In the 1960's and 1970's, Brezhnev and his predecessors as well as the Politburo, the ruling committee of the Communist party, maintained firm control over the diverse Soviet people. Brezhnev died in 1982 and his next two successors both died after serving only one year in office.
The Politburo chose between the conservative Victor Grishin and Mikhail Gorbachev, acclaimed by his supporters for his youthful energy and political skills. The Politburo chose Gorbachev signifying its willingness to implement mild reforms. As Gorbachev was the leader since Stalin at age 54 and was only a child during Stalin's purge of independent-minded party members, he was able to pursue new ideas rather than Stalin's policies.
Glasnot, or openness, was a policy implemented by Gorbachev in 1985.
In the past, Soviet citizens were encouraged to be silent and punished for individualism. Gorbachev believed that in order for economic and social change to happen a free flow of ideas was essential so he introduced glasnost, or openness in 1985. Glasnost's effects were tremendous as the government allowed Churches to open, dissenters were released from prison, banned books were published again, and reporters exposed social problems while criticizing the government.
Perestroika- This relies on the creativity of the masses
Glasnost gave rise to complaints focusing on economic problems such as long lines to buy necessities. Gorbachev believed these problems to be due to inefficient central planning. The Soviet Union, in turn, regulated how much farms and factories would produce, wages, and prices for consumption. Due to lack of incentives as one could not increase pay for productivity, farms and factories did not improve in efficiency. In order to solve these problems, Gorbachev introduced perestroika, or economic restructuring, in 1985. In 1986, his changes included giving local managers more control of their farms and factories while others could open small businesses.
Democratization of the Soviet Union
Gorbachev began democratization in the Soviet Union in order to force the Communist Party to loosen its grips and policies. Before democratization, voters voted for the candidates who had been hand picked by the Communist Party. Voters now voted on a list of candidates for an office. Democratization's results were staggering as lesser-known candidates were elected over party bosses and outspoken reformers were elected.
The Intermediate-Range Forces Treaty, which restricted nuclear missiles of 300 to 3,400 miles, was signed in 1987 by Reagan and Gorbachev.
Gorbachev sought to use diplomacy over force and cut down the expensive arms race. This lead him to agree to the Intermediate-Range Forces (INF) Treaty. Gorbachev also encouraged Eastern European countries to open economic and political systems. The older leaders of the Eastern European countries strongly dissented to this, but strong democratic forces were being strengthened in their respective countries. In the past, the Soviet had kept these forces in check, but now Gorbachev announced, "Each people determines the future of its own country and chooses its own form of society. There must be no interference from outside, no matter what pretext."
Lech Walesa won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for his democratic efforts in Poland.
Poland and Hungary were first countries to experience change due to Gorbachev's policies. Poland's road to democracy began when Saint Pope John Paul II became Pope in 1978 and led anti-communist campaigns. In 1980, workers protested through strikes at the Gdansk ship yard to gain a trade union called Solidarity led by Lech Walesa.
Protesters in favor of the trade union Solidarity
In 1981, however, Solidarity was banned and martial law declared. Poland's economic situation became abysmal as production decreased, long shopping lines became common, and foreign debt rose past $40 billion. Workers began refuse to work while demanding better wages and the legalization of Solidarity. General Jaruzelski legalized in April 1989 Solidarity, and concurred to hold free elections for the first time since a communist take over. Solidarity candidates won overwhelmingly in 1989 and 1990, this was the first peaceful transition from communist rule.
The Round Table Talks in summer and fall of 1989 led to a multiparty system in Hungary.
Communist in Hungary introduced reforms in lieu of the Polish. To stimulate the economy, Hungarian leaders allowed private enterprise and a small stock market. They also allowed a multiparty system. Radical reforms took over the Communist Party congress by October 1989 through he elections. The radicals jettisoned the Communist party effectively having the Communist party vote itself out of existence. Socialist won in 1994 and raised taxes while cutting government services.
Erich Honecker was the East German party leader who refused to reform.
