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Reform and Collapse in Eastern Europe of 1980-1991 Essay

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Updated: Sep 10th, 2021

Choose one of the social, political, or economic reforms in Western or Eastern Europe between 1980-1991. What is the legacy of this reform?

One of the most prominent political reforms that took place in Eastern Europe in the end of the 20th century was decentralization. When the Cold War ended, and the Berlin Wall was torn down, new opportunities opened for the countries that had been ruled by the Soviet Union for many decades. National movements in Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, were intended to reach independence and become free of the communist regime.12

While the centralization, which marked the post-war era in Eastern Europe, seemed like a good solution in the 1950s, it became obvious that the regime failed to bring prosperity for the people. Thus, by 1980s, massive decentralization efforts were being taken in many Eastern European states.3 The legacy of the reform was the creation of new independent countries in Eastern Europe, which opened new opportunities both for their citizens and international collaboration. Inspired by the example of pioneers of anti-communist movement in the late 1980s, a few more states, including Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Baltic countries, declared their intention to leave the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although gaining independence was a positive change for many Eastern European states, they were struggling to gain political and economic stability for many years, as well as it did in Western Europe.4 According to researchers, the fall of the communist regime was not inevitable.5 However, many problematic issues arose as a result of decentralization in Eastern Europe.6 Thus, the long-awaited “return to Europe,” which was a priority for Eastern Europeans, required much more time and effort.7

Read Ash’s “Berlin: Walls End” about the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. How does the tearing down of the Berlin Wall contrast with all the instances of division created by European governments throughout the 20th Century?

The fall of the Berlin Wall, which marked the end of the Cold War in 1989, was a prominent event not only for Berliners in particular and Germans in general but also for the whole Europe. The “magic” that filled every heart with joy and happiness signified the disintegration of the East German regime and allowed people from both sides of the Wall to meet after twenty-eight years of separation.8 While the most vivid outcome of the Wall’s fall was noticed in the dimension of unification, it is necessary to discuss the instances of division created by European governments throughout the 20th century. The Berlin Wall served as an example of how such divisions could be resumed, and their aftermath – resolved.

The most noticeable process of the late 1980s was the breakdown of socialism, the political system created by the Soviet Union.9 The “iron curtain” became dismantled in several Eastern European countries in 1989, leading to new opportunities for people to work and travel.10 Whereas many European governments could not come to a unified decision on their political and economic strategies, the fall of the Berlin Wall was a prominent model of how a division might be overcome. Germany stopped being a “semi-sovereign” nation and was able to regain its autonomy.11

The Berlin Wall had divided not only people in Germany but also in Europe.12 Hence, its fall allowed to reconnect the ties that had been lost for nearly three decades. It became possible for European countries to proclaim the policies of non-interference and equality.13 The prominent European politicians governing different countries at the end of the 20th century expressed their intentions to reunite and reinforce their states by arranging governments in a principally new positive way.1415 Numerous ways of dividing Europeans, including social, political, and ideological aspects, could be mitigated as a result of the Berlin Wall’s fall.

Additional Discussion Questions

Question 1

I agree with John Green’s interpretation of the Cold War and events related to it. Indeed, the issues that led to the initiation of the Cold War started as early as during World War II, when the USA and the Soviet Union were struggling to divide the world power.16 Another valid argument mentioned in the video is that the nuclear arms race was the most prominent part of the Cold War. Although this fact frequently remains unmentioned in discussions, it was an important constituent and the driving force of the Cold War. Furthermore, Green makes a fair point by saying that there was “a lot of hot war during the Cold War.”17 The desire of the USA and the Soviet Union to make all countries of the world pick sides and not remain neutral caused much harm and considerable losses in many states.

Question 2

The movie tells a story of one of the most tragic features of the Cold War – the separation of Berlin into two parts by the wall. Not only did the capital of Germany become divided but also the whole country did.18 Moreover, the Berlin Wall became the symbol of the world’s estrangement in the second half of the twentieth century. The documentary reveals dramatic facts of people’s attempts to escape from the Eastern to the Western part and the tragic outcomes of such endeavors. It becomes obvious that the erection of such a wall had a profound effect not only in the physical dimension but also, and probably even more, in the psychological one. For many decades, people were not able to see their family and friends, which made many of them feel miserable and devastated.

