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Detailed Timeline of European History
World War II (1939-45) << Post-War Era (1945-89) >> Recent History (1989-2008)

Post-World War II Era (1945 - 1989)
Cold War in Europe, Rise and Fall of USSR (Soviet Union)

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Post-War Status for Each Country

U.S. Ends WWII with Nuclear Bomb Attacks Against Japan (1945): The U.S. unleashes nuclear weapons upon the world by bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan to end WWII.

Beginning of Indonesian War of Independence Against Dutch (1945): The Dutch lose control over most of Indonesia to the Japanese. When the Japanese withdrew upon their defeat in WWII, Indonesia declared independence from the Netherlands, leading to a 4-year war in an attempt to re-establish control over Indonesia.

Embargo on Spain (1945-53): In an effort led by the Allied Powers, the United Nations placed a trade embargo on Spain for its part in aiding Germany and the Axis Powers in WWII. This resulted in economic and diplomatic isolation, badly hindering Spain's economy. The embargo was lifted in 1953. Spain would continue to suffer from economic and political unrest until the 1960s, upon which the economy enjoyed a boom.

Italian Monarchy Ends (1946): After WWII, Italian King Emmanual III attempted to resurrect the monarchy. When the matter was put to a popular referendum vote, the monarchy was abolished.

Beginning of the First Indochina War in Vietnam (1946): Pitting France and the Vietnamese National Army against the communist Viet Minh, who was supported by the USSR and China.

Greek Civil War (1946-49): Tensions had been running high between the Pro-Democracy and Pro-Communism parties in Greece since 1942, leading to periodic violence. War broke out in 1946, as the communist faction waged guerilla warfare against the elected, pro-democracy government (an election boycotted by the Communist party). The communist guerillas were supported by surrounding communist regimes, including the Soviet Union, Albania and Yugoslavia. The democratic government forces were aided by the U.S. With the victory of the government in power, Greece became a west-leaning nation, joining NATO (anti-communist military coalition led by the U.S.) in 1952. The vigorous, anti-communist disposition of the goverment would lead to the military coup in 1967.

(Timeline Continued Below)

Libya Gains Independence from Italy (1947): Italy officially relinquishes control of Libya.

United Kingdom Grants Independence India (1947): Partitioned into Hindu and Muslim states (India and Pakistan respectively), which would result in a massive population exchange, and continued violence between the two.

Introduction of Truman Doctrine to Combat Communism (1947): Named after U.S. president Harry Truman. Based on the philosophy that the U.S. would support any regime against communist insurgents, regardless of how repressive an alternative regime may be. It was first put into practice with the support of the Greek monarchy and pro-democracy groups against pro-communist factions in the Greek Civil War immediately following WWII. The U.S. also helped to topple Greece's democratic government when it was suspected it was becoming sympathetic to communist influence. Unfortunately for Greece, it was replaced with an oppressive military authoritarian government. - The World's Largest Maps Store!

Marshall Plan Implemented to Rebuild European Economies (1947-51): After the war, communism was gaining momentum against capitalism throughout Europe, due to suffering economies and post-war food shortages. To turn the tide, the U.S. also introduced the Marshall Plan to help rebuild allied nations in Europe in order to keep communism at bay, a program which remained in effect for 4 years. The U.S. motivation was to reconstruct international markets it depended upon for trade, especially export trade, as U.S. had developed a massive agricultural and industrial capability. By 1951, every nation but Germany which received aid had grown their respective economies to pre-war levels. As part of the plan, tariffs were eliminated, and more capitalistic policies were adopted west of the Soviet Bloc. As a result, Europe experienced unprecedented economic growth after WWII. Germany continued to struggle economically due to punitive measures put into place against it after the war. By the early 1950s, despite encouraging growth, European economies had reached a point of stagnation. It was determined that an inability to trade with Germany was a major reason. Alleviating penalties resulted in a positive impact for the rest of Western Europe. However, the initial adjustment was to simply reduce penalties, while still imposing manufacturing limits. When all production limits were lifted, Germany and the rest of Western Europe realized a much greater economic surge, since Europe depended on Germany's manufacturing and industrial capabilities. The USSR rejected contributions from the Marshall Plan, due to the conditions that accompanied it, such as allowing U.S. supervision of the participant's economy, and to be part of unified European economy based on free trade. The resulting integration of European nations would set the stage for the European Union in later years. Spain would be the only western nation excluded, as it attempted to rely (unsuccessfully) on self-sufficiency. Spain would recover in the 50s when the embargo was lifted, and it received some U.S. aid dollars. Criticism of the plan includes claims that it helped western nations build militaries more than it helped grow economies. It also contributed to at least some government corruption, since aid dollars are typically used much less efficiently (and honestly) than investment dollars. Japan did not receive any aid, yet its economy grew more rapidly than Europe in the 1950s. Even if such criticisms are true, the plan nonetheless increased U.S. influence in Europe, increasing capitalistic tendencies in countries that had previously been resistant to it, such as France, Italy, and later Spain.

