Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, 1989

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On the night of November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall—the most potent symbol of the cold-war division of Europe—came down. Earlier that day, the Communist authorities of the German Democratic Republic had announced the removal of travel restrictions to democratic West Berlin. Thousands of East Germans streamed into the West, and in the course of the night, celebrants on both sides of the wall began to tear it down. The collapse of the Berlin Wall was the culminating point of the revolutionary changes sweeping East Central Europe in 1989. Throughout the Soviet bloc, reformers assumed power and ended over 40 years of dictatorial Communist rule. The reform movement that ended communism in East Central Europe began in Poland. Solidarity, an anti-Communist trade union and social movement, had forced Poland’s Communist government to recognize it in 1980 through a wave of strikes that gained international attention. In 1981, Poland’s Communist authorities, under pressure from Moscow, declared martial law, arrested Solidarity’s leaders, and banned the democratic trade union. The ban did not bring an end to Solidarity. The movement simply went underground, and the rebellious Poles organized their own civil society, separate from the Communist government and its edicts. In 1985, the assumption of power in the Soviet Union by a reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev, paved the way for political and economic reforms in East Central Europe. Gorbachev abandoned the “Brezhnev Doctrine” — the Soviet Union’s policy of intervening with military force, if necessary, to preserve Communist rule in the region. Instead, he encouraged the local Communist leaders to seek new ways of gaining popular support for their rule. In Hungary, the Communist government initiated reforms in 1989 that led to the sanctioning of a multiparty system and competitive elections. In Poland, the Communists entered into round-table talks with a reinvigorated Solidarity. As a result, Poland held its first competitive...
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