Revolutions of 1989

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Image:Eastern bloc.png
The Eastern Bloc prior to the political upheavals of 1989.

The Revolutions of 1989, sometimes called the "Autumn of Nations," were a revolutionary wave that swept Central and Eastern Europe in the autumn of 1989, ending in the overthrow of several Soviet-style communist governments within the space of a few months.<ref name="Szafarz-221">E. Szafarz, "The Legal Framework for Political Cooperation in Europe" in The Changing Political Structure of Europe: Aspects of International Law, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 0-7923-1379-8. p.221.</ref> The names for this series of events hark back to the Revolutions of 1848, also known as the "Spring of Nations." <ref name="Szafarz-221"/>

The Autumn of Nations began in Poland<ref>S. Antohi and V. Tismaneanu, "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.</ref> and sparked similar, mostly peaceful revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. Romania was the only Eastern-bloc country to violently overthrow its communist regime and execute its head of state.<ref>Piotr Sztompka, preface to Society in Action: the Theory of Social Becoming, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-78815-6. p. x.</ref>

The Revolutions of 1989 greatly altered the balance of power in the world and marked (together with the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union) the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the Post-Cold War era.


[edit] The advent of "new thinking"

Although several Eastern bloc countries had experimented with some limited economic and political reform since the 1970s, the advent of reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 signalled the irreversible trend towards 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 economic reform, perestroika (economic restructuring). By the spring of 1989, the USSR had not only experienced lively media debate, but had also held its first multi-candidate elections. Moscow's "new thinking" inevitably reverberated throughout Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union – which had previously used military force to suppress any dissent in its Eastern European satellite states – began to tolerate and even encourage reform throughout the region.

[edit] From East to West

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 spectre of Soviet military intervention loomed over Eastern Europe, it seemed unlikely that Moscow could attract Western goodwill. Gorbachev urged his Eastern European counterparts to imitate perestroika and glasnost. 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 a general 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 that Gorbachev's reforms would be short-lived, orthodox Communist rulers like East Germany's Erich Honecker, Bulgaria's Todor Zhivkov and Czechoslovakia's Gustáv Husák largely ignored Moscow's calls for change.

Gorbachev's visit to the People's Republic of China on May 15 during the first (and only failed) revolution of 1989, 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.

[edit] Reform in Poland and Hungary

Image:High noon 4 6 89-Tomasz Sarnecki.jpg
"High Noon, 4 June 1989"
Polish Solidarity Citizens' Committee election poster for elections of 1989.

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, followed by Hungary, became the first Warsaw Pact state country to break free of Soviet domination.

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, fearful of Soviet intervention started a crack-down on Solidarity, declaring martial law in Poland, suspending the union, and temporarily imprisoning most of its leaders. Throughout the mid-1980s, Solidarity persisted solely as an underground organization, supported by the Catholic Church and the CIA. However, by the late 1980s, Solidarity became sufficiently strong enough to frustrate Jaruzelski's attempts at reform, and nationwide strikes in 1988 forced the government to open a dialogue with Solidarity.

Image:Tadeusz Mazowiecki1.jpg
Polish Solidarity member Tadeusz Mazowiecki became the first non-Communist Prime Minister in Eastern Europe since World War II.

In April 1989, Solidarity was again legalized and allowed to participate in parliamentary elections on June 4, 1989, 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. 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 Eastern Europe, 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. 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, executive, and legislative branches of government.

[edit] The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Main article: Fall of the Berlin Wall

Germans celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, the defining symbol of the East-West divide.

After Hungary's reformist government opened its borders, 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. Thousands of East Germans also tried to reach the West by staging sit-ins at West German diplomatic facilities in other Eastern European capitals. The mass exodus generated demands within East Germany for political change, and mass demonstrations with eventually hundreds of thousands of people in several cities – particularly in Leipzig – continued to grow.