Italy Elects Democratic Government (1948): U.S. propaganda helps the Christian democratic party defeat communist party in Italy's free elections.

Yugoslavia Breaks Away from Soviet Union (1948): Communist Yugoslavia breaks from the Soviet Union, refusing to remain part of its integrated economical and military system.

United Kingdom Abandons Palestine, Foundation of Israel (1948): The UN votes to partition it into Arab and Jewish states, giving license to the immigrating Jews to forcibly deport millions of Arab Palestinians from their lands, giving birth of the modern nation of Israel.

Indonesia Gains Independence from Dutch (1949): The Netherlands officially recognize independence in 1949 after the Indonesian War of Independence. At this point, the Dutch Empire consists of only the Netherland Antilles, a small group of islands in the Caribbean off the coast of South America.

Democracy Faction Achieves Victory in Greek Civil War (1949): U.S.-backed pro-democracy movement defeats Soviet-backed communist party in Greek Civil War.

Divided Post-War GermanyUSSR Partitions East Germany (1949): The USSR refuses to allow East Germany to be combined with West Germany (as previously agreed among Allied victors), establishing a communist East Germany state. Federal Republic of Germany was set up under the oversight of the Western Allies (U.S., U.K., France), which became known as West Germany, claiming sovereignty over all of Germany, but ruling only the Western Allied-occupied zones. The USSR forcibly installed a Soviet-friendly communist government in the Soviet-controlled portion, becoming known as East Germany. Allied troops (Western and Soviet) remained in West and East Germany until reunification in 1990, as a deterrent for one to invade the other.

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Note: German Economy. Punitive measures by the Allied victors initially thwarted the Germany economy, and therefore the European economy as a whole. When lifted during the early 1950s, the German economy quickly flourished. The U.S. Marshall Plan provided financial aid, but this was offset by war reparations demanded by the Western Allies. The East German economy did not grow as quickly as the West German economy, due to the fact that the Soviets demanded higher reparations from East Germany than the Western Allies did from West Germany.

The USSR joins the U.S. as a nuclear power (1949). Marks the beginning of the nuclear arms race between US and USSR.

NATO Established (1949): The U.S. and its Western European allies establish NATO, as essentially an anti-Soviet military alliance. Under the agreement, member European nations allow the U.S. to place missles and set up military bases on their soil, within striking distance of the USSR.

Korean War (1950-53): Power struggle between North and South Korea escalates into war, with the communist North supported by China and the USSR, and the US joining the South. Ends in a cease-fire agreement of border at the 38th parallel.

United Kingdom Becomes Nuclear Power (1952): UK develops its first nuclear weapon, joining the USSR and the US as nuclear powers.

Nordic Council (1952): Included Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Greenland and Iceland. It allowed citizens to travel within member states without a passport, while being eligible to obtain employment and welfare benefits in member states. Finland was especially helped as a result of the trans-Scandinavia cooperation. Finland suffered the greatest damage from WWII of all Scandinavian nations, and the Nordic Council was instrumental in helping to rebuild Finland’s economy.

