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After the Second World War, all of the states across Eastern Europe were under the influence of the Soviet Union, but this situation drastically changed as the Revolutions of 1989 approached. It was a decisive turning point which resulted in the collapse of Communism across Europe. It also marked the decline of the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain between Eastern and Western Europe.
See the fact file below for more information on the Revolutions of 1989 or alternatively, you can download our 23-page The Revolutions of 1989 worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- It is believed that the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia were the precursors to the Revolutions of 1989.
- However, the reforms advocated by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 largely contributed to the campaign of the Eastern bloc toward democratic liberalization.
- In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was suffering an economic crisis, which led Gorbachev to impose fundamental reforms in order to aid this problem. The Soviets resorted to the technology of the Western bloc to make up for their economic decline.
- In line with this, Gorbachev implemented a policy called glasnost (openness) and emphasized perestroika (economic restructuring) in 1986 across the Soviet-influenced states.
- This openness resulted in the first multi-candidate elections of the Soviet Union through the newly established Congress of People’s Deputies in the spring of 1989.
- But while the Soviet Union encouraged openness and political criticism from the media, these were only allowed in accordance with the political beliefs of the Communists. The Eastern bloc was still threatened and intimidated by the Soviet secret police and political repression.
- Moreover, Russia’s attempt to attract the economic support of the Western bloc to finance its restructuring seemed impossible due to the adamant presence of Soviet military forces in the Eastern bloc.
- While Russia continued to struggle with its political and economic relations with Western powers, the Iron Curtain that separated the East from the West evidently remained.
- Consequently, Gorbachev encouraged the Eastern European states to also practice openness and economic restructuring, but while Hungary and Poland were emboldened by this move, other Eastern bloc countries such as East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania responded with resistance, believing that Gorbachev’s advent for reforms would only be short-lived.
- On May 15, 1989, Gorbachev visited the People’s Republic of China during the Tiananmen Square Protests, which brought many foreign news agencies to Beijing, not knowing that this coverage would ignite and uplift the spirit of Eastern Europeans toward greater liberalization.
- Undeniably, the Revolutions of 1989 began with the reforms in Poland.
- During this time, the Soviet Union decided to repeal the Brezhnev Doctrine, which meant that they would not intervene in the internal affairs of their Warsaw Pact allies.
- This decision liberated Poland, shortly followed by Hungary, from the rule of the Soviet power.
- In the 1980s, Poland was facing a labour crisis, which led to the establishment of the independent trade union known as Solidarity, managed by Lech Walesa, which over time started to become a political force.
- For this reason, Communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski enforced a military crackdown on Solidarity by declaring martial law in Poland, suspending the union, and sending most of its leaders to prison on December 13, 1981.
- Through the support of the Catholic Church, Solidarity thrived while remaining as an underground organization, but come the late 1980s, the union was strong enough to challenge the dictatorship of Jaruzelski and his efforts to establish reforms.
- Due to the growing nationwide strikes that took place in 1988 in support of Solidarity, the government was forced to have a dialogue with the union.
- This dialogue resulted in a bicameral legislature called the National Assembly. By April 1989, Solidarity was legalized again and was allowed to participate in parliamentary elections on June 4, 1989.
- The result of the elections was an overwhelming victory in favour of Solidarity, which had taken all of the seats that it was allowed to run for. By September 1989, a new non-Communist government, the first in Eastern Europe, was sworn into office.
- Shortly after, Hungary followed Poland’s lead. In October 1989, the parliament adopted legislation, which provides multi-party parliamentary elections and direct presidential elections.
- It eventually transformed Hungary from a People’s Republic into the Republic of Hungary, resulting to the guarantee of human and civil rights, and to an institutional structure that ensured the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government.
- Following this, the Velvet Revolution, a series of massive demonstrations from November 19 to late December which sought to overthrow the Communist government in Czechoslovakia, took place.
- It was ignited by an event on November 17, 1989, when police forces suppressed a peaceful student mobilization in Prague.
- With an estimated half a million protesters, Czechoslovakia had successfully ousted the government, which led to the removal of barbed wire and other obstructions from the border with West Germany and Austria in early December.
- Further upheavals took place in Eastern European countries such as the overthrow of Todor Zhivkov by his own Politburo on November 10, 1989 in Bulgaria and the staging of the Romanian Revolution.
- Also known as the Autumn of Nations, the Revolutions of 1989 was a decisive period that surged across the Central and Eastern Europe that eventually ended the influence of the Soviet Union in the region.
- It also led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, which allowed East Germans to emigrate to West Germany through Hungary’s border with Austria.
- By September 1989, an estimate of 30,000 East Germans managed to escape before the GDR denied travel to Hungary.
- By the end of 1989, revolts had spread across other Eastern European states, all aimed at ousting Soviet regimes.
- Ultimately, the upheavals signalled the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism in Europe. The liberalization and self-determination of other Soviet-influenced countries were further advanced, marking the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe.
The Revolutions of 1989 Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Revolutions of 1989 across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use The Revolutions of 1989 worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Revolutions of 1989. It was a decisive turning point which resulted in the collapse of Communism across Europe. It also marked the decline of the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain between Eastern and Western Europe.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- The Revolutions of 1989 Facts
- Mapping Out the Revolutions
- Find the Words
- Complete the Information
- Fact or Bluff?
- Causes of the Revolutions
- Revolutions of 1989 Timeline
- The Revolutions in Europe
- The Autumn of Nations
- Impact of the Revolutions of 1989
- In a Nutshell
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