Square). A political earthquake followed. The victory of Solidarity surpassed all predictions. Solidarity candidates captured all the seats they were allowed to compete for in the Sejm, while in the Senate they captured 99 out of the 100 available seats (with the one remaining seat taken by an independent candidate). At the same time, many prominent Communist candidates failed to gain even the minimum number of votes required to capture the seats that were reserved for them. A new non-Communist government, the first of its kind in the former Eastern Bloc, was sworn into office in September 1989.


Following Poland's lead, Hungary was next to revert to a non-communist government. Although Hungary had achieved some lasting economic reforms and limited political liberalization during the 1980s, major reforms only occurred following the replacement of János Kádár as General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1988. That same year, the Parliament adopted a "democracy package", which included trade union pluralism; freedom of association, assembly, and the press; a new electoral law; and a radical revision of the constitution, among others.

In October 1989, the Communist Party convened its last congress and re-established itself as the Hungarian Socialist Party, which still exists today (see MSZP). In a historic session from October 16 to October 20, the parliament adopted legislation providing for multi-party parliamentary elections and a direct presidential election. The legislation transformed Hungary from a People's Republic into the Republic of Hungary, guaranteed human and civil rights, and created an institutional structure that ensured separation of powers among the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government. Hungarians suggested that Soviet troops "go home" — an idea first suggested by Viktor Orbán at the re-burying funeral of Imre Nagy.[citation needed]

East Germany

After a reformed border was opened from Hungary, a growing number of East Germans began emigrating to West Germany via Hungary's border with Austria. By the end of September 1989, more than 30,000 East Germans had escaped to the West before the GDR denied travel to Hungary, leaving the CSSR (Czechoslovakia) as the only neighboring state where East Germans could travel. Thousands of East Germans tried to reach the West by occupying the West German diplomatic facilities in other Eastern European capitals, notably the Prague Embassy where thousands camped in the muddy garden from August to November. The GDR closed the border to the CSSR in early October, thereby isolating itself from all neighbors. Having been shut off from their last chance for escape, East Germans began Monday demonstrations. Hundreds of thousands of people in several cities — particularly Leipzig — eventually took part.

After the October 2 demonstration, Socialist Unity Party (SED) leader Eric Honecker issued a shoot and kill order to the military.[17] Communists prepared a huge police, militia, Stasi, and work-combat troop presence and there were rumors of a Tiananmen Square-style massacre.[18]

On 6 October and 7 October, Gorbachev visited East Germany to mark the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic, and urged the East German leadership to accept reform. A famous quote of his is rendered in German as "Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben" (He who is too late is punished by life). However, the elderly Erich Honecker remained opposed to internal reform, with his regime even going so far as forbidding the circulation of Soviet publications that it viewed as subversive.

Faced with ongoing civil unrest, the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) deposed Honecker in mid-October, and replaced him with Egon Krenz. Also, the border to Czechoslovakia was opened again, but the Czechoslovak authorities soon let all East Germans travel directly to West Germany without further bureaucratic ado, thus lifting their part of the Iron Curtain on 3 November. Unable to stem the ensuing flow of refugees to the West through Czechoslovakia, the East German authorities eventually caved in to public pressure by allowing East German citizens to enter West Berlin and West Germany directly, via existing border points, on November 9, without having properly briefed the border guards. Triggered by the erratic words of Günter Schabowski in a TV press conference, stating that the planned changes were "in effect immediately", hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of the opportunity; soon new crossing points were opened in the Berlin Wall and along the border with West Germany. By December, Krenz had been replaced, and the SED's monopoly on power had ended. This led to the acceleration of the process of reforms in East Germany that ended with the eventual reunification of East and West Germany that came into force on 3 October 1990.

The Kremlin's willingness to abandon such a strategically vital ally marked a dramatic shift by the Soviet superpower and a fundamental paradigm change in international relations, which until 1989 had been dominated by the East-West divide running through Berlin itself.


Territory of former Eastern Bloc states with the dates that Communist rule ended. Dates of declaring independence for former USSR states.

The "Velvet Revolution" was a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia that saw the overthrow of the Communist government. On November 17, 1989 (Friday), riot police suppressed a peaceful student demonstration in Prague. That event sparked a series of popular demonstrations from November 19 to late December. By November 20 the number of peaceful protesters assembled in Prague had swelled from 200,000 the previous day to an estimated half-million. A two-hour general strike, involving all citizens of Czechoslovakia, was successfully held on November 27.

