Revolutions of 1989

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Revolutions of 1989
Part of the Cold War
The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989
Date4 June 1989 – 26 December 1991
(2 years, 6 months, 3 weeks and 1 day)
Caused by
Resulted in
Parties to the civil conflict
Citizens of Eastern Bloc nations
Also known as Fall of Communism, Fall of Stalinism, Collapse of Communism, Collapse of Socialism, Fall of Socialism, Autumn of Nations, Fall of Nations

The Revolutions of 1989 formed part of a revolutionary wave in the late 1980s and early 1990s that resulted in the end of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond. The period is sometimes called the Fall of Nations or the Autumn of Nations, [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] a play on the term Spring of Nations that is sometimes used to describe the Revolutions of 1848.

Revolutionary wave series of revolutions occurring in various locations within a similar time span, generally favouring similar ideologies

A revolutionary wave or revolutionary decade is a series of revolutions occurring in various locations within a similar time span. In many cases, past revolutions and revolutionary waves have inspired current ones, or an initial revolution has inspired other concurrent "affiliate revolutions" with similar aims. The causes of revolutionary waves have been studied by historians and political philosophers, including Robert Roswell Palmer, Crane Brinton, Hannah Arendt, Eric Hoffer, and Jacques Godechot.

Central and Eastern Europe Geographic region in Europe

Central and Eastern Europe, abbreviated CEE, is a term encompassing the countries in Central Europe, the Baltics, Eastern Europe, and Southeastern Europe (Balkans), usually meaning former communist states from the Eastern Bloc in Europe. Scholarly literature often uses the abbreviations CEE or CEEC for this term. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development also uses the term "Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs)" for a group comprising some of these countries.

Revolutions of 1848 Series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848

The Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations, People's Spring, Springtime of the Peoples, or the Year of Revolution, were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848. It remains the most widespread revolutionary wave in European history.


The events of the full-blown revolution first began in Poland in 1989 [9] [10] and continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. One feature common to most of these developments was the extensive use of campaigns of civil resistance, demonstrating popular opposition to the continuation of one-party rule and contributing to the pressure for change. [11] Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country whose citizens overthrew its Communist regime violently. [12] Protests in Tiananmen Square (April–June 1989) failed to stimulate major political changes in China, but influential images of courageous defiance during that protest helped to precipitate events in other parts of the globe. On 4 June 1989, the trade union Solidarity won an overwhelming victory in a partially free election in Poland, leading to the peaceful fall of Communism in that country in the summer of 1989. Also in June 1989, Hungary began dismantling its section of the physical Iron Curtain, leading to an exodus of East Germans through Hungary, which destabilised East Germany. This led to mass demonstrations in cities such as Leipzig and subsequently to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, which served as the symbolic gateway to German reunification in 1990.

Polish Peoples Republic official name of Poland from 1952 to 1989

The Polish People's Republic was a country in Central Europe that existed from 1947 to 1989, and the predecessor of the modern democratic Republic of Poland. With a population of approximately 37.9 million inhabitants near the end of its existence, it was the most populous state of the Eastern Bloc after the Soviet Union. Having a unitary Marxist–Leninist communist government imposed by the Soviet Union following World War II, it was also one of the main signatories of the Warsaw Pact. The largest city and official capital since 1947 was Warsaw, followed by industrial Łódź and cultural Kraków.

East Germany Former communist country, 1949-1990

East Germany, officially the German Democratic Republic, was a country that existed from 1949 to 1990, when the eastern portion of Germany was part of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. It described itself as a socialist "workers' and peasants' state", and the territory was administered and occupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II — the Soviet occupation zone of the Potsdam Agreement, bounded on the east by the Oder–Neisse line. The Soviet zone surrounded West Berlin but did not include it; as a result, West Berlin remained outside the jurisdiction of the GDR.

Peoples Republic of Bulgaria Former communist country that existed 1946-1990 in Southeastern Europe

The People's Republic of Bulgaria was the official name of Bulgaria, when it was a socialist republic.

The Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, resulting in eleven new countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan), which had declared their independence from the Soviet Union in the course of the year, while the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) regained their independence in September 1991. The rest of the Soviet Union, which constituted the bulk of the area, became the Russian Federation in December 1991. Albania and Yugoslavia abandoned Communism between 1990 and 1992. By 1992, Yugoslavia had split into five successor states, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was later renamed Serbia and Montenegro in 2003 and eventually split in 2006 into two states, Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia was then further split with the breakaway of the partially recognised state of Kosovo in 2008. Czechoslovakia dissolved three years after the end of Communist rule, splitting peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992. [13] The impact of these events was felt in many Socialist countries. Communism was abandoned in countries such as Cambodia (1991), Ethiopia (1990), Mongolia (which in 1990 democratically re-elected a Communist government that ran the country until 1996) and South Yemen (1990).

Dissolution of the Soviet Union Process leading to the late-1991 breakup of the USSR

The dissolution of the Soviet Union occurred on 26 December 1991, officially granting self-governing independence to the Republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). It was a result of the declaration number 142-Н of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. The declaration acknowledged the independence of the former Soviet republics and created the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), although five of the signatories ratified it much later or did not do so at all. On the previous day, 25 December, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and final leader of the USSR, resigned, declared his office extinct and handed over its powers—including control of the Soviet nuclear missile launching codes—to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. That evening at 7:32 p.m., the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time and replaced with the pre-revolutionary Russian flag.

Armenia Republic in South Caucasus in West Asia

Armenia, officially the Republic of Armenia, is a country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located in Western Asia on the Armenian Highlands, it is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, the de facto independent Republic of Artsakh and Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and Azerbaijan's exclave of Nakhchivan to the south.

Azerbaijan Country in the South Caucasus

Azerbaijan, officially the Republic of Azerbaijan, is a country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west and Iran to the south. The exclave of Nakhchivan is bounded by Armenia to the north and east, Iran to the south and west, and has an 11 km (6.8 mi) long border with Turkey in the northwest.

During the adoption of varying forms of market economy, there was a general decline in living standards for many former Communist countries. [14] Political reforms were varied, but in only four countries were Communist parties able to retain a monopoly on power, namely China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam (North Korea went through a constitutional change in 2009 that made it nominally no longer Communist, but still de facto organised on Stalinist lines). Many communist and socialist organisations in the West turned their guiding principles over to social democracy and democratic socialism. Communist parties in Italy and San Marino suffered and the reformation of the Italian political class took place in the early 1990s. In South America, the Pink tide began with Venezuela in 1999 and swept through the early 2000s. The European political landscape changed drastically, with several former Eastern Bloc countries joining NATO and the European Union, resulting in stronger economic and social integration with Western Europe and the United States.