United Kingdom Grants Independence to Sudan (1953).

Khrushchev Replaces Stalin as Leader of Soviet Union (1953): Takes over as Head of USSR state upon death of Stalin. Begins a campaign denouncing many of Stalin’s extremist and brutal policies. Freed thousands of political prisoners, easing restrictions and repressions domestically. Resumed state persecution against Russian Orthodox Church, closing down most churches and executing thousands of clergy.

North Vietnam Becomes Communist State (1954): Soviet- and Communist China-backed communist faction defeats France in Vietnam, making North Vietnam a communist state. With the end of France's presence in Vietnam/Indochina, South Vietnam becomes an authoritarian state.

Start of Algerian War of Independence against France (1954).

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Warsaw Pact Established by USSR (1955): The USSR establishes its own military alliance in response to NATO, known as the Warsaw Pact, which includes Eastern/Central European nations under its influence, such as Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and East Germany.

End of Allied Occupation of Austria (1955): The Allied occupation of Austria ends, allowing Austria to become a fully sovereign republic once again.

Cameroun War of Independence Against France (1955): Beginning of Cameroun insurrection, an armed revolt to gain independence from France.

Suez Crisis in Egypt (1956): Arab Nationalists in Egypt institute anti-west policies concerning canal. It was primarily used for western commercial interests, and even for shipments to Egypt's enemy Israel. UK, France and Israel invaded the canal region of Egypt in response, but were pressured by the U.S. to withdraw, as the attack reflected poorly upon the U.S., since the three invading nations were each key allies

United Kingdom Grants Independence to Malaysia and Singapore (1957): Granted after the UK had helped to put down the communist insurgency.

United Kingdom Grants Independence to the African Gold Coast (Ghana) (1957).

New Government in France and Loss of Most of Its Overseas Empire (1958): Public dissatisfaction with Fourth Republic government of France and its insistence on fighting for possession of overseas colonies results in its downfall. It is replaced by the Fifth Republic, which offers peaceful independence to all colonies. Most take advantage of the offer, including Algeria, which had been waging a war of independence against France.

 Further Understanding:  French Decolonization

Like UK, France was devastated after WWI and especially WWII. After WWII, most of its colonies were possessed by other countries, weakening its position within these colonies when they were restored to France. However, most of its colonies had developed their own sense of nationalism independent of France (pride for their part in helping the war effort, being out from under France rule temporarily), and were acutely aware of the anti-colonial sentiment in the world, as many European colonies were quickly gaining independence. Unlike UK, France would fight to maintain possession of its colonies. Over the next 10-20 years, France would find itself fighting in Vietnam, Cameroon, Algeria among others. Yet, it would be forced to cede independence after each of these armed struggles. These wars would become highly unpopular even at home, where public sentiment was against violent repression of independence movements, and colonialism in general (weary of war, moral argument against colonialism). By the fall of its Fourth Republic in 1958, the French public generally supported self-rule in its remaining colonial possessions, most of which were tenuously held anyway, which led to independence of most colonial possessions shortly thereafter (most by 1960).

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Chinese-Soviet Fall-Out (1959): China alienates the USSR as an ally, displeased with the direction it takes under Khrushchev, favoring Stalin's brand of communism denounced by Khrushchev, who succeeded Stalin upon his death in 1953.

Cyprus Independence (1960): Cyprus gains independence from the British. Greek Cypriots incorporate the Turkish minority into the new government. However, tensions mount, resulting in armed conflict. UN peacekeeping forces are eventually installed, which remain to this day.

Cameroun gains independence from France (1960).

Algeria gains independence from France (1960).

Norway Oil Discovery (1960): Norway discovers oil and gas off its coast, propelling economy beyond that of most western nations. Newfound oil wealth contributes to Norway's current number one ranking in "Quality of Life" index by the United Nations.

France Becomes Nuclear Power (1960): France becomes a nuclear power, bringing the total number of nuclear-capable nations to four.