With the collapse of other Communist governments, and increasing street protests, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced on November 28 that it would relinquish power and dismantle the single-party state. Barbed wire and other obstructions were removed from the border with West Germany and Austria in early December. On December 10, President Gustáv Husák appointed the first largely non-Communist government in Czechoslovakia since 1948, and resigned. Alexander Dubček was elected speaker of the federal parliament on December 28 and Václav Havel the President of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989.

In June 1990 Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections since 1946.


The Turkish minority, which had suffered under communism, began to escape on the summer of 1989. About a quarter million Bulgarian Turks escaped to Turkey where large refugee camps were formed.[19]

On November 10, 1989 — the day after the Berlin Wall was breached — Bulgaria's long-serving leader Todor Zhivkov was ousted by his Politburo. Moscow apparently approved the leadership change, despite Zhivkov's reputation as a slavish Soviet ally. Yet, Zhivkov's departure was not enough to satisfy the growing pro-democracy movement. By the time the impact of Mikhail Gorbachev's reform program in the Soviet Union was felt in Bulgaria in the late 1980s, the Communists, like their leader, had grown too feeble to resist the demand for change for long. In November 1989 demonstrations on ecological issues were staged in Sofia, and these soon broadened into a general campaign for political reform. The Communists reacted by deposing the decrepit Zhivkov and replacing him with Petar Mladenov, but this gained them only a short respite. In February 1990 the Communist Party, forced by street protests gave up its claim on power and in June 1990 the first free elections since 1931 were held, won by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (the new name of the Communist Party). Although Zhivkov eventually faced trial in 1991, he escaped the violent fate of his northern comrade, Romanian President Nicolae Ceauşescu.

Malta Summit

The Malta Summit consisted of a meeting between U.S. President George H. W. Bush and U.S.S.R. leader Mikhail Gorbachev, taking place between December 2-3 1989, just a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was their second meeting following a meeting that included then President Ronald Reagan, in New York in December 1988. News reports of the time[citation needed] referred to the Malta Summit as the most important since 1945, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed on a post-war plan for Europe at Yalta.


Unlike other Eastern European countries, Romania had never undergone even limited de-Stalinization, yet had adopted a course independent of Soviet domination since the 1960s. In November 1989, Ceauşescu, then aged 71, was re-elected for another five years as leader of the Romanian Communist Party, signalling that he intended to ride out the anti-Communist uprisings sweeping the rest of Eastern Europe. As Ceauşescu prepared to go on a state visit to Iran, his Securitate ordered the arrest and exile of a local Hungarian-speaking Calvinist minister, László Tőkés, on 16 December, for sermons offending the regime. Tőkés was seized, but only after serious rioting erupted. Timişoara was the first city to react, on 16 December, and it remained rioting for 5 days.

Returning from Iran, Ceauşescu ordered a mass rally in his support outside Communist Party headquarters in Bucharest. However, to his shock, the crowd booed as he spoke. After learning about the incidents (both from Timişoara and from Bucharest) from Western radio stations, years of repressed dissatisfaction boiled to the surface throughout the Romanian populace and even among elements in Ceauşescu's own government, and the demonstrations spread throughout the country. At first the security forces obeyed Ceauşescu's orders to shoot protesters, but on the morning of 22 December, the Romanian military suddenly changed sides. Army tanks began moving towards the Central Committee building with crowds swarming alongside them. The rioters forced open the doors of the Central Committee building in an attempt to get Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena, in their grip, but they managed to escape via a helicopter waiting for them on the roof of the building. The revolution resulted in 1104 deaths.

Although elation followed the flight of the Ceauşescus, uncertainty surrounded their fate. On Christmas Day, Romanian television showed the Ceauşescus facing a hasty trial, and then suffering summary execution. An interim National Salvation Front Council took over and announced elections for April 1990. The first elections were actually held on May 20, 1990.

Albania and Yugoslavia

In the Socialist People's Republic of Albania, Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania for four decades with an iron fist, died 11 April 1985. In 1989, the first revolts started in Shkodra and spread in other cities. Eventually, the existing regime introduced some liberalization, including measures in 1990 providing for freedom to travel abroad. Efforts were begun to improve ties with the outside world. March 1991 elections left the former Communists in power, but a general strike and urban opposition led to the formation of a coalition cabinet including non-Communists. Albania's former Communists were routed in elections March 1992, amid economic collapse and social unrest.