A market economy is an economic system in which the decisions regarding investment, production and distribution are guided by the price signals created by the forces of supply and demand. The major characteristic of a market economy is the existence of factor markets that play a dominant role in the allocation of capital and the factors of production.

Cuba Country in the Caribbean

Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba, is a country comprising the island of Cuba as well as Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet. It is east of the Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico), south of both the U.S. state of Florida and the Bahamas, west of Haiti and north of both Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Havana is the largest city and capital; other major cities include Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. The area of the Republic of Cuba is 110,860 square kilometers (42,800 sq mi). The island of Cuba is the largest island in Cuba and in the Caribbean, with an area of 105,006 square kilometers (40,543 sq mi), and the second-most populous after Hispaniola, with over 11 million inhabitants.

Laos Socialist state in southeast Asia

Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, commonly referred to by its colloquial name of Muang Lao, is a socialist state and the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. Located at the heart of the Indochinese peninsula, Laos is bordered by Myanmar (Burma) and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southwest, and Thailand to the west and southwest.


Development of the Eastern Bloc

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 states and colonies formed their own communist parties. Many of the countries involved had hierarchical structures with monarchic governments and aristocratic social structures with an established nobility. Socialism was undesirable within the circles of the ruling classes (which had begun to include industrial business leaders) in the late 19th/early 20th century states; as such, communism was repressed. Its champions suffered persecution while people were discouraged from adopting it. This had been the practice even in states which identified as exercising a multi-party system.

Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership of the means of production and workers' self-management, as well as the political theories and movements associated with them. Social ownership can be public, collective or cooperative ownership, or citizen ownership of equity. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, with social ownership being the common element shared by its various forms.

State (polity) Organised community living under a system of government; either a sovereign state, constituent state, or federated state

The term state refers to a form of polity, that is typically characterised as a centralized organisation. There is no single, undisputed, definition of what constitutes a state. A widely-used definition is a state being a polity that, within a given territory, maintains a monopoly on the use of force, but many other widely used definitions exist.

Aristocracy (class) person who either possess hereditary titles granted by a monarch or are related to such people

The aristocracy is a social class that a particular society considers its highest order. In many states, the aristocracy included the upper class of people (aristocrats) with hereditary rank and titles. In some—such as ancient Greece, Rome, and India—aristocratic status came from belonging to a military caste, although it has also been common, notably in African societies, for aristocrats to belong to priestly dynasties. Aristocratic status can involve feudal or legal privileges. They are usually below only the monarch of a country or nation in its social hierarchy. In modern European societies, the aristocracy has often coincided with the nobility, a specific class that arose in the Middle Ages, but the term "aristocracy" is sometimes also applied to other elites, and is used as a more generic term when describing earlier and non-European societies.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 saw the first communist state in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), when the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government.

Russian Revolution 20th-century revolution leading to the downfall of the Russian monarchy

The Russian Revolution was a period of political and social revolution across the territory of the Russian Empire which started with the abolishment of monarchy and concluded with the establishment of the Soviet Union by the bolsheviks and the end of the civil war.

Communist state State that aims to achieve socialism and then communism

A Communist state is a state that is administered and governed by a single party, guided by Marxist–Leninist philosophy.

Bolsheviks faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party

The Bolsheviks, also known in English as the Bolshevists, were a faction founded by Vladimir Lenin and Alexander Bogdanov that split from the Menshevik faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) at its Second Party Congress in 1903. The RSDLP was a revolutionary socialist political party formed in 1898 in Minsk to unite the various revolutionary organisations of the Russian Empire into one party.

During the period between the world wars, communism had been on the rise in many parts of the world, especially in towns and cities. This led to a series of purges in many countries to stifle the movement. Violent resistance to this repression led to an increase in support for communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

In the early stages of World War II, both Nazi Germany and the USSR invaded and occupied the countries of Eastern Europe after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Germany then turned against and invaded the USSR: the battles of this Eastern Front were the largest in history. The USSR joined with the Allies and in conferences at Tehran and Yalta, the Allies agreed that Central and Eastern Europe would be in the "Soviet sphere of political influence.". The USSR fought the Germans to a standstill and finally began driving them back, reaching Berlin before the end of the war. Nazi ideology was violently anti-communist, and the Nazis brutally suppressed communist movements in the countries it occupied. Communists played a large part in the resistance to the Nazis in these countries. As the Soviets forced the Germans back, they assumed temporary control of these devastated areas.

After World War II, the Soviets ensured that communists loyal to Moscow took power in the countries it occupied. The Soviets retained troops throughout these territories. The Cold War saw these states, bound together by the Warsaw Pact, have continuing tensions with the capitalist west, bound together by NATO. The Chinese Revolution established communism in China in 1949.

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

Emergence of Solidarity in Poland

Labour turmoil in Poland during 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union Solidarity, led by Lech Wałęsa, which over time became a political force. On 13 December 1981, Polish Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski started a crackdown on Solidarity by declaring martial law in Poland, suspending the union, and temporarily imprisoning all of its leaders.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Although several Eastern bloc countries had attempted some abortive, limited economic and political reform since the 1950s (e.g. the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and Prague Spring of 1968), the ascension 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. After decades of growth, the Soviet Union was now facing a period of severe economic decline and needed Western technology and credits[ clarification needed ] to make up for its increasing backwardness. The costs of maintaining its military, the KGB, and 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. While glasnost ostensibly advocated openness and political criticism, these were only permitted within a narrow spectrum dictated by the state. The general public in the Eastern bloc was still subject to secret police and political repression.

Gorbachev urged his Central and Southeast 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 the east, other Eastern bloc countries remained openly skeptical and demonstrated aversion to reform. Believing Gorbachev's reform initiatives would be short-lived, hardline 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. [15] "When your neighbor puts up new wallpaper, it doesn't mean you have to too," declared one East German politburo member. [16]

Soviet republics

An animated series of maps showing the fall of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which later led to conflicts in the post-Soviet space USSR Map timeline.gif
An animated series of maps showing the fall of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which later led to conflicts in the post-Soviet space

By the late 1980s, people in the Caucasus and Baltic states were demanding more autonomy from Moscow, and the Kremlin was losing some of its control over certain regions and elements in the Soviet Union. In November 1988, the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic issued a declaration of sovereignty, [17] which would eventually lead to other states making similar declarations of autonomy.

