Case of Germany
In 1989, Hungary allowed vacationing East German tourists to cross the border into Austria. From there they could travel to West Germany. Thousands of East Germans took this new escape route. In response, the East German government closed its borders entirely. By October 1989, huge demonstrations had broken out in cities across East Germany. The protesters demanded the right to travel freely—and later added the demand for free elections. On November 9, 1989, Egon Krenz opened the Berlin Wall. Thousands of East Germans poured into West Berlin. The long-divided city of Berlin erupted in joyous celebration. Under public pressure Krenz and other top officials were forced to resign in disgrace. By the end of 1989, the East German Communist Party had ceased to exist. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl assured world leaders that Germans had learned from the past. They were now committed to democracy and human rights. Kohl’s assurances helped persuade other European nations to accept German reunification. Forty-five years after its crushing defeat in World War II, Germany was officially reunited on October 3, 1990.
Unrest in the Soviet Union
The reforms Mikhail Gorbachev brought high hopes to the people of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. For the first time in decades, they were free to make choices about the economic and political systems governing their lives. They soon discovered that increased freedom sometimes challenges the social order.
Unrest in the Soviet Union
More than 100 ethnic groups lived in the Soviet Union. Non-Russians formed a majority in the 14 Soviet republics other than Russia. Nationalist groups in Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldavia (now Moldova) demanded self-rule. The Muslim peoples of Soviet Central Asia called for religious freedom.
The first challenge came from the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia (all were independent in till 1940). Soviets annexed them in 1940. In 1990, Lithuania declared its independence. In January 1991 Soviet troops attacked unarmed civilians in Lithuania’s capital. This damaged Gorbachev’s popularity. More and more people looked for leadership to Boris Yeltsin. In August 1991 hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles rolled into Moscow for the military coup.
The Soviet parliament voted to stop all party activities. Meanwhile, Estonia and Latvia quickly declared their independence. Other republics soon followed. Although Gorbachev pleaded for unity, no one was listening. By early December, all 15 republics had declared independence.
Russia and new nations agreed to form the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, a loose federation of former Soviet territories. Only the Baltic republics and Georgia refused to join. The formation of the CIS meant the death of the Soviet Union. On Christmas Day 1991, Gorbachev announced his resignation as president of the Soviet Union, a country that by then had ceased to exist.