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was not a part of the Warsaw Pact but pursued its own version of communism under Josip Broz Tito. It was a multi-ethnic state, and the tensions between ethnicities first escalated with the so-called Croatian Spring of 1970-71, a movement for greater autonomy of Croatia, which was suppressed. In 1974 there followed constitutional changes devolving some of the federal powers to the constituent republics and provinces. After Tito's death in 1980 ethnic tensions grew, first in Albanian-majority Kosovo. In late 1980s Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milošević used the Kosovo crisis to stoke up Serb nationalism and attempt to consolidate and dominate the country, which alienated the other ethnic groups.

Parallel to the same process, Slovenia witnessed a policy of gradual liberalization since 1984, not unlike the Soviet Perestroika. This provoked tensions between the League of Communists of Slovenia on one side, and the central Yugoslav Party and the Federal Army on the other side. In mid May 1988, the Peasant Union of Slovenia was organized as the first non-Communist political organization in the country. Later in the same month, the Yugoslav Army arrested four Slovenian journalists of the alternative magazine Mladina, accusing them of revealing state secrets. The so-called Ljubljana trial triggered mass protests in Ljubljana and other Slovenian cities. The Committee for the Defence of Human Rights was established as the platform of all major non-Communist political movements. By early 1989, several anti-Communist political parties were already openly functioning, challenging the hegemony of the Slovenian Communists. Soon, the Slovenian Communists, pressured by their own civil society, entered in conflict with the Serbian Communist leadership.

In January 1990, an extraordinary Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia was called in order to settle the disputes among its constituent parties. Faced with being completely outnumbered, the Slovenian Communists left the Congress, thus de facto bringing to an end the Yugoslav Communist Party. The Slovenian Communists were followed by the Croatian ones. Both parties of the two western republics negotiated free multi-party elections with their own opposition movements.

In the spring of 1990s, the democratic and anti-Yugoslav DEMOS coalition won the elections in Slovenia, while the Croatian elections witnessed the landslide victory of the nationalists. The results were much more balanced in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, while the parliamentary and presidential elections in Serbia and Montenegro consolidated the power of Milošević and his supporters. Free elections on the level of the federation were never carried out. Instead, the Slovenian and Croatian leaderships started preparing plans for secession from the federation.

Escalating ethnic and national tensions led to the Yugoslav wars and the independence of the constituent (federal) units, in chronological order:

Collapse of the Soviet Union

On July 1, 1991, the Warsaw Pact was officially dissolved at a meeting in Prague. At a summit later that same month, Gorbachev and Bush declared a US–Soviet strategic partnership, decisively marking the end of the Cold War. President Bush declared that US–Soviet cooperation during the 1990–91 Gulf War had laid the groundwork for a partnership in resolving bilateral and world problems.

As the Soviet Union rapidly withdrew its forces from Eastern Europe, the spillover from the 1989 upheavals began reverberating throughout the Soviet Union itself. Agitation for self-determination led to first Lithuania, and then Estonia, Latvia and Armenia declaring independence. Disaffection in other Soviet republics, such as Georgia and Azerbaijan, was countered by promises of greater decentralization. More open elections led to the election of candidates opposed to Communist Party rule.

Glasnost had inadvertently released the long-suppressed national sentiments of all peoples within the borders of the multinational Soviet state. These nationalist movements were further strengthened by the rapid deterioration of the Soviet economy, whereby Moscow's rule became a convenient scapegoat for economic troubles. Gorbachev's reforms had failed to improve the economy, with the old Soviet command structure completely breaking down. One by one, the constituent republics created their own economic systems and voted to subordinate Soviet laws to local laws.

In an attempt to halt the rapid changes to the system, a group of Soviet hard-liners represented by Vice-President Gennadi Yanayev launched a coup overthrowing Gorbachev in August 1991. Boris Yeltsin, then president of the Russian SFSR, rallied the people and much of the army against the coup and the effort collapsed. Although restored to power, Gorbachev's authority had been irreparably undermined. In September, the Baltic states were granted independence. On December 1, Ukrainian voters approved independence from the Soviet Union in a referendum. On December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union was officially disbanded, breaking up into fifteen constituent parts, thereby ending the world's largest and most influential communist state, and leaving People's Republic of China to that position.

