GCSE and IGCSE History Revision

Lech Walesa

Explanation of the Gdańsk shipyard strike led by Lech Wałęsa

On the 14th August 1980, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in the Polish city of Gdańsk led by electrician Lech Wałęsa began a strike that led to the formation of the Solidarity labour movement.

A decade of economic and political crises preceded the 1980 strike, but the Gdańsk strike spread throughout Poland and galvanised various other strike committees to join together for a common goal.

The trigger for the strike was the firing of a popular worker at the shipyard, a female crane operator and activist called Anna Walentynowicz. Just 5 months before her planned retirement, she was sacked for being a member of an illegal trade union. This move proved highly unpopular with the shipyard workforce, who demanded that she be reinstated.

Just a week after beginning the strike a governmental commission began negotiations with the strikers and, on the 30th August, they and representatives of the Gdańsk workers signed an agreement in which many of the strikers’ demands were met. The fact that political change, including the resignation of the Polish Communist Party’s General Secretary, had come from the workers’ action emboldened the people of Poland and fuelled the formation of the national labour union Solidarity.

Within two years up to 80% of the entire Polish workforce had joined Solidarity or one of its suborganisations, and they continued to use strikes to achieve political change. In March 1981, the crippling effects of 12 million people going on a four-hour warning strike demonstrated that the Communist Party was no longer the most powerful force in the country.

Solidarity in Poland

Solidarity

Solidarity and the fall of communism in Poland

A detailed explanation of why Poland was the first country in which the communist government fell.  Includes an interview with former Polish president Lech Walesa.  Taken from Curriculum Bites.

Gorbachev

Collapse of communism in eastern Europe

This is the final revision episode (for now!) in the series examining the Cold War for GCSE and IGCSE students.  Focusing on the collapse of communism in eastern Europe it assesses the effect of the Solidarity movement in Poland, and the role of Gorbachev, in bringing about the end of Soviet dominance in the region.  The second part of the podcast goes on to explore the specific experiences of major eastern European countries in the lat 1980s and early 1990s.

The podcast begins with Poland, where massive popular opposition to the government led to the establishment of the Solidarity trade union in the Gdansk shipyards.  The rise of Solidarity is described, along with the subsequent government clampdown under the government of Jaruzelski.  The impact of Solidarity is considered.

The second section looks at the USSR under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.  His two key policies of perestroika and glasnost are explained, and their impact of Soviet foreign policy is assessed.

In the final section of the podcast, I describe the process through which the states of eastern Europe freed themselves from communist rule.  The most popular exam questions on the collapse of communism focus on asking WHY a certain event contributed to the end of the system, or ask to what extent a particular event was responsible.  Remember that to answer any of these questions you need to support your reason with solid evidence, and explain exactly WHY it contributed to the collapse of communism.

     

Eastern Europe 1949-89

Losing Soviet control over eastern Europe

These three videos present the events that led to the end of communism in the Eastern Bloc.

PART 1 – Gorbachev, the attitude of Honecker, Hungary 1989, Poland 1989, Warsaw Pact Summit 1989, the economic and political situation in East Germany, the crossing of East Germans through Hungary

PART 2 – East Germany’s 40th anniversay demonstration, fall of Honecker, fall of the Berlin Wall, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia

PART 3 – Uprising in Romania leading to the end of Ceausescu

Gorbachev and Reagan

The relationship between the USA and the USSR in the 1980s

Gorbachev’s involvement in nuclear disarmament negotiations between the Soviet Union and the USA.  The USA’s plans to develop ‘Star Wars’ and the collapse of talks at the Reykjavik in 1986.  From Curriculum Bites.

Glasnost Perestroika

Glasnost and Perestroika

The differences between the two terms ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ and the effects of these policies, from Curriculum Bites.

