Introduction to The Post-Communist World (1988–Present)

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Introduction to The Post-Communist World (1988–Present)

During the Cold War, the Communist governments of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe tightly restricted freedom of expression, association, and movement by their citizens. Changes stirred in 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) assumed leadership of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev’s political and economic reforms unleashed pent-up demands for freedom that proved impossible to contain.

In 1989 citizens’ movements across Eastern Europe swept the Communists from power. Poland, whose Solidarity labor union had defied the authorities, elected a non-Communist parliament. Massive protests brought down the Czechoslovakian and Romanian governments. On November 9, 1989, East Germany’s embattled leadership allowed transit into West Berlin across the border marked by the Berlin Wall, which had divided the city and symbolized Communist tyranny, and jubilant citizens tore down the wall. A year later, Germany itself was reunited under democratic rule. By 1991 the Soviet Union’s constituent republics were breaking away. Russia declared its sovereignty, and its new president, Boris Yeltsin (1931–2007), took control of the Soviet state apparatus. Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991, marking the end of the Soviet Union.

The federation of Yugoslavia was dissolving as well, into nationalist and ethnic rivalries. Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia declared independence in 1991. Bosnia plunged into a vicious civil war between ethnic Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. Some regions of Bosnia suffered “ethnic cleansing,” systematic rape, and other war crimes. In 1998 Serbian troops attacked ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombed Serbia to halt the violence.

While Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union faced disintegration, a process of integration was underway in Western Europe. Six European states had merged their coal and steel production in the 1950s, and later organized a European common market. In 1993 the Maastricht Treaty created the European Union, an intergovernmental organization to coordinate policies on trade, agriculture, diplomacy, and security. Many former Communist states were admitted to the EU; Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007, increasing membership to twenty-seven nations.

With state-led communism repudiated, corporate-led capitalism entered a triumphant phase. The worldwide spread of blue jeans, soft drinks, and other Western consumer artifacts symbolized the phenomenon of globalization. Telecommunications made a major advance in the 1990s with the World Wide Web. The advance of free markets, trade, and communications did not eliminate global poverty; in fact, in many countries, the gap between rich and poor widened. A global protest movement arose in the late 1990s, exploiting the Internet’s networking potential, to resist global capital’s power to dictate the terms of international trade.

Western values also came under attack by radical Islam. A series of terrorist attacks by Muslim radicals against Western targets culminated on September 11, 2001, when hijacked aircraft damaged the Pentagon and destroyed the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. U.S. president George W. Bush (1946–) responded by declaring a “global war on terror” and toppling the government of Afghanistan, which had provided safe haven for international terrorists, as well as the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein (1937–2006), who was accused of developing nuclear and biological weapons. After the collapse of Hussein’s regime, the situation in Iraq rapidly degenerated into civil war and threatened to escalate into a wider, regional conflict.

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Introduction to The Post-Communist World (1988–Present)

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Introduction to The Post-Communist World (1988–Present)