The Chernobyl disaster in April 1986 had major political and social effects that catalyzed or at least partially caused the revolutions of 1989. One political result of the disaster was the greatly increased significance of the new Soviet policy of glasnost. [18] [19] It is difficult to establish the total economic cost of the disaster. According to Gorbachev, the Soviet Union spent 18 billion rubles (the equivalent of US$18 billion at that time) on containment and decontamination, virtually bankrupting itself. [20]

Impact of Solidarity grows

The 20-21 March 1981 issue of Wieczor Wroclawia (This Evening in Wroclaw) shows blank spaces remaining after the government censor pulled articles from page 1 (right, "What happened at Bydgoszcz?") and from the last page (left, "Country-wide strike alert"), leaving only their titles as the printers--Solidarity-trade-union members--decided to run the newspaper with blank spaces intact. The bottom of page 1 of this master copy bears the hand-written Solidarity confirmation of that decision. WieczorWroclawia20marca1981.jpg
The 20–21 March 1981 issue of Wieczór Wrocławia (This Evening in Wrocław ) shows blank spaces remaining after the government censor pulled articles from page 1 (right, "What happened at Bydgoszcz?") and from the last page (left, "Country-wide strike alert"), leaving only their titles as the printers—Solidarity-trade-union members—decided to run the newspaper with blank spaces intact. The bottom of page 1 of this master copy bears the hand-written Solidarity confirmation of that decision.

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 dialogue with Solidarity. On 9 March 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 [21] (Polish Round Table Agreement).

On 7 July 1989, President Mikhail Gorbachev implicitly renounced the use of force against other Soviet-bloc nations. Speaking to members of the 23-nation Council of Europe, Mr. Gorbachev made no direct reference to the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, under which Moscow had asserted the right to use force to prevent a Warsaw Pact member from leaving the Communist fold. He stated, "Any interference in domestic affairs and any attempts to restrict the sovereignty of states—friends, allies or any others—are inadmissible". [22] The policy was termed the Sinatra Doctrine, in a joking reference to the Frank Sinatra song "My Way". Poland became the first Warsaw Pact country to break free of Soviet domination.

Regime changes outside of Eastern Europe

In February 1986, in one of the first peaceful, mass-movement revolutions against a dictatorship, the People Power Revolution in the Philippines peacefully overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos and inaugurated Cory Aquino as president.

The domino effect of the revolutions of 1989 affected other regimes as well. The South African apartheid regime and Pinochet's military dictatorship in Chile were gradually dismantled during the 1990s as the West withdrew their funding and diplomatic support. Argentina, Ghana, Indonesia, Nicaragua, South Korea, Suriname, Republic of China (Taiwan), and North and South Yemen, among many others, elected democratic governments.

Exact tallies of the number of democracies vary depending on the criteria used for assessment, but by some measures by the late 1990s there were well over 100 democracies in the world, a marked increase in just a few decades.[ citation needed ]

National political movements


Queue waiting to enter a store, a typical view in Poland in the 1980s Kolejka.jpeg
Queue waiting to enter a store, a typical view in Poland in the 1980s

A wave of strikes hit Poland in April and May 1988. A second wave began on 15 August, when a strike broke out at the July Manifesto coal mine in Jastrzębie-Zdrój, with the workers demanding the re-legalisation of the Solidarity trade union. Over the next few days, sixteen other mines went on strike followed by a number of shipyards, including on 22 August the Gdansk Shipyard, famous as the epicentre of the 1980 industrial unrest that spawned Solidarity. [23] On 31 August 1988 Lech Wałęsa, the leader of Solidarity, was invited to Warsaw by the Communist authorities, who had finally agreed to talks. [24]

On 18 January 1989 at a stormy session of the Tenth Plenary Session of the ruling United Workers' Party, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the First Secretary, managed to get party backing for formal negotiations with Solidarity leading to its future legalisation, although this was achieved only by threatening the resignation of the entire party leadership if thwarted. [25] On 6 February 1989 formal Round Table discussions began in the Hall of Columns in Warsaw. On 4 April 1989 the historic Round Table Agreement was signed legalising Solidarity and setting up partly free parliamentary elections to be held on 4 June 1989 (incidentally, the day following the midnight crackdown on Chinese protesters in Tiananmen Square). A political earthquake followed as 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.

Solidarity Chairman Lech Walesa (center) with President George H. W. Bush (right) and Barbara Bush (left) in Warsaw, July 1989 Lech Walesa George H Bush.PNG
Solidarity Chairman Lech Wałęsa (center) with President George H. W. Bush (right) and Barbara Bush (left) in Warsaw, July 1989

On 15 August 1989, the Communists' two longtime coalition partners, the United People's Party (ZSL) and the Democratic Party (SD), broke their alliance with the PZPR and announced their support for Solidarity. The last Communist Prime Minister of Poland, General Czesław Kiszczak, said he would resign to allow a non-Communist to form an administration. [26] As Solidarity was the only other political grouping that could possibly form a government, it was virtually assured that a Solidarity member would become prime minister. On 19 August 1989, in a stunning watershed moment, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, an anti-Communist editor, Solidarity supporter, and devout Catholic, was nominated as Prime Minister of Poland and the Soviet Union voiced no protest. [27] Five days later, on 24 August 1989, Poland's Parliament ended more than 40 years of one-party rule by making Mazowiecki the country's first non-Communist Prime Minister since the early postwar years. In a tense Parliament, Mazowiecki received 378 votes, with 4 against and 41 abstentions. [28] On 13 September 1989, a new non-Communist government was approved by parliament, the first of its kind in the Eastern Bloc. [29] On 17 November 1989 the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, Polish founder of the Cheka and symbol of Communist oppression, was torn down in Bank Square, Warsaw. [30] On 29 December 1989 the Sejm amended the constitution to change the official name of the country from the People's Republic of Poland to the Republic of Poland. The communist Polish United Workers' Party dissolved itself on 29 January 1990 and transformed itself into the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland. [31]