Erich Honecker refused change, but Hungary, in 1989, allowed East German tourist to go to Austria. From Austria, "tourists" could travel to West Germany opening the floodgate of escapes.
The Berlin Wall was one of the most iconic symbols of the Cold War. On November 9, 1989, new East German Leader Egon Krenz allowed free passage through the wall. Thousands flocked to the wall; some crossed over while others brought hammers and pick axes to destroy the wall.
As many East Germans began to flee via Austria, Honecker closed the all borders of East Germany. Protest broke out demanding free travel and eventually free elections. Honecker tried to regain control breaking up a demonstration in Leipzig, but the police refused to follow his orders. Honecker had lost his authority and resigned on October 18. Egon Krenz became the new party leader and opened the borders of East Germany believing this would restore order and save communism. On November 9, 1989, thousands flocked to the Berlin Wall in celebration. Krenz's gamble had backfired as corruption was exposed inside the East German Communist Party, and the Party ceased to exist by the end of 1989.
Germans celebrate reunification at the Reichstag.
After the fall of Communism in East Germany, many Germans began to desire reunification. Many, however, feared a Germany who would try to dominate Europe. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl advocated for German reunification by assuring that Germans were now focused on human rights and democracy. Kohl's assurances worked as Germany was reunited on October 3, 1990.
Kohl played a key role in the reunification of Germany and was reelected in 1994 despite the variety of problems that existed such as unemployment.
The newly unified Germany faced a variety of problems. The East produced substandard products that could not compete on a global market. Railroads, telephone systems, and highways were not modernized. Kohl raised taxes, but as inefficient factories began to close many East germans faced unemployment. Immigrants added to the problem as Germany was inundated with those seeking a better life. This gave rise to Neo-Nazis, young workers who believed that foreigners were stealing jobs and used violent acts against immigrants. Germans still reelected Kohl in 1994, but in 1998, Social Democrats took office. Germans began to rethink their global position and argue for rights such as a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Hundreds of thousands gather in Prague to protest for free elections
The changes of the Soviet Union, Poland, and Hungary effected other Eastern European countries such as Romania and Czechoslovakia. Reforms in these countries, however, came slower due to repressive governments.
In 1968, Czechoslovakians were crushed violently in their protest for reforms which caused many to be cautious for reform.
Milos Jakes, conservative leader of the Czechoslovakian government, resisted change and in October 1989 had dissenters arrested. On October 28, 1989, 10,000 people began to protest in Wenceslas Square in Prague for democracy and freedom, but many were arrested. Again, three weeks later, 25,000 students gathered to protest after being encouraged by the fall of the Berlin Wall, but were violently put down by police. Over the next eight days after the violent crackdown, massive crowds came to Wenceslas Square demanding an end to Communism. On November 24, Jakes and his Politburo resigned and a new parliament one month later elected playwright Vaclav Havel who had previously been arrested.
Romanian demonstrators ride a tank during the Romanian Revolution.
Romania's dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ruthlessly kept control of Romania through his secret police. Ceausescu ordered for the army to fire on demonstrators at Timisoara. The Timisoara massacre sparked an uprising which fought the secret police and aimed to overthrow the government. Ceausescu and his wife tried to flee, but were captured and executed on Christmas 1989. General elections were held in Romania in 1990 and 1992 while elements of capitalism was introduced
Terms and Names
- Politburo was a ruling committee for the Communist.
- Mikhail Gorbachev was the youngest general secretary since Stalin who introduced the policies of glasnost, perestroika, and democracy to the Soviet Union.
- Glasnot, or openness, was a policy introduced by Gorbachev which allowed citizens to openly criticize and discuss government policies.
- Perestroika, or economic restructuring, was a policy introduced by Gorbachev to revive the Soviet Union's economy by allowing small, private businesses and gave local managers more authority over their factory and farms.
- Solidarity was a trade union in Poland that protested against Communist policies and eventually gained free elections.
- Lech Walesa led Solidarity and was the first Polish president in the free elections.
