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#20: The Collapse of Communism in Europe, 1980-1991.pdf

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University of Toronto St. George
Doris Bergen

THE COLLAPSE OF COMMUNISM IN EUROPE, 1980-1991 INTRODUCTION •October 1989 — East Germany (the German Democratic thpublic) and West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany) celebrated its 40 anniversary •Soviet Leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, traveled to East Berlin in the fall of 1989 to participate in those anniversary celebrations he was still the head of the USSR •By the end of 1989 the Berlin Wall had opened (it had not fallen, but ceased to be a barrier); the communist regimes in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia had all ceased to exist •October 1990 — the two Germanys unified •1991 — USSR had been dissolved •Like decolonization, collapse of communism occurred because of the effort of people within their regimes SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE W ALL (clip from the movie) •The Berlin Wall was the physical property of East Germany — they used euphemisms to describe, like the anti-fascist protective wall •The Wall surrounded West Germany D ISSOLUTION OF C OMMUNIST R EGIMES •The collapse of communism was neither inevitable nor foreseeable •Communism had been part of the political scenery in Europe since the 19 century •After WW2 communist regimes were established in eastern Europe and much of central Europe •In hindsight it is easy to see the events of 1989 as inevitable, but this wasn’t the case at the time — they part of a complex historical process LONGTERM F ACTORS ECONOMIC •In hindsight people often point to economic problems as the significant factor in the collapse of communism •Planned economies failed to provide many of the basic necessities for many people •Whatever city you went to in the Soviet Bloc a familiar cite were line-ups of people waiting to acquire goods •The line-ups were an additional burden on the work load of people who had to wait in line to get the basics for their families, but it was also a very visible symbol of the failure of planned economies to fulfill basic needs •Certain people, apparatchiks (people who were high ranking or had important roles in society) had no problem at all in getting basic consumer and luxurious goods of any kind THE COLLAPSE OF COMMUNISM IN EUROPE, 1980-1991 • It wasn’t the simple economic crisis that turns poverty into starvation that fueled discontent, it was the basic difficulty of everyday economic life compounded with the observation of unfairness in communist society • A further compounding factor was the access to images of the consumer culture in the west • East Germany tried to block television transmission from West Germany, it was very difficult — East Germans were able to see the images of plenty in the west • These images created a sense of discontent • Some problems that were less visible • USSR, despite its vast territory, imported a lot of food • Many of the East Bloc countries had enormous debt • West Germany’s policy of Ostpolitik that allowed freer movements and opened up relations between west and east created new kinds of dependency on the West German economy • One of the things that the new eastern policy of the west allowed was for senior citizens to move freely between West and East Germany — they often shopped for things they couldn’t get back home The economic disparity and the symbol of the relative poverty of east vs. west • • Many of the elderly people that took advantage of the policy chose to stay in the west — this meant that East German government didn’t have to pay their pensions • Even the much flaunted industrial successes often came with certain failure — the most public of which was the Chernobyl disaster on April 26 1986 • The nuclear plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine exploded • Poisonous fallout covered much of Europe In attempts to cover up the extent of the damage, the failure of security systems, • the worn-out nature of much of the infrastructure failed — this kind of problem highlighted ways in which governments were unable to provide for their citizens THE CRISIS OFLEGITIMACY • There was long history of the repression in the beginning of the USSR — with repression there is a hatred of the system that many people had reason to resent • Stalin died in 1953 — he was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev • 1956 — Khrushchev’s Secret Speech exposed some of the worst atrocities of the Stalinist period in order to embark on a period of de-Stalinization • However, for decades repression continued throughout the Soviet Bloc — this legacy of repression and the dissidence that arose attributed to the crisis of legitimacy of communism • 1953 — revolt in East Germany • 1956 — revolt in Hungary 1968 — Czechoslovakia, the Prague Spring • • 1980 — the emergence of solidarity with Poland, the independent trade labor union movement led Lech Walesa THE COLLAPSE OF COMMUNISM IN EUROPE, 1980-1991 • All of these attempts to reform were suppressed by the USSR — the first 3 cases the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies sent in the military to crush the revolts These actions and restrictions on travel created a sense that clearly that the rhetoric • of freedom and liberation in communism was a lie • The widely publiciz
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