The nations that gained independence from Moscow were:

  • Armenia - The independence struggle included violence. The Nagorno-Karabakh War was fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The war greatly harmed the prospects for real democracy in Armenia, as eventually protecting Armenians and winning the war of Azerbaijan had priority over democracy. Armenia became increasingly militarized (with the ascendancy of Kocharian, a former president of Nagorno-Karabakh, often viewed as a milestone), and elections have since been increasingly controversial, and government more corrupt. After Kocharyan, notably, Serzh Sargsyan ascended to power. Sargsyan is often noted as the "founder of the Armenian and Karabakh militaries" and was, in the past, defense minister and national security minister.
  • Azerbaijan - The Azerbaijani Popular Front Party won first elections with the self-described pro-Western, populist nationalist Elchibey. However, Elchibey planned to end Moscow's advantage in the harvesting of Azeri oil and build much stronger links with Turkey and Europe, and as a result was overthrown by former communists in a coup backed by Russia and Iran (which viewed the new country as a compelling threat, with territorial ambitions within Iranian borders and also being a strong economic rival). Mutallibov rose to power, but he was soon destabilized and eventually ousted due to popular frustation with his incompetence, corruption and bad handling of the war with Armenia. Azerbaijani KGB and Azerbaijani SSR leader Heydar Aliyev captured power and remained president until he transferred the presidency to his son in 2003. The Nagorno-Karabakh War was fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and has largely defined the fates of both countries. However, unlike Armenia, which remains a strong Russian ally, Azerbaijan has begun, since Russia's 2008 war with Georgia, to court not only Turkey but the rest of the West as well and cut ties with Russia, including its CIS membership.
  • Belarus - Communist leader Alexander Lukashenko came to power and has repressed opposition ever since.
  • Chechnya - Using tactics partly copied from the Baltics, Anti-Communist coalition forces led by former Soviet general Dzhokkar Dudayev staged a largely bloodless revolution (with one sole casualty- a CP official who was either pushed or fell out of a window) and ended up forcing the resignation of the communist republican president. Dudayev was elected in a landslide in the following election and in November 1991 he proclaimed Checheno-Ingushetia's independence as the Republic of Ichkeria. Ingushetia voted to leave the union with Chechnya, and was allowed to do so (thus it became the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria). Due to his desire to exclude Moscow from all oil deals, Yeltsin backed a failed coup against him in 1993. In 1994, Chechnya, with only marginal recognition (one country: Georgia, which was revoked soon after the coup landing Shevardnadze in power), was invaded by Russia, spurring the First Chechen War. The Chechens, with considerable assistance from the populations of both former-Soviet countries and from Sunni Muslim countries repelled this invasion and a peace treaty was signed in 1997. However, Chechnya became increasingly lawless and chaotic, largely due to the both political and physical destruction of the state during the invasion, and general Shamil Basaev, having evaded all control by the central government, conducted raids into neighboring Dagestan, which Russia used as pretext for reinvading Ichkeria. Ichkeria was then reincorporated into Russia as Chechnya again, though fighting continues.
  • Estonia - The Singing Revolution achieved independence and democracy.
  • Georgia - In April 1989 the Soviet army repressed demonstrators violently. By November 1989, the Georgian SSR officially condemned Russian invasion in 1921 and continuing occupation. Democracy activist Zviad Gamsakhurdia served as president from 1991 to 1992. A coup d'état installed communist leader Eduard Shevardnadze until the Rose Revolution in 2003.
  • Kazakhstan - Independence struggle began with the Jeltoqsan uprising in 1986. Communist leader Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in power since 1991.
  • Kyrgyzstan - Communist leader Askar Akayev retained power until the Tulip Revolution in 2006.
  • Latvia - The Singing Revolution achieved independence and democracy.
  • Lithuania - The Singing Revolution achieved independence and democracy.
  • Moldova - Participated in the War of Transnistria between Moldova and Russian-connected forces. Communists came back to power in 2001 and allegedly rigged elections in 2009.
  • Tajikistan - Communist leader Rahmon Nabiyev retained power. The events led to the civil war in Tajikistan.
  • Turkmenistan - Communist leader Saparmurat Niyazov retained power and was criticized as one of the world's most totalitarian and repressive dictators.
  • Ukraine - Presidencies of former communists Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma were followed by the Orange Revolution in 2004, in which Ukrainians elected Viktor Yushchenko.
  • Uzbekistan - Communist leader Islam Karimov retained power and has repressed opposition ever since.