On 6–7 October, Gorbachev visited East Germany to mark the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic, and urged the East German leadership to accept reform. However, the elderly Erich Honecker remained opposed to any internal reform, with the regime even going as 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. Unable to stem the flow of refugees to the West through Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, the East German authorities eventually caved into public pressure by allowing East German citizens to enter West Berlin and West Germany, via all border points, on November 9. Hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of the opportunity; new crossing points were opened in the Berlin Wall and along the border with West Germany. The opening of the Berlin Wall proved to be fatal for the GDR. 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 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.

[edit] The Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia

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Non-violent protesters "fight with flowers" against armored policemen in Czechoslovakia.
Main article: Velvet Revolution

Emboldened by events in neighbouring East Germany, and the absence of any Soviet reaction, Czechoslovaks rallied in the streets to demand free elections. On November 17, 1989, a peaceful student demonstration in Prague was severely beaten back by the riot police. That event sparked a set of popular demonstrations from November 19 to late December, and a general two-hour strike of the population on November 27. By November 20 the number of peaceful protesters assembled in Prague had swelled from 200,000 the day before to an estimated half-million.

With other Communist regimes falling all around it, and with growing street protests, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced on November 28 they would give up their monopoly on political power. Barbed wire was removed from the border with West Germany and Austria in early December. A sign seen in Prague summed it up this way: "Poland—10 Years; Hungary—10 Months; East Germany—10 Weeks; Czechoslovakia—10 Days." [1] ("Romania-10 Hours" was added after the revolution in Romania)

On December 10, the Communist leader 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.

[edit] Upheaval in Southeastern Europe

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. Crowds gathered in Sofia to demand further reform and democratization. The Communist Party subsequently gave up its claim on power in February 1990, and in June 1990, the first free elections in Bulgaria since 1931 were held. Although Zhivkov eventually faced trial in 1991, he escaped the violent fate of his northern comrade, Romanian President Nicolae Ceauşescu.

[edit] The Romanian Revolution

Main article: Romanian Revolution
People on the streets of Bucharest during the 1989 Romanian Revolution.

Unlike other Eastern European countries, Romania had never undergone even limited de-Stalinization. In November 1989, Ceauşescu, now aged 71, was re-elected for another 5 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. After learning about the incident from Western radio stations, years of repressed dissatisfaction boiled to the surface throughout the Romanian populace, and the demonstrations spread.

Ceauşescu on trial.

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. At first the security forces obeyed Ceauşescu's orders to shoot down 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.

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 May 1990.

[edit] Aftermath of the upheavals

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 regime in Albania experienced political repercussions. 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. Some have argued that at a time when the Soviet Union was entering severe economic decline and needed Western support, Eastern Europe had become an economic and political burden for Moscow. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Gorbachev ever intended for the complete dismantling of Communism and the Warsaw Pact. Rather, it is far more probable that he intended merely to throw his support behind progressive Communists eager to implement perestroika and glasnost in their own countries.

[edit] End of the Cold War

On December 3, 1989, the leaders of the two world superpowers declared an end to the Cold War at a summit in Malta. In July 1990, the final obstacle to German reunification was removed when West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl convinced Gorbachev to drop Soviet objections to a reunited Germany within NATO in return for substantial German economic aid to the USSR.

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

[edit] Collapse of the Soviet Union

Image:Gorbachev with Yeltsin.jpg
Gorbachev (left) accused Boris Yeltsin, his old rival and Russia's first post-Soviet president, of tearing the USSR apart out of a desire to advance his own personal interests.

As the USSR rapidly withdrew its forces from Eastern Europe, the spillover from the 1989 upheavals began reverberating throughout the Soviet Union itself. Agitation in the Baltic states for self-determination led to first Lithuania, and then Estonia and Latvia, 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 declining 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. Russian President Boris Yeltsin 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 USSR 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.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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it:Rivoluzioni del 1989

he:סתיו העמים nl:De val van het communisme in Oost-Europa ja:東欧革命 pl:Jesień Ludów sv:Revolutioner i Östeuropa zh:东欧剧变

Revolutions of 1989

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