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The collapse of Soviet influence in eastern Europe, 1989

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The collapse of Soviet influence in eastern Europe, 1989

The fall of all the communist regimes of eastern Europe within the space of a year and with little bloodshed was one of the more remarkable events of 20th-century Europe. […]

Like the unrest that affected Poland and Hungary in 1956, the revolutions of 1989 had their origins in the USSR. The appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader in 1985 began a process that was to lead directly to the events of 1989. His attempts to modernise the USSR led to the call for glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring).

Gorbachev’s new programme was the result of poor economic growth in the USSR and with it Soviet difficulties in keeping up with the USA in the arms race. However, the lessening of central political and economic control undermined the authority of the Communist Party in the USSR and in the Eastern bloc. Economic problems were not limited to the USSR. By 1989 Poland still had a foreign debt of $40 billion. Other Eastern bloc countries faced similar problems.

Within the space of a few short months in 1989, Jaruzelski in Poland began talks with Solidarity. Hungary opened its borders with the West and finally the Berlin Wall was opened.

The main reason why the revolutions of 1989 succeeded was the unwillingness of the Soviet Union to implement the Brezhnev Doctrine. By 1989 the USSR was no longer in a position to put down widespread unrest in eastern Europe. The Soviet involvement in Afghanistan (1979-1989) had a similar impact on the USSR as the Vietnam War had on the USA. The political and economic crisis within the Soviet Union forced it to relinquish control over eastern Europe. […]

Political revolution in eastern Europe, 1989 [EPOCHENJAHR 1989]

11 January: Hungary legalises independent political parties.

6 February: open discussion between Polish Communist Party and Solidarity.

15 February: Soviet forced complete withdrawal from Afghanistan.

25 April: Soviet Army begins withdrawal from Hungary.

4 June: Solidarity achieve success in Polish elections.

24 August: end of Communist rule in Poland. Tadeusz Mazowiecki becomes PM.

10 September: Hungarian government allows thousands of East German ‘holiday-makers’ to cross the border into Austria.

1 October: Thousands of East Germans allowed to leave for West through West German embassies in Warsaw and Prague.

18 October: East German leader Erich Honecker resigns; replaced by Egon Krenz.

10 November: Berlin Wall opened.

November: Bulgarian Communist leader Topol Zhivkov overthrown.

17-27 November. Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Communism overthrown.

21 December: Armed revolution begins in Romania.

25 December: Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceaucescu executed.

28 December: Prague Spring leader Alexander Dubcek elected leader of Czech parliament.

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