Berlin Wall Erected by USSR (1961): Before 1961, skilled workers left East Berlin (Soviet-occupied) to find employment in West Berlin, due to higher salaries and to escape political suppression. Berlin was located deep within East Germany (communist-controlled), but was divided between the USSR and the Western Allies. The Soviets recognized the problems of losing the majority of the skilled workers in East Berlin, therefore constructed the wall dividing the city in two, and drastically reducing the outflow of East Germans to West Germany.

United Kingdom Grants Independence to Jamaica (1961).

Cuban Missile Crisis (1962): The USSR begins to build missile bases in Cuba. The U.S. threatens military action. The USSR backs off with a non-invasion concession from the U.S., and the agreement that U.S. missiles in Turkey would be removed.

Most African Colonies Gain Independence in Early 1960s: African colonies played an integral role in WWII, supplying an increasing amount of raw materials (Japanese conquest of East Asian countries prevented traditional sources) and supplying soldiers. Urban development and increased interactions with Europeans and European culture led to increased education, and subsequently a trend toward pro-independence movements. Worldwide public opinion was in favor of self-government for African colonies, as colonization was seen as an outdated, immoral imperialistic practice. Furthermore, after WWII, most European colonist nations were economically and militarily devastated, reducing their ability to maintain control over colonies. In addition, their will to do so was diminished, with the general public being weary of warfare and conflict after two major world wars within a 30-year period. As a result, European colonial powers granted independence to the majority of colonies by the 60s, with all being freed by the 90s, except for a few enclaves. Post independence in Africa would prove to be very bloody, characterized by civil conflict. This is primarily due to the unnatural boundaries imposed by Europeans during colonization in the 19th century, dividing naturally cohesive tribes and nations, while combining natural rivals. This was done in the name of international competition, where colonizers would grab as much land as they could, forming borders along points which did not necessarily correspond with natural boundaries. Plus, European powers intentionally divided tribes and nations in order to prevent well-coordinated insurrections. Widespread warfare brought by European nations further destabilized the continent. Succeeding native regimes naturally carried on the legacy of conflict, contributing to economic and agricultural devastation, disease, and dictatorship governments, all of which continue to scar Africa today.

U.S. Becomes Heavily Involved in Vietnam (1964): Large-scale involvement begun by the U.S. in the Vietnam War against communist North Vietnam, supported by communist China and the USSR. North Vietnam had already begun a campaign to absorb non-communist South Vietnam.

Brezhnev Replaces Khrushchev as Leader of Soviet Union (1964): The Communist Party in Russia became dissatisfied with Khrushchev, forcing him into retirement, and replacing him with Brezhnev. The Soviet economy would improve at a greater rate than western nations during the 60s and early 70s, especially with the U.S. involved in a quagmire in Vietnam, and with all western nations vulnerable to the OPEC oil embargo. The USSR, on the other hand, was a major energy provider itself, and not reliant on Arab oil-producing nations. Russia would suffer economic stagnation in the mid to late 1970s though.

Greek Military Regime Takes Control of Government (1967): After the Greek Civil War, the communist party was outlawed in Greece. When centrist Papandreou was elected Prime Minister in 1965, many from the conservative establishment worried that he would allow communist influence to re-emerge in Greece. Consequently, King Constantine II dismissed the new PM, with new elections to be held in 1967. It appeared that the left-wing groups were gaining in popularity, and would become victorious in the upcoming elections, and it was feared that they would allow communism to establish a foothold. With this in mind, mid-ranking army officers organized a coup, overthrowing the interim government in Athens in 1967 with a small force under their direct command, just before the elections were to take place. The Commander-in-Chief of the Greek Army was arrested, and was forced to command the army to comply. The king was also coerced into giving public recognition to the new military regime. The military coup was also aided by the CIA, based on the U.S.'s paranoia of any increase in communist influence within NATO's sphere. The military junta quickly brought an end to civil rights enjoyed under the democratic government. Many perceived dissenters were executed without due process. Criticism of the military regime was outlawed, freedom of the press was seriously curbed, while Greece essentially became a police state.

