The End of the Cold War
The demise of the Soviet Union began when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power as its General Secretary in 1985. Understanding the bad state of the Soviet economic and financial affairs, he brought a message of reform and change. He announced two new policies- glastnost and perestroika-which he thought would save the communist system. However, these new policies would ultimately overturn the Soviet system.
Poland's Solidarity labor union began to rise in power in the late 1970's. They organized strikes, demanding more pay and changes to the unfair labor practices. They organized strikes, demanding more pay and changes to the unfair labor practices. Eventually, they won an end to censorship and political repression, religious freedom, and recognition as a labor union. Gorbachev watched Solidarity's strikes crushed the Polish economy, and finally forced the Polish leaders to allow free elections. The Solidarity candidates were only allowed to run for a third of the seats, but swept the elections in which they ran. Still a communist government, the nation faced massive economic hardships. As electricity, gas, and water prices rose 500 percent while wages remained frozen, the Communist Party voted to dissolve itself on January 29, 1990. Poland changed its name from the People's Republic of Poland back to its pre-World War II name, the Republic of Poland. Democratic elections were held, and communism fell.
The Berlin Wall was built by the Soviets to prevent citizens of East Germany from escaping to West Germany. East Germany, while prospering compared to its Marxist-Leninist neighbors, was an embarrassment compared to West Germany. East Germans made only one-third of the wages of West German workers, and often had to endure goods shortages. If it were not for the Berlin Wall, hundreds of thousands of Germans might have fled to the West.
Ronald Reagan: "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
East Germans could not escape to the West via West Germany. However, in 1989 nearby Hungary opened its border to noncommunist Austria and East Germnas swarmed thorugh Czechoslovokia to Hungary , and then escaped to the West. Within a year, 500,00- East Germans had left their homeland.
In order to prevent any further escapes, East Germany closed its border with Czechoslovokia in early October, but could not keep the lid on things much longer. When Gorbachev visited East Germany to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of East Germany, large crowds begged him for help. Large crowds and protests grew, and when he could not keep control any longer, the East German Communist Party general secretary Eric Honecker resigned. His replacement, Egon Krenz, met with the protesters and listened to their problems. Soon after, he fired his entire cabinet and ordered the Berlin Wall opened, saying "We want a socialism that is economically effective... and most of all, has its face turned toward the people."
The wall was opened on November 9, 1989. Huge crowds surged from the east. Guards on the West Berlin side, at Checkpoint Charlie, did not know what to do and refused at first to let the freedom seekers in. West Berliners chanted, "Come over! Come over!" to the East Berliners. Finally at 11:57 P.M., an American border guard, with a shrug of his shoulders, allowed the gate to open and thousands of people to pour through.
"I just can't believe it! I don't feel like I'm in prison anymore!" said Angelike Wache, the first person across.
The communist regime crumbled rapidly. On March 18, 1990, East Germans voted the communists out of office, and in September East Germany became the first member to leave the Warsaw Pact. All of the Soviet troops were withdrawn from East Germany by the end of 1994.
For more information on the Berlin Wall:
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