In 1990, Jaruzelski resigned as Poland's president and was succeeded by Wałęsa, who won the 1990 presidential elections [31] held in two rounds on 25 November and 9 December. Wałęsa's inauguration as president on 21 December 1990 is thought by many to be the formal end of the Communist People's Republic of Poland and the beginning of the modern Republic of Poland. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved on 1 July 1991. On 27 October 1991 the first entirely free Polish parliamentary elections since 1945 took place. This completed Poland's transition from Communist Party rule to a Western-style liberal democratic political system. The last Russian troops left Poland on 18 September 1993. [31]


Following Poland's lead, Hungary was next to switch 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 on 23 May 1988 with Károly Grósz. [32] On 24 November 1988 Miklós Németh was appointed Prime Minister. On 12 January 1989, 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 other provisions. [33] On 29 January 1989, contradicting the official view of history held for more than 30 years, a member of the ruling Politburo, Imre Pozsgay, declared that Hungary's 1956 rebellion was a popular uprising rather than a foreign-instigated attempt at counterrevolution. [34]

Magyars demonstrate at state TV headquarters, 15 March 1989 Nemzeti Unnep - Szabadsag ter 1989.03.15 (4).jpg
Magyars demonstrate at state TV headquarters, 15 March 1989

Mass demonstrations on 15 March, the National Day, persuaded the regime to begin negotiations with the emergent non-Communist political forces. Round Table talks began on 22 April and continued until the Round Table agreement was signed on 18 September. The talks involved the Communists (MSzMP) and the newly emerging independent political forces Fidesz, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SzDSz), the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), the Independent Smallholders' Party, the Hungarian People's Party, the Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Society, and the Democratic Trade Union of Scientific Workers. At a later stage the Democratic Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) were invited. [35] At these talks a number of Hungary's future political leaders emerged, including László Sólyom, József Antall, György Szabad, Péter Tölgyessy and Viktor Orbán. [36]

On 2 May 1989, the first visible cracks in the Iron Curtain appeared when Hungary began dismantling its 240-kilometre (150 mi) long border fence with Austria. [37] This increasingly destabilized East Germany and Czechoslovakia over the summer and autumn, as thousands of their citizens illegally crossed over to the West through the Hungarian-Austrian border. On 1 June 1989 the Communist Party admitted that former Prime Minister Imre Nagy, hanged for treason for his role in the 1956 Hungarian uprising, was executed illegally after a show trial. [38] On 16 June 1989 Nagy was given a solemn funeral on Budapest's largest square in front of crowds of at least 100,000, followed by a hero's burial. [39]

The Round Table agreement of 18 September encompassed six draft laws that covered an overhaul of the Constitution, establishment of a Constitutional Court, the functioning and management of political parties, multiparty elections for National Assembly deputies, the penal code and the law on penal procedures (the last two changes represented an additional separation of the Party from the state apparatus). [40] [41] The electoral system was a compromise: about half of the deputies would be elected proportionally and half by the majoritarian system. [42] A weak presidency was also agreed upon, but no consensus was attained on who should elect the president (parliament or the people) and when this election should occur (before or after parliamentary elections). On 7 October 1989, the Communist Party at its last congress re-established itself as the Hungarian Socialist Party. [43] In a historic session from 16 to 20 October, the parliament adopted legislation providing for a multi-party parliamentary election and a direct presidential election, which took place on March 24, 1990. [44] 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. [45] On 23 October 1989, on the 33rd anniversary of the 1956 Revolution, the Communist regime in Hungary was formally abolished. The Soviet military occupation of Hungary, which had persisted since World War II, ended on 19 June 1991.

East Germany

Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate, 10 November 1989 BerlinWall-BrandenburgGate.jpg
Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate, 10 November 1989

On 2 May 1989, Hungary started dismantling its barbed-wire border with Austria, opening a large hole through the Iron Curtain to the West that was used by a growing number of East Germans. 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 Czechoslovakia as the only neighboring state to which East Germans could escape. Thousands of East Germans tried to reach the West by occupying the West German diplomatic facilities in other Central and Eastern European capitals, notably the Prague Embassy and the Hungarian Embassy, where thousands camped in the muddy garden from August to November waiting for German political reform. The GDR closed the border to the Czechoslovakia on 3 October, thereby isolating itself from all its neighbors. Having been shut off from their last chance for escape, an increasing number of East Germans participated in the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig on 4, 11, and 18 September, each attracting 1,200 to 1,500 demonstrators. Many were arrested and beaten, but the people refused to be intimidated. On 25 September, the protests attracted 8,000 demonstrators.

After the fifth successive Monday demonstration in Leipzig on 2 October attracted 10,000 protesters, Socialist Unity Party (SED) leader Erich Honecker issued a shoot and kill order to the military. [46] Communists prepared a huge police, militia, Stasi, and work-combat troop presence, and there were rumors a Tiananmen Square-style massacre was being planned for the following Monday's demonstration on 9 October. [47]

On 6 and 7 October, Mikhail 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" ("The one who comes too late is punished by life."). However, 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.

In spite of rumors that the Communists were planning a massacre on 9 October, 70,000 citizens demonstrated in Leipzig that Monday, and the authorities on the ground refused to open fire. This victory of the people facing down the Communists' guns encouraged more citizens to take to the streets. The following Monday, 16 October, 120,000 people demonstrated on the streets of Leipzig.

Erich Honecker had hoped that the Soviet troops stationed in the GDR by the Warsaw Pact would restore the communist government and suppress the civilian protests. By 1989 the Soviet government deemed it impractical for the Soviet Union to continue asserting its control over the Eastern Bloc, so it took a neutral stance regarding the events happening in East Germany. Soviet troops stationed in eastern Europe were under strict instructions from the Soviet leadership not to intervene in the political affairs of the Eastern Bloc nations and remained in their barracks. Faced with ongoing civil unrest, the SED deposed Honecker on 18 October and replaced him with the number-two-man in the regime, Egon Krenz. However, the demonstrations kept growing, and on Monday 23 October the Leipzig protesters numbered 300,000 and remained as large the following week.