- Reunification happened as East and West Germany became one nation headed by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
"It would be naive to think that the problems plaguing mankind today can be solved with means and methods which were applied or seemed to work in the past." -Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the youngest Soviet leader since Stalin, sponsored policies such as democratization, glasnost, and perestroika, Elected in 1985 at age 54, Gorbachev first introduced glasnost, or openness, in which Soviet people were allowed to discuss and even criticize the government. Quickly following, Gorbachev implemented perestroika, or economic restructuring, in which factory and farm managers were given more power in order to catalyze production, and citizens were allowed to operate small businesses. Finally, democratization had major impact in Soviet satellite countries. Gorbachev announced that his military would not intervene in satellite countries leading a multitude of democratic uprisings in 1989. The Soviet Union itself saw many party leaders not reelected with reformers gaining power. Gorbachev believed that these policies would help kickstart the Soviet Union's failing economy by allowing new opinions to be heard.
"We hold our heads high, despite the price we have paid, because freedom is priceless." -Lech Walesa
Lech Walesa was a Polish President who led Solidarity, a trade union which protested against Communist Poland's policies. At first, Walesa and fellow protesters locked themselves inside the Gdansk shipyard in 1980. They received attention from a global audience, but after the Communist Poland granted the right to a union and strikes, it arrested Walesa and Solidarity leaders. In 1988, the Polish economy was failing and the military leader of Poland, General Jarzelksi, released the Solidarity leaders and allowed free elections. Walesa would go on to win Presidency and a Nobel Peace Prize. Walesa highly prized his freedom and believed that democracy was the best form of government.
"You didn't just pay lip service to the goal of overcoming the division of Europe and Germany... Rather, you put yourself at the forefront of those who encouraged us on the way to unity." -West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl
Helmut Kohl, the West German Chancellor in the late 1980's and early 1990's, advocated for the reunification of Germany. On November 9, 1989, East Germany changed its policies to open borders and thousands flocked to the Berlin Wall. Kohl with other Germans began to advocate for a unified Germany, but many feared that Germany would once again try to dominate Europe. Kohl believed that a unified Germany would focus on democracy and human rights, and was successful as Germany was reunited on October 3, 1990.
March 1985- Gorbachev is elected into the Politburo. Gorbachev would go on to introduce glasnost, perestroika, and democracy ultimately causing the fall of the Soviet Union.
October 28, 1989- Protesters number 10,000 in Wenceslas Square in order to demand for democracy and freedom in Hungary. Many were arrested, but more protesters came after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
November 9, 1989- the Fall of the Berlin- East German leaders opened the borders of its country in order to appease protesters, who had began to protest for open borders and free elections in response to the closing of East Germany's borders. The East German's leaders plan backfired as their corruption was exposed, and they were force to resign.
December 25, 1989, Romanian dictator Ceausescu and his wife are executed by the protesters as the Romanian government falls to the mass of protesters.
October 3, 1990- Germany is reunified after the Helmut Kohl heavily advocated for reunification. Germany faced a myriad of problems such as the unmodernized East German factories, highways, and communication systems.
Lech Walesa led the Solidarity trade union, which advocated for the right to strike and have trade unions. He led the strike in Gdansk shipyard, which temporarily gained the rights they wished for, but was subsequently arrested. In 1988, workers began walking off jobs due to the failing Polish economy, and Walesa and other Solidarity leaders were freed. In the elections that ensued, Walesa won Presidency.
Gorbachev did not witness Stalin's purge of independent minded party members as he was only child allowing him to pursue new ideas instead of adhering to Stalin's policies. He introduced the policies of glasnost, perestroika, and democracy to the Soviet Union in an attempt to revitalize its failing economy. These policies would eventually led to the breakup of the Soviet Union as satellite countries fell to democratic beliefs.
Nota Bena: The Polity Scale measures levels of democracy: Autocracy ranges from -10 to -6, anocracy: -5 to 5, and democracy 6 to 10.