Detailed Timeline of European History

Detailed Timeline of European

World War II (1939-45)

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Post-World War II Era (1945 –

Cold War in
Europe, Rise and Fall of USSR (Soviet Union)

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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):
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
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
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
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
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

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
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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
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
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):
pro-democracy movement defeats Soviet-backed communist party in Greek
Civil War.

Divided Post-War GermanyUSSR Partitions East Germany
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
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

Korean War
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
UK develops its first nuclear
weapon, joining the USSR and the US as nuclear powers.

Nordic Council
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
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
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
The Allied occupation of
Austria ends, allowing Austria to become a fully sovereign republic once

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

Suez Crisis in Egypt
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):
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

 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

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Chinese-Soviet Fall-Out
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
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

Algeria gains independence from France

Norway Oil Discovery
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
France becomes a nuclear power,
bringing the total number of nuclear-capable nations to four.

Berlin Wall Erected by USSR
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
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
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
Rhodesia would be returned to
British colonial rule in 1979 due to civil war, until elections were
held in 1980.

Chinese-Soviet Border Skirmishes
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.

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
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
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

Turkish Northern Cyprus
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
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

End of Portuguese Dictatorship
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
The U.S. withdraws from
Vietnam, ending with a victory of communist North Vietnam.

End of Spanish Dictatorship
Spain dictator Franco dies,
beginning the transition toward democracy.

Beginning of Soviet Military
Involvement in Afghanistan (1979):
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
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
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
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
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

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

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement
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
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
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

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
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

Soviet Transparency (Glasnost) Reforms
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
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

Soviet Republics Begin to Assert
Independence (1989-90):
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

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.

Status for Each Country

Recent History of Europe (1989 – 2008)

World War II (1939 – 1945)

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