The Suez Canal (Egypt) is Permanently Closed (1967): Compels the United Kingdom to withdraw from its Arabian peninsula colonies.

Establishment of European Communities (1967): Consisted of non-Eastern Bloc nations in Europe. European unity had long been the goal, to avoid the devastating wars resulting from fervent nationalism. The objective was to standardize the economy and trade. Served as a predecessor to the modern European Union.

The Soviet Union brutally suppresses anti-communist riots in Czechoslovakia (1968).

All African Colonies Independent (1968): Rhodesia would be returned to British colonial rule in 1979 due to civil war, until elections were held in 1980.

Chinese-Soviet Border Skirmishes (1969): Border skirmishes between the Soviet Union and China over border disputes. China seeks support from the West, further diminishing Soviet power and influence in the world.

Beginning of Internal Strife in Italy (1969): Bombings begin in Italy, beginning a period of time known as "Years of Lead", where neo-fascists would attempt to terrorize the public to adopt its point of view. Some bombings would be carried out by leftist socialist/communist groups in response. The "Years of Lead" would last through the early 80s.

UK-Irish "Troubles" in Northern Ireland (1969-98): Politcal strife began in Northern Ireland (UK) in the 1960s, as a result of Protestant (the majority) discrimination against Irish Catholics (minority). Following WWI, Ireland gained independence from the English-dominated United Kingdom. The UK kept possession of the six northernmost provinces of Ireland, due to its majority-Protestant population, and a referendum vote favoring inclusion in the United Kingdom. As a response to prosecution, Irish Catholics (including the IRA) began to carry out acts of terrorism. The British responded militarily. As a secondary motivation, the Catholics hoped to reunite Northern Ireland with the the Republic of Ireland, consolidating Irish rule throughout the entire island. The conflict officially ended with a peace treaty in 1998, where Irish paramilitary groups agreed to a ceasefire, with the British withdrawing the army, and with Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. The conflict was primarily contained within Northern Ireland, occassionally spilling over into Ireland and Great Britain.

Normalized Relations Between East and West Germany (1970): Before 1970, West Germany viewed East Germany as an illegal state. By 1970, East and West Germany officially recognized the other as a legitimate state.

1973 Arab Oil Crisis (1973): OAPEC (OPEC + Egypt/Syria) placed an oil embargo against nations supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War (against Syria and Egypt), including the U.S., Japan and Western Europe powers. In addition, oil exporters realized they could raise prices significantly without reducing demand for their product, resulting in sharp price increases throughout the world. This oil shock caused a global recession, ending the long-lasting period of economic growth throughout the U.S. and Western Europe which had begun just after WWII. Consequently, Western European nations were compelled to take a more Pro-Arab stance, since they imported the vast majority of their oil from the Middle East, while the U.S. remained more firmly supportive of Israel, in large part due to its lesser reliance on the Middle East, as it imported the majority of its oil from non-Arab nations. The crisis would compel the Soviets to explore and develop its vast oil reservoirs, becoming the world’s leading producer of oil by 1980, competing with the Arab states. This would cause the Arabs to seek protection of western powers, particularly the U.S., resulting in more U.S. involvement and cooperation in Middle Eastern Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, which would allow the U.S. to establish military bases. The U.S. and Western European powers gained more leverage with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which further inflamed fears of the prospect of a Soviet invasion.

Turkish Northern Cyprus (1974): As a result of Turkish-Greco tensions in Cyprus, including the failed coup attempt orchestrated by the Greek Military Junta, Turkey invades northern Cyprus, gaining control of the northern 1/3 of the island. This area remains the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to this day, although only recognized by Turkey. Resulted in a population exchange, with Turks from the south migrating north, and Greeks from the north migrating south.

The Fall of the Military Junta Regime in Greece (1974): Popular dissension had increased in opposition of the Military Junta, escalating into massive riots in 1974. The Greek Army failed in an attempt to carry out a coup against the government of Cyprus later in 1974, inviting a Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus, resulting in the permanent partition of Cyprus. This major misstep was the final straw for the military regime. The leaders within the regime recognized their inevitable collapse, opting to install an interim government to precede democratic elections.

