Tag Archives: Communism

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.

Reunification of East and West Germany

The reunification of East and West Germany

On the 3rd October 1990, Germany was reunified when the territory of the communist German Democratic Republic joined with the Federal Republic of Germany to create a single, united Germany.

Cracks had begun to show in East Germany’s communist regime from the middle of 1989, which eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November that year. This encouraged the ongoing Peaceful Revolution in the East, which succeeded in bringing about free elections in March the following year.

The West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, had already called for greater cooperation between West and East in November 1989. The election of the new East German parliament – known as the Volkskammer – in March 1990 ensured that both sides now had governments that had their eye on reunification. The GDR’s economy had already begun to collapse as the structures of communist control were removed, so the replacement of the East German mark with West Germany’s Deutsche Mark as the official currency of East Germany in June ensured a secure economic framework for political union.

By the end of August the Volkskammer had passed a resolution in favour of reunification, with the German Reunification Treaty signed at the end of August. This was approved by large majorities in the legislative chambers of each country on the 20th September, and at midnight on the 3rd October the black, red and gold flag of West Germany was raised above the Brandenburg Gate which until the fall of the Berlin Wall had been inaccessible to both sides.

Known as The Day of German Unity, the 3rd October is now a public holiday in Germany.

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.

Overview of the Reichstag Fire and its consequences

On the 27th February 1933, the Reichstag building in Berlin was set on fire in an arson attack. Generally accepted to have been conducted by Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe, the fire provided the new Chancellor Adolf Hitler with an opportunity to consolidate Nazi control of the German government.

Hitler had been appointed Chancellor on the 30th January, but had demanded new elections for the Reichstag. These were scheduled to take place on the 5th March, and Hitler hoped to increase the Nazi’s share of the seats in order to pass the Enabling Act and take control of political decisions for himself.

Shortly after 9pm on the evening of the 27th February, Goebbels was informed that the Reichstag was on fire. Although the blaze was extinguished before midnight, the inside of the building was destroyed. Communists were declared responsible, and van der Lubbe was arrested.

The day after the fire, Hitler persuaded President Hindenburg to pass the emergency Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State, which suspended many civil liberties and allowed the Nazis to arrest their opponents. Thousands of communists were rounded up by the SA, along with Social Democrats and liberals, and placed in so-called ‘protective custody’.

Van Der Lubbe was tried, convicted, and executed. Although there is debate over the exact circumstances of the fire, Sir Ian Kershaw says there is consensus among the vast majority of historians that he did set the fire. Whatever the circumstances, the situation was certainly exploited by the Nazis and was the first step in the creation of a single-party state.