The border to Czechoslovakia was opened again on 1 November, and 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. On 4 November the authorities decided to authorize a demonstration in Berlin and were faced with the Alexanderplatz demonstration, where half a million citizens converged on the capital demanding freedom in the biggest protest the GDR ever witnessed. 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 9 November 1989, without having properly briefed the border guards. Triggered by the erratic words of regime spokesman Günter Schabowski in a TV press conference, stating that the planned changes were in effect "immediately, without delay," hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of the opportunity. The guards were quickly overwhelmed by the growing crowds of people demanding to be let out into West Berlin. After receiving no feedback from their superiors, the guards, unwilling to use force, relented and opened the gates to West Berlin. Soon new crossing points were forced open in the Berlin Wall by the people, and sections of the wall were literally torn down as this symbol of oppression was overwhelmed. The bewildered guards were unaware of what was happening and meekly stood by as the East Germans took to the wall with hammers and chisels.

Berlin Wall, October 1990, Saying "Thank You, Gorbi" RIAN archive 428452 Germany becomes one country.jpg
Berlin Wall, October 1990, Saying "Thank You, Gorbi"

On 7 November, the complete Ministerrat der DDR (State Council of East Germany), including its chairman Willi Stoph, resigned. [48] A new government was formed under a considerably more liberal Communist, Hans Modrow. [49] On 1 December, the Volkskammer removed the SED's leading role from the constitution of the GDR. On 3 December Krenz resigned as leader of the SED; he resigned as head of state three days later. On 7 December Round Table talks opened between the SED and other political parties. On 16 December 1989, the SED was dissolved and refounded as the SED-PDS, abandoning Marxism-Leninism and becoming a mainstream democratic socialist party.

On 15 January 1990, the Stasi's headquarters was stormed by protesters. Modrow became the de facto leader of East Germany until free elections were held on 18 March 1990—the first since November 1932. The SED, renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism, was heavily defeated. Lothar de Maizière of the East German Christian Democratic Union became Prime Minister on 4 April 1990 on a platform of speedy reunification with the West. The two Germanies were reunified 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. The last Russian troops left the territory of the former GDR, now part of a reunited Federal Republic of Germany, on 1 September 1994.


Protests beneath the monument in Wenceslas Square, in Prague Prague November89 - Wenceslas Monument.jpg
Protests beneath the monument in Wenceslas Square, in Prague
Memorial of the Velvet Revolution in Bratislava (Namestie SNP), Slovakia Bratislava Slovakia 213.JPG
Memorial of the Velvet Revolution in Bratislava (Námestie SNP), Slovakia

The "Velvet Revolution" was a non-violent transition of power in Czechoslovakia from the Communist government to a parliamentary republic. On 17 November 1989, riot police suppressed a peaceful student demonstration in Prague, although controversy continues over whether anyone died that night. That event sparked a series of popular demonstrations from 19 November to late December. By 20 November the number of peaceful protesters assembled in Prague had swelled from 200,000 the previous day to an estimated half-million. Five days later, the Letná Square protest held 800,000 people. [50] On 24 November, the entire Communist Party leadership, including general secretary Miloš Jakeš, resigned. A two-hour general strike, involving all citizens of Czechoslovakia, was successfully held on 27 November.

With the collapse of other Communist governments, and increasing street protests, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced on 28 November 1989 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 10 December, 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 28 December and Václav Havel the President of Czechoslovakia on 29 December 1989. In June 1990 Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections since 1946. On 27 June 1991 the last Soviet troops were withdrawn from Czechoslovakia. [51]


In October and November 1989, demonstrations on ecological issues were staged in Sofia, where demands for political reform were also voiced. The demonstrations were suppressed, but on 10 November 1989 (the day after the Berlin Wall was breached) Bulgaria's long-serving leader Todor Zhivkov was ousted by his Politburo. He was succeeded by a considerably more liberal Communist, former foreign minister Petar Mladenov. Moscow apparently approved the leadership change, as Zhivkov had been opposed to Gorbachev's policies. The new regime immediately repealed restrictions on free speech and assembly, which led to the first mass demonstration on 17 November, as well as the formation of anti-communist movements. Nine of them united as the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) on 7 December. [52] The UDF was not satisfied with Zhivkov's ouster, and demanded additional democratic reforms, most importantly the removal of the constitutionally mandated leading role of the Bulgarian Communist Party.

Mladenov announced on 11 December 1989 that the Communist Party would abandon its monopoly on power, and that multiparty elections would be held the following year. In February 1990, the Bulgarian legislature deleted the portion of the constitution about the "leading role" of the Communist Party. Eventually, it was decided that a round table on the Polish model would be held in 1990 and elections held by June 1990. The round table took place from 3 January to 14 May 1990, at which an agreement was reached on the transition to democracy. The Communist Party abandoned Marxism–Leninism in April 1990 and renamed itself as the Bulgarian Socialist Party. In June 1990 the first free elections since 1931 were held, won by the Bulgarian Socialist Party.


After having suppressed the Braşov Rebellion in 1987, Nicolae Ceauşescu was re-elected for another five years as leader of the Romanian Communist Party (PCR) in November 1989, signalling that he intended to ride out the anti-Communist uprisings sweeping the rest of Europe. As Ceauşescu prepared to go on a state visit to Iran, his Securitate ordered the arrest and exile of a local Hungarian 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 civil unrest continued for five days.

Armed civilians during the Romanian Revolution. The revolution was the only violent overthrow of a Communist state in the Warsaw Pact. Civilian with PM Md. 1963 during the Romanian Revolution of 1989.jpg
Armed civilians during the Romanian Revolution. The revolution was the only violent overthrow of a Communist state in the Warsaw Pact.

Returning from Iran, Ceauşescu ordered a mass rally in his support outside Communist Party headquarters in Bucharest on 21 December. However, to his shock the crowd booed and jeered him as he spoke. 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. However, on the morning of 22 December, the Romanian military suddenly changed sides. This came after it was announced that defense minister Vasile Milea had committed suicide after being unmasked as a traitor. Believing Milea had actually been murdered, the rank-and-file soldiers went over virtually en masse to the revolution. [53] 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 capture Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena, coming within a few meters of the couple. However, they managed to escape via a helicopter waiting for them on the roof of the building.

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 being executed by firing squad. An interim National Salvation Front Council led by Ion Iliescu took over and announced elections for April 1990, the first free elections held in Romania since 1937. These were, however, postponed until 20 May 1990. The Romanian Revolution was the bloodiest of the revolutions of 1989: over 1,000 people died, one hundred of which were children, the youngest only one month old. Unlike its kindred parties in the Warsaw Pact, the PCR simply melted away; no present-day Romanian party claiming to be its successor has ever been elected to the legislature since the change of system. However, former PCR members have played significant roles in post-1989 Romanian politics; every Romanian President until the election of Klaus Iohannis in 2014 was a former Communist Party member.