Democratic Elections in Greece (1974): The Communist Party is legalized by the interim government, and a new Democratic party is also formed. In the 1974 free elections, the democratic party achieves victory, ending the oppressive military regime, and restoring civil rights and liberties once again. Shortly after assuming power, the new government arrests the military junta leaders, placing them on trial. They are convicted to death sentences, which are commuted to life in prison.

End of Portuguese Dictatorship (1974): The dictatorship government is overthrown, replaced by a democratic government. The new government proceeded to recognize independence of all colonies.

U.S. Withdraws from Vietnam (1975): The U.S. withdraws from Vietnam, ending with a victory of communist North Vietnam.

End of Spanish Dictatorship (1975): Spain dictator Franco dies, beginning the transition toward democracy.

Beginning of Soviet Military Involvement in Afghanistan (1979): The Soviet Union invades and occupies parts of Afghanistan, with the communist-Afghan government in danger of collapse.

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Anti-Communist Reforms in Poland (1980): Poland succumbs to public pressure to reduce oppressive policies. New laws are enacted allowing the formation of trade unions, increased minimum wage and welfare benefits, and decreased government censorship. The reforms represent a victory for anti-communists, who are encouraged to stage riots and strikes in attempts to secure further gains.

Most British Caribbean Colonies Become Independent (1980): Most Caribbean colonies gain independence between 1960s and 80s, with a few (such as British Virgin Islands) opting to remain British possessions.

United Kingdom Grants Independence to Belize (1981): Belize becomes fully independent. No more colonies remaining on American mainland.

Communist Martial Law in Poland (1981-83): Under fear of Soviet intervention and further erosion of communist power, martial law is declared by the Polish communist government, lasting until 1983. Economic hardship worsened during this period, resulting in an economic crisis which threatened the state of Poland.

Falklands War Between UK and Argentina (1982): Argentina invades and occupies the British islands off its coast. The UK responds with its own invasion, recapturing the islands, which remain an overseas British territory to this day. Helped to topple the Argentinan military regime.

Canada Completely Independent from United Kingdom (1982): Canada cuts final ties with the UK, becoming completely independent.

Soviets Shoot Down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (1983): Held important U.S. personnel, including a senator. USSR claimed it flew deep into their air space. Escalated cold war tensions, and galvanized international support of U.S.-backed proposal to install missiles in West Germany, further heightening tensions.

Free-Market Reforms in USSR (1984): Gorbachev becomes Head of State of USSR, introduces Perestroika, a collection of economic reforms in an attempt to reverse economic woes. However, limited free-market polices are enough to sink businesses, but not enough to bring about economic benefits.

Gorbachev Replaces Brezhnev as Leader of Soviet Union (1984): Gorbachev rose to the office of General Secretary of Communist Party of USSR in 1984. Once in office, acknowledges stagnation of USSR (economically, geopolitically, socially), and attempts reforms, which are met with resistance domestically. Introduced Perestroika, a program of economic reforms, but which contributed to the deterioration of the economy, as it implemented free trade elements into economy. As businesses failed, government spending increased and shortages increased, reducing tax revenues. Decentralization would also prove harmful, as various republics would withhold tax revenues. Gorbachev also introduced Glasnot, a policy of openness and transparency with the media, after the cover-up of the Cherynobyl Disaster came to light. However, this backfired when the extent of past cover-ups, social failures and economic struggles were served for public consumption. These policies helped to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union, which happened under Gorbachev's reign.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement (1985): Nuclear powers agree to begin the process of destroying stockpiles of nuclear weapons, as part of non-proliferation agreement.

