The Revolutions of 1989 formed part of a revolutionary wave in the late 1980s and early 1990s that resulted in the end of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War, and the removal of the Iron Curtain between Eastern and Western Europe. The period is often also called the Fall of Communism and sometimes the Fall of Nations or the Autumn of Nations, a play on the term Spring of Nations that is sometimes used to describe the Revolutions of 1848.
These revolutions began in Poland in 1988, with the Polish workers' mass strike movement on April 21; continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania; and ended when Cambodia enacted a new Constitution, in which Communism was abandoned, on 24 September 1993.
The uprisings were led by temporary coalitions of reformers, the middle classes (the bourgeoisie) and workers; however, the coalitions did not hold together for long. Many of the revolutions were quickly suppressed, as tens of thousands of people were killed, and many more were forced into exile. Significant lasting reforms included the abolition of serfdom in Austria and Hungary, the end of absolute monarchy in Denmark, and the introduction of representative democracy in the Netherlands. The revolutions were most important in France, the Netherlands, Italy, the Austrian Empire, and the states of the German Confederation that would make up the German Empire in the late 19th and early 20th century.
One feature common to most of these developments was the extensive use of campaigns of civil resistance, demonstrating popular opposition to the continuation of one-party rule and contributing to the pressure for change. Romania and Afghanistan were the only countries whose citizens and opposition forces used violence to overthrow their Communist regimes. Protests in Tiananmen Square (April–June 1989) failed to stimulate major political changes in Mainland China, but influential images of courageous defiance during that protest helped to precipitate events in other parts of the globe. On 4 June 1989, the trade union Solidarity won an overwhelming victory in a partially free election in Poland, leading to the peaceful fall of Communism in that country in the summer of 1989. Also in June 1989, Hungary began dismantling its section of the physical Iron Curtain.
The opening of a border gate between Austria and Hungary at the Pan-European Picnic on 19 August 1989 set in motion a peaceful chain reaction, at the end of which East Germany reunited with West Germany and the Eastern Bloc had disintegrated. Due to the inconsistent action of the Eastern European rulers at the Pan-European Picnic, the bracket of the Eastern Bloc was broken. Now the media-informed Eastern Bloc citizens knew that the Iron Curtain was no longer tight and that the power of the authorities was increasingly broken. This led to mass demonstrations in the cities such as Leipzig and subsequently to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, which served as the symbolic gateway to the German reunification in 1990.
The Soviet Union became a multi-party semi-presidential republic from March 1990 until its dissolution in December 1991, resulting in eleven new countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan), which had declared their independence from the Soviet Union in the course of the year, while the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) regained their independence in September 1991 following the Singing Revolution. The rest of the Soviet Union, which constituted the bulk of the area, continued with the establishment of the Russian Federation in December 1991. Albania and Yugoslavia abandoned communism between 1990 and 1992. By 1992, Yugoslavia had split into five new countries, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Republic of Macedonia, Slovenia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was later renamed Serbia and Montenegro in 2003 and eventually split in 2006 into two states, Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia was then further split with the breakaway of the partially recognized state of Kosovo in 2008. Czechoslovakia dissolved three years after the end of Communist rule, splitting peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993. The impact of these events was felt in many socialist states. Marxism–Leninism was abandoned in countries such as Ethiopia (1991), South Yemen (1990, unified with North Yemen), Benin (1990), Congo-Brazzaville (1991), Mozambique (1990), Somalia (1991), Afghanistan (1992), Angola (1992), Mongolia (1992), and Cambodia (1993).
The political reforms varied, but in only four countries were Communist parties able to retain a monopoly on power, namely China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. North Korea changed to Juche from 2009. Many communist and socialist organisations in the West turned their guiding principles over to social democracy and democratic socialism. The Communist parties in Italy and San Marino suffered and the reformation of the Italian political class took place in the early 1990s. In contrast, and somewhat later, in South America, a Pink tide began in Venezuela in 1999 and shaped politics in the other parts of the continent through the early 2000s. The European political landscape changed drastically, with several former Eastern Bloc countries joining NATO and the European Union, resulting in stronger economic and social integration with Western Europe and the United States.
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