Bibliography

Ash, Timothy Garton. “Berlin: Wall’s End.” In Europe in the Twentieth Century. 5th ed. Edited by Robert O. Paxton and Julie Hessler, 674–679. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012.

Blouet, Brian W. “The Political Geography of Europe: 1900-2000 A.D.” Journal of Geography 95, no. 1 (1996): 5–15.

Bunce, Valerie. “Reflections on 1989 and Authoritarianism.” Problems of Post-Communism 56, no. 5 (2009): 19–24.

Bush, George H. W., Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, and François Mitterrand. “Recalling the Fall of the Berlin Wall.” New Perspectives Quarterly 27, no. 1 (2010): 14–21.

CrashCourse. Video. 2012. Web.

1991. Web.

Fitoussi, Jean-Paul, and Edmund Phelps. “Causes of the 1980s Slump in Europe.” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 2 (1986): 487–520.

2000. Web.

Genscher, Hans-Dietrich. “‘1989, the Happiest Year in European History’: Cooperation Is Humanity’s Only Promising Option.” Security and Human Rights 21, no. 1 (2010): 36–39.

Grünbacher, Armin. “Cold-War Economics: The Use of Marshall Plan Counterpart Funds in Germany, 1948–1960.” Central European History 45 (2012), 697–716.

Kramer, Mark. “The Demise of the Soviet Bloc.” Europe-Asia Studies 63, no. 9 (2011): 1535–1590.

Mitchell, David. Video. 2016. Web.

Paxton, Robert O., and Julie Hessler. Europe in the Twentieth Century. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012.

Torbakov, Igor. “History, Memory and National Identity: Understanding the Politics of History and Memory Wars in Post-Soviet Lands.” Demokratizatsiya 19, no. 3 (2011): 209–232.

Zürn, Michael. “Fall of the Berlin Wall: Globalisation and the Future of Europe.” New Zealand International Review 35, no. 3 (2010): 2–7.

Footnotes

  1. Eastern Europe: 1953–1991, 1991, Web.
  2. Robert O. Paxton and Julie Hessler, Europe in the Twentieth Century, 5th ed. (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012), 610–619.
  3. Brian W. Blouet, “The Political Geography of Europe: 1900-2000 A.D.,” Journal of Geography 95, no. 1 (1996): 5–15.
  4. Jean-Paul Fitoussi and Edmund Phelps, “Causes of the 1980s Slump in Europe,” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 2 (1986): 487–488.
  5. Mark Kramer, “The Demise of the Soviet Bloc,” Europe-Asia Studies 63, no. 9 (2011): 1535.
  6. Valerie Bunce, “Reflections on 1989 and Authoritarianism,” Problems of Post-Communism 56, no. 5 (2009): 19–21.
  7. Igor Torbakov, “History, Memory and National Identity: Understanding the Politics of History and Memory Wars in Post-Soviet Lands,” Demokratizatsiya 19, no. 3 (2011): 214.
  8. Timothy Garton Ash, “Berlin: Wall’s End,” in Europe in the Twentieth Century, 5th ed., ed. Robert O. Paxton and Julie Hessler, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012), 676.
  9. Michael Zürn, “Fall of the Berlin Wall: Globalisation and the Future of Europe,” New Zealand International Review 35, no. 3 (2010): 2.
  10. Eastern Europe: 1953–1991, 1991.
  11. Armin Grünbacher, “Cold-War Economics: The Use of Marshall Plan Counterpart Funds in Germany, 1948–1960,” Central European History 45 (2012), 697.
  12. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, “‘1989, the Happiest Year in European History’: Cooperation Is Humanity’s Only Promising Option,” Security and Human Rights 21, no. 1 (2010): 36.
  13. George H. W. Bush et al., “Recalling the Fall of the Berlin Wall,” New Perspectives Quarterly 27, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 14.
  14. Francois Mitterrand: A Tale of Power, 2000, Web.
  15. Bush et al., “Recalling the Fall of the Berlin Wall,” 15-16.
  16. CrashCourse, “USA vs USSR Fight! The Cold War: Crash Course World History #39,” video, Web.
  17. CrashCourse, “USA vs USSR Fight! The Cold War: Crash Course World History #39.”
  18. David Mitchell, “History of Berlin – Amazing Documentary TV,” video, Web.
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