Cherynobyl Disaster in Soviet Republic of Ukraine (1986): Catastrophic nuclear power plant accident. Public health disaster worsened by attempted cover-up by Soviet government, which was later uncovered, further undermining credibility of regime. The nuclear accident contaminates large areas in Ukraine. The catastrophic accident triggers the Ukraine independence movement (Rukh), which helps facilitate independence and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Dutch Grant Independence to Aruba (1986): The Netherlands allows Aruba to become an independent, sovereign nation, with the remaining small islands of the Netherlands Antilles remaining part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Australia and New Zealand Completely Independent from United Kingdom (1986): Australia and New Zealand also cut last remaining constitutional ties with UK.

Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan (1987-89): After being bogged down in guerilla warfare against anti-communist insurgents in Afghanistan since 1979, Soviets begin their withdrawal, having gained nothing concrete in the near decade-long conflict. The USSR departs, weakened and humiliated.

Soviet Transparency (Glasnost) Reforms (1988): PR debacles such as Cherynobyl compelled Gorbachev to introduce Glasnost, a program promising openness with the media and public. However, this also backfired when past cover-ups and state failures came to light.

Democracy in Poland (1989): Semi-free elections take place in Poland. Even though the process was rigged to heavily favor the communist party, the opposition party won in a landslide. The communist government was forced to hold elections after Gorbachev took the invasion card off the table. Before, it was official policy of the USSR to forcibly intervene in a client state if the Soviet-supported communist regime was threatened. Due to overwhelming popular support, the communist president resigned, resulting in a pro-democratic president.

Soviet Republics Begin to Assert Independence (1989-90): Dependent states such as Poland and Romania, and direct-rule republics such as Lithuania begin to assert independence from a stumbling Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall is also destroyed.

Further Understanding of the Cold War Era

Causes of Soviet Collapse:

Stagnating Economy: The Soviet Union had grown to a size large enough to the point where it became cumbersome to continue state planning. The massive and intricate Soviet economy became too large to manage by state planners, who were unwilling to enable more autonomy at mid-managerial level to remain responsive down to a localized level. This resulted in failed economic policies (failure to respond timely to continuous changes), while thwarting innovation. Managers commonly fudged numbers to show that quotas and goals were being met.
Afghanistan Quagmire: The Soviet-friendly Afghan government was threatened by anti-communist insurgents, which grew to outnumber the Afghanistan army. The USSR supplied tens of thousands of troops and war machines. However, support transformed into an invasion followed by occupation of various cities and towns, bogging the Soviets down into a guerilla war with an increasingly growing and zealous Afghan resistance movement. By the time of the Soviet withdrawal from 1987-89, nothing concrete had been gained, and the USSR left damaged and humiliated.
Perestroika: Refers to economic reforms enacted by Gorbachev in 1987, in an attempt to reverse the Soviet Union's sliding economy. Some free market elements were added, but not enough to bring about reform. The free-market policies were enough to result in failed businesses, but shortages became common as price controls were kept in place. With price ceilings limiting profits, the incentive to produce sufficient quantities was removed.
Decentralization: When the Soviet Union did allow individual republics more autonomy, tax revenues were withheld.
Glasnost: With the Soviet public becoming more disenchanted with their secretive government, Gorbachev attempted to compensate by committing to openness and transparency with the media. However, this backfired as the public learned of long-standing political cover ups revealing past and recent atrocities, missteps by leadership, social and health failures of the USSR and the true extent of national economic problems. This further eroded support for the regime.
Cherynobyl Disaster: The nuclear power plant accident in the Ukraine town of Cherynobyl. It was initially covered up by the Soviet government, compounding the health crisis, while further sowing the seeds of distrust within the constituency, as the extent of the disaster and the cover-up came to light.
Local Nationalism: With declining public perception of the Soviet government (due to political blunders), nationalism grew within each of the individual republics, creating independence ambitions in republics such as Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Lack of Economic Incentives: The state-planned economic system did not provide sufficient incentives to encourage innovation and ambitious productivity.
Excessive Military Focus: The USSR was overly-focused on military build-up, neglecting domestic troubles that would play a major role in bringing down the USSR. This was largely due to the perceived need to keep pace with the massive U.S. military build up.
Reduced Motivation of Fear: Friendlier relations with the U.S. in the 70s, 80s meant that the general public was no longer completely motivated to strengthen itself against the American threat.
Ethnic Fragmentation: The USSR used “Slav Nation/Pride” propaganda as justification in creating a unified Slav state. However, Russia was clearly the favored and dominant state, while others (including Turkish/Central Asian constituents) were oppressed. Russians clearly viewed themselves as superior, despite asking client states to buy into Slav unity/patriotism/pride, which became a transparent effort to draw other Slav nations in under a false romantic ideal. As a result, non-Russians were quick to separate from the Soviet Union when it entered troubled waters.