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 which Tito was able to maintain through a Yugoslav patriotic doctrine of "Brotherhood and unity". Tensions between ethnicities began to escalate, however, with the Croatian Spring of 1970–71, a movement for greater Croatian autonomy, which was suppressed. Constitutional changes were instituted in 1974, and the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution devolved some federal powers to the constituent republics and provinces. After Tito's death in 1980 ethnic tensions grew, first in Albanian-majority SAP Kosovo with the 1981 protests in Kosovo.

Parallel to the same process, Slovenia initiated a policy of gradual liberalization in 1984, somewhat similar to the Soviet Perestroika. This provoked tensions between the League of Communists of Slovenia and the central Yugoslav Party and federal army. By the late 1980s, many civil society groups were pushing towards democratization, while widening the space for cultural plurality. In 1987 and 1988, a series of clashes between the emerging civil society and the Communist regime culminated with the so-called Slovene Spring, a mass movement for democratic reforms. 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, came into conflict with the Serbian Communist leadership.[ citation needed ]

Ethnic groups in Yugoslavia in 1991 Yugoslavia ethnic map.jpg
Ethnic groups in Yugoslavia in 1991

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 and Croatian Communists walked out of the Congress on 23 January 1990, thus effectively bringing to an end to Yugoslavia's communist party. Both parties of the two western republics negotiated free multi-party elections with their own opposition movements.

On 8 April 1990, the democratic and anti-Yugoslav DEMOS coalition won the elections in Slovenia, while on 24 April 1990 the Croatian elections resulted in a landslide victory for the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) led by Franjo Tuđman. The results were much more balanced in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Macedonia in November 1990, while the parliamentary and presidential elections of December 1990 in Serbia and Montenegro consolidated the power of Milošević and his supporters. Free elections on the level of the federation were never carried out.

The Slovenian and Croatian leaderships started preparing plans for secession from the federation, while a part of the Serbs of Croatia started the so-called Log Revolution, an insurrection organized by Serbia that would lead to the creation of the breakaway region of SAO Krajina. In the Slovenian independence referendum on 23 December 1990, 88.5% of residents voted for independence. [54] In the Croatian independence referendum on 2 May 1991, 93.24% voted for independence.

The escalating ethnic and national tensions were exacerbated by the drive for independence and led to the following Yugoslav wars:

In addition, the insurgency in the Preševo Valley (1999–2001) and the insurgency in the Republic of Macedonia (2001) are also often discussed in the same context. [55] [56] [57]


In the People's Socialist Republic of Albania, Enver Hoxha, who led Albania for four decades, died on 11 April 1985. His successor, Ramiz Alia, began to gradually open up the regime from above. 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—the first free elections in Albania since 1923, and only the third free elections in the country's history—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 held in March 1992, amid economic collapse and social unrest.


Mongolia declared independence in 1911 during the fall of the Qing dynasty. The Mongolian People's Party took power in 1921, and the party renamed itself the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. [58] During these years, Mongolia was closely aligned with the Soviet Union. After Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal left in 1984, the new leadership under Jambyn Batmönkh implemented economic reforms, but failed to appeal to those who, in late 1989, wanted broader changes. [59] The "Mongolian Revolution" was a democratic, peaceful revolution that started with demonstrations and hunger strikes and ended 70-years of Marxism-Leninism and eventually moved towards democracy. It was spearheaded by mostly younger people demonstrating on Sükhbaatar Square in the capital Ulaanbaatar. It ended with the authoritarian government resigning without bloodshed. Some of the main organizers were Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, Sanjaasürengiin Zorig, Erdeniin Bat-Üül, and Bat-Erdeniin Batbayar.

During the morning of 10 December 1989, the first public demonstration occurred in front of the Youth Cultural Center in the capital of Ulaanbaatar. [60] There, Elbegdorj announced the creation of the Mongolian Democratic Union, [61] and the first pro-democracy movement in Mongolia began. The protesters called for Mongolia to adopt perestroika and glasnost. Dissident leaders demanded free elections and economic reform, but within the context of a "human democratic socialism". [59] The protesters injected a nationalist element into the protests by using traditional Mongolian script which most Mongolians could not readas a symbolic repudiation of the political system which had imposed the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet. In late December 1989, demonstrations increased when news came of Garry Kasparov's interview in Playboy , suggesting that the Soviet Union could improve its economic health by selling Mongolia to China. [59] On 14 January 1990, the protesters, having grown from three hundred to some 1,000, met in a square in front of Lenin Museum in Ulaanbaatar, which has been named Freedom Square since then. A demonstration in Sükhbaatar Square on 21 January (in weather of -30 C) followed. Protesters carried banners alluding to Chinggis Khaan (also referred to Genghis Khan), rehabilitating a figure whom Soviet schooling neglected to praise. [62]

In subsequent months of 1990, activists continued to organize demonstrations, rallies, protests and hunger strikes, as well as teachers' and workers' strikes. [63] Activists had growing support from Mongolians, both in the capital and the countryside and the union's activities led to other calls for democracy all over the country. [64] After numerous demonstrations of many thousands of people in the capital city as well as provincial centers, on 4 March 1990, the MDU and three other reform organizations held a joint outdoor mass meeting, inviting the government to attend. The government sent no representative to what became a demonstration of over 100,000 people demanding democratic change. [65] This culminated with Jambyn Batmönkh, chairman of Politburo of MPRP's Central Committee decided to dissolve the Politburo and to resign on 9 March 1990. [66] [67]

Mongolia's first free, multi-party elections for a bicameral parliament took place on 29 July 1990. [65] [68] Parties ran for 430 seats in the Great Hural. Opposition parties were not able to nominate enough candidates. The opposition nominated 346 candidates for the 430 seats in the Great Hural (upper house). The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) won 357 seats in the Great Hural and 31 out of 53 seats in the Small Hural (which was later abolished) as well. [69] The MPRP enjoyed a strong position in the countryside. The State Great Khural first met on 3 September 1990 and elected a president (MPRP), vice president (Social Democrat) who was also a chairman of the Baga Hural, prime minister (MPRP), and 50 members to the Baga Hural (lower house). In November 1991, the People's Great Hural began discussion on a new constitution, which entered into force on 12 February 1992. In addition, the new constitution restructured the legislative branch of government, creating a unicameral legislature, the State Great Hural (SGH). The MPRP retained its majority, but lost the 1996 elections. The final Russian troops, which had stationed in Mongolia in 1966, fully withdrew in December 1992.