Fascinating story of the pilot who landed a private plane near Red Square in 1987

On the 28th May 1987, an eighteen year-old amateur pilot from Hamburg in West Germany illegally landed a private aircraft near Moscow’s Red Square. Mathias Rust had clocked up only 50 hours of flying time before commencing his journey that took in the Shetland and Faroe Islands, Iceland, Bergen and Helsinki before flying to Moscow.

Rust’s flight was risky.  Just five years earlier a South Korean commercial plane had been shot down after it strayed into Soviet airspace.  Rust himself was tracked by three separate surface-to-air missile units and a total of four fighter planes were sent to monitor him, but none of them were given permission to attack.

Rust approached Moscow in the early evening, and after passing the “Ring of Steel” anti-aircraft defences continued towards the city centre.  Abandoning his idea of landing in the Kremlin, he instead touched down on a bridge next to St Basil’s Cathedral and taxied into Red Square.  Within two hours he had been arrested.  He was sentenced to four years in a labour camp for violating international flight rules and illegally entering the Soviet Union, but was released after serving 14 months in jail.

In a 2007 interview, Rust claimed that he hoped his flight would build an ‘imaginary bridge’ between east and west. What it actually did was massively damage the reputation of the Soviet military for failing to stop him. This in turn led to the largest dismissal of Soviet military personnel since Stalin’s purges, and allowed Gorbachev to push ahead with his reforms.

Hungary / East German Refugees

When Hungary opened the Austrian border to East German refugees

On the 10th September 1989, the Hungarian government announced the opening of the border with Austria to allow thousands of East Germans to leave the Communist Bloc. Met with incredible anger from the East German government, Hungary’s decision was a major step on the road to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Hungary had been inundated with East Germans since the government began removing the border fence in May that year. Inspired by the Hungarian government’s moves towards a more democratic political system, East Germans had travelled to Hungary as tourists but then sought refuge in the West German embassy. A ‘friendship picnic’ held on the Austrian-Hungarian border on the 19th August had already seen East Germans using the border as a way to escape and, before long, thousands of East Germans refugees were living in Hungary.

Unwilling to “become a country of refugee camps”, Hungarian Foreign Ministrer Gyula Horn made the announcement that the East Germans would be permitted to enter Austria. As well as allowing the refugees to cross the border, the announcement led to an exodus of an estimated 70,000 more East Germans who made their way to Hungary.

The first of what were to become weekly ‘Monday demonstrations’ had started in the East German city of Leipzig earlier that week, and the Hungarian announcement encouraged others to begin protesting in favour of democracy. Within a month up to 70,000 people a week were making their way to the Leipzig protest, and by the end of October over 300,000 were taking part. The Berlin Wall fell on the 9th November.

Opening of the Berlin Wall

9th November 1989: when the DDR opened the Berlin Wall

In the evening of the 9th November 1989, the East German government opened the Berlin Wall after central committee spokesman Guenter Schabowski mistakenly announced that GDR citizens could cross into West Berlin with immediate effect.

Surprised border guards, who had been given no information about the new rules, were overwhelmed by the appearance of thousands of East Germans who wanted to cross. Although the border remained closed for around three hours, by 11pm the checkpoint at Bornholmer Strasse had been opened. Others followed soon after.

Communist Hungary had opened its Austrian border in September, which had encouraged East Germans to push for reform in their own country. Eventually, the weekly ‘Monday protests’ that attracted hundreds of thousands of people forced the government to prepare the new travel policy.

Although the new policy had been agreed by the Politburo on the afternoon of the 9th November, their intention was to implement the policy the next day so that border guards could be briefed and crossings managed in a controlled manner. However, Schabowski had not been at the Politburo meeting and so was only able to base his announcement on notes from a piece of paper handed to him shortly before the press conference. This explains his mistake over the timing of its introduction.

The announcement led huge crowds to begin gathering at the checkpoints, with thousands pouring through the border after the guards finally relented. Ironically, West Berliners still had to have a visa in order to cross to the East. Therefore, for a few weeks after the Wall was opened, East Berliners actually had greater freedom of movement than Westerners.