British Decolonization: At the end of WWII, the UK was in disrepair, like most of Europe. It's military was weakened, its economy in shambles, and the government nearly bankrupt. The U.S. and Soviet Union were the pre-emminent global powers, and both were philosophically opposed to colonialism. The British saw the writing on the wall almost immediately, and began the process of voluntary decolonization, peacefully granting independence to nearly all of its colonies during the ensuing decades, with the exception of a few incidents where the UK attempted to maintain possession. Some colonies chose to remain British colonies, with 14 still remaining under UK possession today. They are now referred to as British Overseas Territories. They are mostly island territories such as the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands and others in the Caribbean.

British Empire Legacy: The British Empire brought about effects still felt today: the pervasiveness of the English language throughout the world, pervasiveness of parliamentary-style democracies, British-style universities, imperial system of measurement, English legal system, popularity of football (soccer), rugby, cricket and related sports, along with many other effects.

European Secularism: Began with Age of Enlightenment (relying more on reasoning, scientific method than traditions, submission to authority), where many Christian principles were questioned. Secularism slowly increased through the two world wars, as industrialization brought about greater urbanization, leading to an acceleration in the exchange of ideas. Scientific advances also contradicted and elicited questions about long-held dogma of Christianity (such as Creationism). However, these factors also affected the U.S., which remains much more religious. Why did secularism take much deeper root in Europe? One potential reason: Lack of religious freedom, church/state sponsored religious oppression ran rampant in just the recent past leading up to the world wars. Even just before world wars, certain religious affiliations were required in order to hold public office throughout much of Europe. The U.S. has never experienced such religious oppression. Therefore, Europeans were quicker to distance themselves from Christianity. Furthermore, the widespread destruction of property and life, and magnitude of atrocities perhaps had an effect on Europeans as well, as even the common citizens saw this first hand, perhaps raising further questions concerning the existence of God. Secularism was also a social trend, as Europeans have become more individualistic, perhaps disenchanted by groups requiring unquestioned loyalty, which potentially served as a painful reminder of oppressive leaders and ideologies which demanded complete loyalty. Plus, Europe has had a history of religious wars even during modern history, something unfamiliar to Americans.

General European Economy: In both world wars, economies, lands, infrastructure, governments, institutions and businesses were devastated. This devastation contributed to the Great Depression after WWI. An economic crash was avoided after WWII, largely due to much-improved monetary policy. The Fed Reserve in the U.S. learned from its colossal mistakes in 20s/30s, when it helped restrict the circulation of money by failing to reduce interest rates. The U.S. stock market was more stable after WWII, as commodities were not over-speculated, and due to a more responsible use of stock market (as opposed to the post-WWI trend to take out loans to buy overvalued stocks). This enabled U.S. to loan large sums of money to Europe, helping to stimulate their economy. Widespread currency manipulation was also a thing of the past, so currency markets became far more stable throughout Europe following WWII compared to the situation after WWI.

Sweden and Finland Cold War Neutrality: Sweden remained neutral during WWII, enabling it to remain virtually unscathed, while most of Europe was in disrepair. Consequently, it was able to strengthen its economy by helping to rebuild Europe. Since neutrality worked so well during WWII, it remained neutral during the Cold War era, contributing to its strong post-war economy. Finland joined Sweden as a neutral nation during the Cold War.

Post-War Status for Each Country

Next: Recent History of Europe (1989 - 2008)

Previous: World War II (1939 - 1945)

Go to European History Interactive Map

Post-War/Cold-War Interactive Map

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