Moscow was involved in a number of conflicts, including the Nagorno-Karabakh War, the War of Transnistria, the 1991–1992 South Ossetia War, the First Chechen War, the War in Abkhazia (1992–1993), the Ossetian–Ingush conflict, and the Crimea conflict in Ukraine.

Other events

Socialist countries

Non-socialist countries

Socialists around the world suffered from demoralization and loss of financing.

Terrorist groups were also influenced:

Legacy of socialism

The Black Book of Communism, published in 1997, estimates that 94 million people were killed under communist regimes.[21] Also Holocaust historian Annette Wievriorka argued that the Black Book attempted to substitute the memory of Communism for the memory of Nazi crimes and displace accounts of Nazi atrocities.

The communist indoctrination left a legacy of apathy, indifference, and the disdain of honest work as well as widespread dishonesty.[22]

Communists left the environment severely damaged.

Having experienced horrors of state socialism, many nations have taken tough measures against socialism. In several European countries, endorsing or attempting to justify Nazi or Communist genocide will be punishable by up to 3 years of imprisonment.[23]

Lack of knowledge about communism and communist repression has been criticized. A Swedish study found out that only 10% of students in the age group 15-20 had heard about Gulags, while 95% had heard about Auschwitz. For nearly 50 years Swedish media and school books told almost nothing about the communist terror.[24]

Political reforms

Decommunization is a process of overcoming the legacies of the communist state establishments, culture, and psychology in the post-Communist states. It is similar to denazification.

Decommunization was largely limited or non-existent. Communist parties were not outlawed and their members were not brought to justice. Just a few places even attempted to exclude members of communist secret services from decision-making. In a number of countries the communist party simply changed its name and continued to function.[25]

Economic reforms

Enterprises in socialist countries had little or no interest in producing what customers wanted because of prevailing shortages of goods and services.[26] In the early 1990s, a popular refrain stated that "there is no precedent for moving from socialism to capitalism."[27] Only the over 60 year old people remembered how a market economy worked. It was not hard to imagine Eastern Europe staying poor for decades.[28]

There was a temporary fall of output in official economy and increase in unofficial economy.[26] Countries implemented different reform programs such as the Balcerowicz Plan in Poland. Eventually the official economy began to grow.[26]

In 2004 Polish Nobel Peace Prize winner and President Lech Walesa described a transition from capitalism to communism as "heating up an aquarium with fish" to get fish soup. He said that reversing communism to capitalism was challenging, but "We can already see some little fish swimming in our aquarium."[29]

In a 2007 paper Oleh Havrylyshyn categorized the speed of reforms in the Soviet Bloc:[27]

  • Sustained Big-Bang (fastest): Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia
  • Advance Start/Steady Progress: Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia
  • Aborted Big-Bang: Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia
  • Gradual Reforms: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Romania
  • Limited Reforms (slowest): Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan

It was concluded that gradual reformers suffered more social pain, not less. The countries with fastest transition to market economy performed much better on the Human Development Index.[27]

The 2004 enlargement of the European Union included Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The 2007 enlargement of the European Union included Romania and Bulgaria. The same countries have also become NATO members.

Chinese economic liberalization started since 1978 have helped lift millions of people out of poverty, bringing the poverty rate down from 53% of the population in the Mao era to 12% in 1981. Deng's economic reforms are still being followed by the CPC today and by 2001 the poverty rate became only 6% of the population.[30]

Economic liberalization in Vietnam was initiated in 1986, following Chinese example.

Economic liberalization in India was initiated in 1991.