While China did not undergo a revolution in 1989, a popular national movement led to large demonstrations in favor of democratic reforms. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (1982–1987) had developed the concept of socialism with Chinese characteristics and enacted local market economy reforms around 1984, but the policy had stalled. [70]

The first Chinese student demonstrations, which eventually led to the Beijing protests of 1989, took place in December 1986 in Hefei. The students called for campus elections, the chance to study abroad and greater availability of Western pop culture. Their protests took advantage of the loosening political atmosphere and included rallies against the slow pace of reform. 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 were sparked by the death of Hu Yaobang on 15 April 1989. By the eve of Hu's state funeral, some 100,000 students had gathered at Tiananmen Square to observe it; however, no leaders emerged from the Great Hall. The movement lasted for seven weeks. [71]

Mikhail Gorbachev visited China on 15 May during the protests, bringing many foreign news agencies to Beijing, and their sympathetic portrayals of the protesters helped galvanize a spirit of liberation among the Central, South-East and Eastern Europeans who were watching. The Chinese leadership, particularly Communist Party general secretary Zhao Ziyang, who had begun to radically reform the economy earlier than the Soviets, was open to political reform, but not at the cost of a potential return to the disorder of the Cultural Revolution.

The movement lasted from Hu's death on 15 April until tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989. In Beijing, the military response to the protest by the PRC government left many civilians in charge of clearing the square of the dead and severely injured. The exact number of casualties is not known and many different estimates exist.

Malta Summit

Mikhail Gorbachev and President George H. W. Bush on board the Soviet cruise ship Maxim Gorky, Marsaxlokk Harbour Bush and Gorbachev at the Malta summit in 1989.gif
Mikhail Gorbachev and President George H. W. Bush on board the Soviet cruise ship Maxim Gorky, Marsaxlokk Harbour

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 2–3 December 1989, just a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a meeting which contributed to the end of the Cold War [ citation needed ] partially as a result of the broader pro-democracy movement. 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 [72] 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 the Yalta Conference.

Election chronology in Central/Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Between June 1989 and April 1991, every Communist or former Communist country in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia—and in the case of the USSR and Yugoslavia, every constituent republic—held competitive parliamentary elections for the first time in many decades. Some elections were only partly free, while others were fully democratic. The chronology below gives the details of these historic elections, and the dates are the first day of voting as several elections were split over several days for run-off contests:

Dissolution of the Soviet Union

On 1 July 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 1990–1991 Gulf War had laid the groundwork for a partnership in resolving bilateral and world problems.

As the Soviet Union rapidly withdrew its forces from Central and Southeast 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. However, the Soviet central government demanded the revocation of the declarations and threatened military action and economic sanctions. The government even went as far as controversially sending Soviet Army troops to the streets of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, to suppress the separatist movements in January 1991, causing the deaths of 14 people.

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, whose ramshackle foundations were exposed with the removal of Communist discipline. 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 1990, the Communist Party was forced to surrender its seven-decade monopoly of political power when the Supreme Soviet rescinded the clause in the Soviet Constitution that guaranteed its sole authority to rule. Gorbachev's policies caused the Communist Party to lose its grip over the media. Details of the Soviet Union's past were quickly being declassified. This caused many to distrust the 'old system' and push for greater autonomy and independence.

Tanks in Moscow's Red Square during the 1991 coup attempt Image0 ST.jpg
Tanks in Moscow's Red Square during the 1991 coup attempt

After a referendum confirmed the preservation of the Soviet Union but in a looser form, a group of Soviet hard-liners represented by Vice-President Gennadi Yanayev launched a coup attempting to overthrow 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. Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary of the Communist Party following the coup, and the Supreme Soviet dissolved the Party and banned all Communist activity on Soviet soil. Just a few weeks later, the government granted the Baltic states their independence on 6 September.

Over the next three months, one republic after another declared independence, mostly out of fear of another coup. Also during this time, the Soviet government was rendered useless as the new Russian government began taking over what remained of it, including the Kremlin. The penultimate step came on 1 December, when voters in the second most powerful republic, Ukraine, overwhelmingly voted to secede from the Soviet Union in a referendum. This ended any realistic chance of keeping the Soviet Union together. On 8 December, Yeltsin met with his counterparts from Ukraine and Belarus and signed the Belavezha Accords, declaring that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. Gorbachev denounced this as illegal, but he had long since lost any ability to influence events outside of Moscow.

Changes in national boundaries after the end of the Cold War Cold War border changes.png
Changes in national boundaries after the end of the Cold War

Two weeks later, 11 of the remaining 12 republics—all except Georgia—signed the Alma-Ata Protocol, which confirmed the Soviet Union had been effectively dissolved and replaced by a new voluntary association, the Commonwealth of Independent States. Bowing to the inevitable, Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president on 25 December, and the Supreme Soviet ratified the Belavezha Accords the next day, legally dissolving itself and the Soviet Union as a political entity. By the end of 1991, the few Soviet institutions that hadn't been taken over by Russia had dissolved. The Soviet Union was officially disbanded, breaking up into fifteen constituent parts, thereby ending the world's largest and most influential Socialist state, and leaving to China that position. A constitutional crisis dissolved into violence in Moscow as the Russian Army was called in to reestablish order.

Baltic states

Baltic Way was a human chain of approximately two million people dedicated to liberating the Baltic Republics from the Soviet Union. 1989 08 23 Baltijoskelias14.jpg
Baltic Way was a human chain of approximately two million people dedicated to liberating the Baltic Republics from the Soviet Union.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania implemented democratic reforms and achieved independence from the Soviet Union. The Singing Revolution is a commonly used name for events between 1987 and 1991 that led to the restoration of the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. [73] [74] The term was coined by an Estonian activist and artist, Heinz Valk, in an article published a week after the 10–11 June 1988 spontaneous mass night-singing demonstrations at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. [75] Estonia declared its sovereignty from the Soviet Union on 16 November 1988. Lithuania followed on 18 May 1989 and Latvia on 28 July 1989. Lithuania declared full independence on 11 March 1990 and on 30 March, Estonia announced the start of a transitional period to independence, followed by Latvia on 4 May. These declarations were met with force from the Soviet Union in early 1991, in confrontations known as the "January Events" in Lithuania and "The Barricades" in Latvia. The Baltic states contended that their incorporation into the Soviet Union had been illegal under both international law and their own law, and they were reasserting an independence that still legally existed.

