Tag Archives: USSR

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.

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.

First McDonald's in the USSR

The first McDonald’s in the USSR opened in 1990

On the 31st January 1990, fast food chain McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in the Soviet Union on Moscow’s Pushkin Square. Rather than the expected 1,000 customers on the first day, some news outlets estimated that 30,000 people passed through the doors. Even Boris Yeltsin visited the store on the opening day.

By 1990 the Iron Curtain was in tatters. The Berlin Wall – the very symbol of the East-West divide – had fallen in November the previous year, and the communist governments of other eastern European countries had fallen. McDonald’s had already opened restaurants in Belgrade, the capital of the former Yugoslavia, and the Hungarian capital Budapest in 1988. However, the expansion into the Soviet Union was evidence of the enormous changes taking place within the USSR itself. Glasnost and perestroika had already brought about enormous changes, and the Soviet government even owned a 51% stake in the new McDonald’s venture.

Interestingly, however, McDonald’s in the USSR was developed by the Canadian branch of the company, independent of the chain’s American headquarters. To keep the supply chain separate, completely separate farms and factories were developed to provide the ingredients: by the end of 1989 a reported 50 million Canadian dollars had been invested in the infrastructure.

At the time, the average monthly wage for a Russian worker was 150 roubles. When McDonald’s opened, a standard hamburger cost 1.50 roubles – the price of ten loaves of bread. Despite this, thousands of people walked through the doors of what remained the largest McDonald’s restaurant in the world until a new restaurant on the London 2012 Olympic Park opened 22 years later.

Dissolution of the USSR

The collapse of the Soviet Union

These two videos detail the events following Gorbachev coming to power in the USSR, and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

The first clip opens with an overview of the USSR’s political, economic and social situation in the 1980s. In response, Gorbachev introduced the policies of perestroika and glasnost.  The impact of new technology including satellite television and extensive telephone networks is examined in terms of its impact on the Soviet Union.  The rest of the video looks at the discussions that took place between the USSR and the USA’s President Reagan with regards the nuclear arms race and, more importantly, the issue of disarmament.

The second video begins with an explanation of why total independence for the Soviet States was unacceptable to the leadership. The power struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev is then presented, along with details of the coup that led to Gorbachev’s house arrest and subsequent release thanks to Yeltsin. The clip ends with the Slav states decalaring independence from the USSR, followed by an illuminating interview with President Bush who received Gorbachev’s final phone call as General Secretary of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day, 1991.

Gorbachev

The fall of Gorbachev

Boris Yeltsin’s creation of the Commonwealth of International States that led to the end of Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule of the USSR.  From Curriculum Bites.

Gorbachev

Gorbachev’s impact on the fall of the USSR

A brief history of the USSR, followed by an explanation of how events of the 1980s and Gorbachev’s own reforms contributed to the fall of Communism and the break-up of the USSR.  From Curriculum Bites.

Dissolution of the USSR

The formal dissolution of the USSR in 1991

On the 26th December 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union met for the last time to formally dissolve itself and the Soviet Union. This followed declaration no. 142-Н in which the Supreme Soviet announced that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist as a state and subject of international law. The declaration recognised that the former Soviet republics were independent, and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place.

The origins of the dissolution of the Soviet Union can be traced back to the election of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on March 11, 1985. He came to office intending to revive the USSR’s economy, but his reforms – most famously the policies of glasnost and perestroika – laid the foundations for the enormous popular demands for change that were to follow.

By August 1991, the Iron Curtain had fallen as a result of the toppling of Communist governments in former satellite states. This increased the pressure on Gorbachev to grant greater autonomy for republics within the Soviet Union. A failed coup by hardline members of the government who wanted to oust Gorbachev and reverse his reforms failed to derail the independence movements within the republics.

With some having already declared their independence from the USSR, a further 10 republics did so between August and December. As it became obvious that the USSR was falling apart, on the 25th December Gorbachev resigned as President. That evening the Soviet flag on the Kremlin was replaced by the Russian tricolour. The USSR was formally dissolved the next day.

Germany in the Spanish Civil War

Spanish Civil War – intervention and non-intervention

These two clips present the reasons for international intervention and non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War.

PART 1

PART 2

Appeasement

Why did Britain and France appease Hitler?

“This documentary called ‘Did we have to Fight?’ (first broadcast 1999) explores Britain’s options in the run-up to the Second World War. It will be particularly useful for students of appeasement, Neville Chamberlain, and of the wider conflict.”