Harvard University Professor Richard B. Freeman has called the effect of reforms "The Great Doubling". He calculated that the size of global workforce doubled from 1.46 billion workers to 2.93 billion workers.[31][32] An immediate effect was a reduced ratio of capital to labor. In the long term China, India, and the former Soviet bloc will save and invest and contribute to the expansion of the world capital stock.[32]

China's rapid growth has led some people to predict a "Chinese Century".[33][34][35]

Communism in Russia

Compared with the efforts of the other former constituents of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union, decommunization in Russia has been restricted to half-measures, if conducted at all.[36] As of 2008, nearly half of Russians view Stalin positively, and many support restoration of his monuments dismantled in the past.[37][38] The siloviki continued to exercise great power in Russia. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, has called the collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century".[39]

In 1992, President Yeltsin's government invited Vladimir Bukovsky to serve as an expert to testify at the CPSU trial by Constitutional Court of Russia, where the communists were suing Yeltsin for banning their party. The respondent's case was that the CPSU itself had been an unconstitutional organization. To prepare for his testimony, Bukovsky requested and was granted access to a large number of documents from Soviet archives (then reorganized into TsKhSD). Using a small handheld scanner and a laptop computer, he managed to secretly scan many documents (some with high security clearance), including KGB reports to the Central Committee, and smuggle the files to the West.[40] The event that many expected would be another Nuremberg Trial and the beginnings of reconciliation with the Communist past, ended up in half-measures: while the CPSU was found unconstitutional, the communists were allowed to form new parties in the future. Bukovsky expressed his deep disappointment with this in his writings and interviews:

Having failed to finish off conclusively the communist system, we are now in danger of integrating the resulting monster into our world. It may not be called communism anymore, but it retained many of its dangerous characteristics... Until the Nuremberg-style tribunal passes its judgment on all the crimes committed by communism, it is not dead and the war is not over.[41]


The events caught many by surprise. Predictions of the Soviet Union's impending demise had been often dismissed.[42]

Bartlomiej Kaminski's book The Collapse Of State Socialism argued that the state socialist system has a lethal paradox: "policy actions designed to improve performance only accelerate its decay".[43]

By the end of 1989, revolts had spread from one capital to another, ousting the regimes imposed on Eastern Europe after World War II. Even the isolationist Stalinist regime in Albania was unable to stem the tide. Gorbachev's abrogation of the Brezhnev Doctrine was perhaps the key factor that enabled the popular uprisings to succeed. Once it became evident that the feared Red Army would not intervene to crush dissent, the Eastern European regimes were exposed as vulnerable in the face of popular uprisings against the one-party system and power of secret police.

Coit D. Blacker wrote in 1990 that the Soviet leadership "appeared to have believed that whatever loss of authority the Soviet Union might suffer in Eastern Europe would be more than offset by a net increase in its influence in western Europe."[44] Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Gorbachev ever intended for the complete dismantling of Communism and the Warsaw Pact. Rather, Gorbachev assumed that the Communist parties of Eastern Europe could be reformed in a similar way to the reforms he hoped to achieve in the CPSU. Just as perestroika was aimed at making the Soviet Union more efficient economically and politically, Gorbachev believed that the Comecon and Warsaw Pact could be reformed into more effective entities. However, Alexander Yakovlev, a close advisor to Gorbachev, would later state that it would have been "absurd to keep the system" in Eastern Europe. Yakovlev had come to the conclusion that the Soviet-dominated Comecon could not work on non-market principles and that the Warsaw Pact had "no relevance to real life."[15]


Public holidays

Symbols, memorials and museums

Literature, music, films

  • The Soviet Story - An award-winning documentary film about the Soviet Union.
  • The Singing Revolution - A documentary film about the Singing Revolution.
  • Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism - A book and a documentary film based on the book
  • Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire - A Pulitzer Prize-awarded book

