Tag Archives: Cold War

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.

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.

Tear down this wall!

‘Tear down this wall!’ – the story behind Reagan’s message to Gorbachev

On 12 June 1987, US President Ronald Reagan made a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in which he called on the USSR’s leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to ‘Tear down this wall!’

Reagan was in Berlin to celebrate the city’s 750th anniversary, and was scheduled to make a speech in front of 20,000 people to mark the occasion. His presence in the city was not universally popular, however, and there are reports of up to 50,000 people taking to the streets the previous day in anti-Reagan protests.

Tensions were also running high in the American President’s administration. There was considerable disagreement over whether the phrase ‘tear down this wall’ should even be included in the speech. The National Security Council and the State Department were particularly concerned that such a direct challenge to the Soviet Union would increase tensions between the two countries, and could damage the positive relationship that Reagan had begun to forge with Gorbachev. The President’s deputy chief of staff, Kenneth Duberstein, later reported that Reagan said he would include the phrase because ‘it’s the right thing to do.’

The President began his speech at 2pm, protected by two panes of bulletproof glass that were erected to shield him from potential East German snipers. TASS, the Soviet press agency, remarked that the speech was ‘openly provocative…war-mongering.’

Despite the highly emotive atmosphere in front of the Brandenburg Gate on the day, Time magazine later claimed that the speech received ‘relatively little coverage from the media.’ Even John Kornblum, a senior US diplomat who was based in Berlin at the time, stated on the twentieth anniversary of the speech that it ‘wasn’t really elevated to its current status until 1989, after the wall came down.’

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.

The Berlin Wall and the fall of East German communism

An explanation of the dramatic fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989.  From Curriculum Bites.

Overthrow of Ceaușescu

The overthrow of Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989

On the 22nd December 1989, Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu was overthrown. He and his wife fled the capital Bucharest in a helicopter, but after landing in a field were arrested, tried, and sentenced to death.

Five days before his overthrow, on the 17th December, Nicolae Ceaușescu had ordered the military to put down a revolt in the western Romanian city of Timișoara. Triggered by government’s attempt to evict an ethnic Hungarian pastor who they accused of inciting ethnic hatred, the Timișoara uprising quickly became a broader anti-government demonstration. News of the government’s crackdown was not shared in the heavily-censored press, but quickly spread through western radio stations such as Radio Free Europe.

With unrest spreading, Ceaușescu addressed a staged demonstration from a balcony in Bucharest on the 21st December. However, despite the presence of the brutal secret police known as the Securitate, the crowd began to heckle him and Ceaușescu was hustled back inside the building by his bodyguards. With the speech being televised around Romania, and the video feed only being cut after the start of the crowd’s protest, it was clear that something monumental was unfolding.

Having failed to regain control by the following morning, the 22nd December, Ceaușescu and his wife fled the Central Committee building by helicopter. However, their pilot faked a threat of anti-aircraft fire and landed. The Ceaușescus were later arrested and subjected to a show trial on Christmas Day. Found guilty of genocide and other crimes including illegally gathering wealth, they were sentenced to death. They were taken outside and shot within minutes of the trial ending.