Soon after the launching of the August coup, Estonia and Latvia declared full independence. By the time the coup was foiled, the USSR was no longer unified enough to mount a forceful resistance, and it recognized the independence of the Baltic states on 6 September.

Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova


Photos of 9 April 1989 victims of the Tbilisi massacre on a billboard in Tbilisi April9victims.jpg
Photos of 9 April 1989 victims of the Tbilisi massacre on a billboard in Tbilisi
Following Georgia's declaration of independence in 1991, South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared their desire to leave Georgia and remain part of the Soviet Union/Russia. Georgia, Ossetia, Russia and Abkhazia (en).svg
Following Georgia's declaration of independence in 1991, South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared their desire to leave Georgia and remain part of the Soviet Union/Russia.


Chechen women praying for Russian troops not to advance towards Grozny during the First Chechen War, December 1994. Evstafiev-chechnya-women-pray.jpg
Chechen women praying for Russian troops not to advance towards Grozny during the First Chechen War, December 1994.

In Chechnya (an autonomous republic within Russian SFSR that had a strong desire for independence), using tactics partly copied from the Baltics, anti-Communist coalition forces led by former Soviet general Dzhokhar Dudayev staged a largely bloodless revolution, 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 Dudayev's 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 anarchic, 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 insurgency continues. [79]

Central Asia

Post-Soviet conflicts

Georgian Civil War and the War in Abkhazia in August-October 1993 1993 Georgia war1.svg
Georgian Civil War and the War in Abkhazia in August–October 1993

Russia 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, the Ossetian–Ingush conflict, and the Crimea and Donbass conflicts in Ukraine.

Other events

Communist and Socialist countries

Reforms in the Soviet Union and its allied countries also led to dramatic changes to Communist and Socialist states outside of Europe.


Eritrean War of Independence against Ethiopia ended in 1991 Eritrean Independence War Map.png
Eritrean War of Independence against Ethiopia ended in 1991

Middle East


Latin America


  • Flag of Vanuatu.svg  Vanuatu – Vanua'aku Pati lost the multi-party elections in 1991, and the Union of Moderate Parties won.

Other countries

Many Soviet-supported political parties and militant groups around the world suffered from demoralization and loss of financing.

Concurrently, many anti-Communist authoritarian states, formerly supported by the US, gradually saw a transition to democracy.

Countries that emerged into socialist-styled governments beyond 1991:

Other impacts:

Political reforms

Decommunization is a process of overcoming the legacies of the Communist state establishments, culture, and psychology in the post-Communist states. Decommunization was largely limited or non-existent. Communist parties were not outlawed and their members were not brought to trial. 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. [83] In several European countries, however, endorsing or attempting to justify crimes committed by Nazi or Communist regimes became punishable by up to 3 years of imprisonment. [84]

Economic reforms

Russian GDP since the end of the Soviet Union (from 2014 are forecasts) GDP of Russia since 1989.svg
Russian GDP since the end of the Soviet Union (from 2014 are forecasts)

State run enterprises in socialist countries had little or no interest in producing what customers wanted, which resulted in shortages of goods and services. [85] In the early 1990s, the general view was that there was no precedent for moving from socialism to capitalism", [86] and only some elderly people remembered how a market economy worked. As a result, the view that Central, Southeastern and Eastern Europe would stay poor for decades was common. [87]

The collapse of the Soviet Union, and the breakdown of economic ties which followed, led to a severe economic crisis and catastrophic fall in the standards of living in the 1990s in post-Soviet states and the former Eastern bloc. [88] [89] Even before Russia's financial crisis of 1998, Russia's GDP was half of what it had been in the early 1990s. [90]

There was a temporary fall of output in the official economy and an increase in black market economic activity. [85] Countries implemented different reform programs. One example, generally regarded as successful was the "shock therapy" Balcerowicz Plan in Poland. Eventually the official economy began to grow. [85]

In a 2007 paper, Oleh Havrylyshyn categorized the speed of reforms in the Soviet Bloc: [86]

NATO has added 13 new members since the German reunification and the end of the Cold War. History of NATO enlargement.svg
NATO has added 13 new members since the German reunification and the end of the Cold War.

The 2004 enlargement of the European Union included the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The 2007 enlargement of the European Union included Romania and Bulgaria, and Croatia joined the EU in 2013. The same countries have also become NATO members. In Mongolia, however, the economy was reformed in a similar fashion to the Eastern European counterparts.

Chinese economic liberalization began in 1978 and has 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. [91]

Economic liberalization in Vietnam was initiated in 1986, following the 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 the global workforce doubled from 1.46 billion workers to 2.93 billion workers. [92] [93] 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. [93]

Ideological continuation of Communism

Five double-headed Russian coat-of-arms eagles (below) substituting the former state emblem of the Soviet Union and the CCCP letters (above) in the facade of the Grand Kremlin Palace after the dissolution of the Soviet Union Grand Kremlin Palace facade, 1982-2008.jpg
Five double-headed Russian coat-of-arms eagles (below) substituting the former state emblem of the Soviet Union and the CCCP letters (above) in the facade of the Grand Kremlin Palace after the dissolution of the Soviet Union

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. [94] As of 2008, nearly half of Russians viewed Stalin positively, and many supported restoration of his previously dismantled monuments. [95] [96] Neo-Stalinist material such as describing Stalin's mass murder campaigns as "entirely rational" has been pushed into Russian textbooks. [97]

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. [98] 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." [99]


The events caught many by surprise. Predictions of the Soviet Union's impending demise had been often dismissed. [100]

Bartlomiej Kaminski's book The Collapse of State Socialism argued that the state Socialist system has a lethal paradox, saying that "policy actions designed to improve performance only accelerate its decay". [101]

By the end of 1989, revolts had spread from one capital to another, ousting the regimes imposed on Central, South-East and 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 Soviet Army would not intervene to crush dissent, the Central, South-East and 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 Central and South-East Europe would be more than offset by a net increase in its influence in western Europe." [102] 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 Central and South-East 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 Central and South-East 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". [103]






See also

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Further reading

Video of the revolutions in 1989