See also


This article incorporates information from the revision as of 1 April 2006 of the equivalent article on the Polish Wikipedia.
  1. ^ See various uses of this term in the following publications. The term is a play on a more widely used term for 1848 revolutions, the Spring of Nations.
  2. ^ Sorin Antohi and Vladimir Tismăneanu, "Independence Reborn and the Demons of the Velvet Revolution" in Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath, Central European University Press. ISBN 963-9116-71-8. p.85.
  3. ^ Boyes, Roger (2009-06-04). "World Agenda: 20 years later, Poland can lead eastern Europe once again". The Times. Retrieved 2009-06-04. 
  4. ^ Piotr Sztompka, preface to Society in Action: the Theory of Social Becoming, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-78815-6. p. x.
  5. ^ Short, Philip (2001). Mao: A Life. Owl Books. p. 631. ISBN 0805066381. ; Chang, Jung and Halliday, Jon. Mao: The Unknown Story. Jonathan Cape, London, 2005. ISBN 0-224-07126-2 p. 3; Rummel, R. J. China’s Bloody Century: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900 Transaction Publishers, 1991. ISBN 0-88738-417-X p. 205: In light of recent evidence, Rummel has increased Mao's democide toll to 77 million.
  6. ^ Fenby, Jonathan. Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present. Ecco, 2008. ISBN 0-06-166116-3 p. 351"Mao’s responsibility for the extinction of anywhere from 40 to 70 million lives brands him as a mass killer greater than Hitler or Stalin, his indifference to the suffering and the loss of humans breathtaking."
  7. ^ a b O'Neil 1997, p. 1
  8. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 189
  9. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 197
  10. ^ Frucht 2003, p. 382
  11. ^ Hardt & Kaufman 1995, p. 10
  12. ^ In search of Poland By Arthur R. Rachwald, page 120
  13. ^ No Peter the Great. Vladimir Putin is in the Andropov mold, by Ion Mihai Pacepa, National Review, 20 September 2004
  14. ^ Romania - Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, U.S. Library of Congress
  15. ^ a b Steele, Jonathan. Eternal Russia: Yeltsin, Gorbachev and the Mirage of Democracy. Boston: Faber, 1994.
  16. ^ Poland:Major Political Reform Agreed, Facts on File World News Digest, 24 March 1989. Facts on File News Services. 6 September 2007
  17. ^ Rosalind M. O. Pritchard. Reconstructing education: East German schools and universities after unification. p. 10. 
  18. ^ Mary Fulbrook. History of Germany, 1918-2000: the divided nation. p. 256. 
  19. ^ Audio slideshow: The exodus of Bulgaria's Turks
  20. ^ Schmeidel, John. "My Enemy's Enemy: Twenty Years of Co-operation between West Germany's Red Army Faction and the GDR Ministry for State Security." Intelligence and National Security 8, no. 4 (Oct. 1993): 59-72.
  21. ^ Page 4, Black Book of Communism ISBN 0674076087
  22. ^ The Legacy of Communism: Poisoned Minds and Souls. Elisabeth Tamedly Lenches. International Journal of Social Economics. 1993
  23. ^ Is Holocaust denial against the law? Anne Frank House
  24. ^ Swedish school children's knowledge of communist war crimes is dire
  25. ^ After socialism: where hope for individual liberty lies. Svetozar Pejovich.
  26. ^ a b c Anders Aslund (2000-12-01). "The Myth of Output Collapse after Communism". 
  27. ^ a b c Oleh Havrylyshyn (November 9, 2007). "Fifteen Years of Transformation in the Post-Communist World". 
  28. ^ "The world after 1989: Walls in the mind". The Economist. 2009-11-05. 
  29. ^ Nobel Peace Prize winner predicts optimism for the future under "the banner of Our Lady"
  30. ^ Fighting Poverty: Findings and Lessons from China’s Success (World Bank). Retrieved August 10, 2006.
  31. ^ The Great Doubling: The Challenge of the New Global Labor Market
  32. ^ a b Richard Freeman (2008). "The new global labor market". University of Wisconsin–Madison Institute for Research on Poverty. 
  33. ^ "China set to be largest economy". BBC News. 2006-05-22. 
  34. ^ "The Chinese Century". TIME Magazine. 2007-01-22.,9171,1576831,00.html. 
  35. ^ Fishman, Ted C. (4 July 2004). "The Chinese Century". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 September 2009. 
  36. ^ Karl W. Ryavec. Russian Bureaucracy: Power and Pathology, 2003, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0-847-69503-4, page 13
  37. ^ “The Glamorous Tyrant: The Cult of Stalin Experiences a Rebirth,” by Mikhail Pozdnyaev, Novye Izvestia
  38. ^
  39. ^ Putin deplores collapse of USSR BBC
  40. ^ Many of these scanned documents are available as the "Soviet Archives" (INFO-RUSS)
  41. ^ The Cold War and the War Against Terror By Jamie Glazov (FrontPageMagazine) July 1, 2002
  42. ^ Cummins, Ian (23 December 1995). "The Great MeltDown". The Australian. 
  43. ^ The Collapse Of State Socialism Foreign Affairs
  44. ^ Coit D. Blacker. "The Collapse of Soviet Power in Europe." Foreign Affairs. 1990.

External links


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