Demonstration by the Polish trade union Solidarnosc in the pilgrimage city of Tschenstochau (Poland). The illegal trade union Solidarnosc grew into a mass movement that could no longer be stopped.
Source: AP Photo

Crisis in the Eastern Bloc

The party head Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to maintain communist rule. In 1985 he introduced a process of domestic reforms in the Soviet Union. including opening up the country's politics and economy to the West. The Soviet reform policy revolved around perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). This development facilitated changes in the other Eastern Bloc states, which were now allowed to take their own development paths.

In early 1989 the political and economic crisis in the Eastern Bloc intensified. It became clear that groundbreaking reforms were necessary. In Poland, the independent trade union Solidarnosc forced the regime to the negotiating table, achieving posts in the government by means of elections. Under pressure from the democratic opposition, the political leadership in Hungary began to implement gradual reforms. The Soviet Union began to show signs of disintegration, with the Baltic republics demanding independence. The heads of state and the communist parties in the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, however, refused to allow change.

In the Soviet Union, the communist party head Mikhail Gorbachev initiated a series of domestic reforms in 1985. It was a desperate attempt to rescue the communist party’s position in power and keep the Soviet empire in one piece. Gorbachev also facilitated accompanying political reforms in the puppet states.
Source: ullstein bild/Poly-Press
Caricature from the West Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel dated 29 December 1988. The Western European media kept a close eye on the developments in the Central and Eastern European countries. The efforts at reform had differing levels of success. In the GDR, Czechoslovakia and Romania the political ice had yet to thaw.
Source: Karl-Heinz Schoenfeld
On 15 January 1989 the Czech police broke up the annual memorial demonstration for the student Jan Palach on Prague’s Wenceslas Square with brutal violence. Palach had burned himself to death on the square on 16 January 1969 in protest against the military suppression of the Czechoslovakian reform movement in 1968.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/epaAFP
Poland’s path to democracy was clear. The Polish trade union Solidarnosc gained an overwhelming victory in elections in June 1989. The new prime minister elected in shortly afterwards, Tadeusz Mazowiecki (l.), and the trade union’s chairman, Lech Walesa (r.), celebrating their success.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/AFP
Miners’ strike in Kusnetsk, July 1989. The Soviet miners demanded economic autonomy for the mines and better working conditions. The reforms in the Soviet Union meant workers could fight for their rights without fearing intervention by the military and secret police.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/AFP
A process of political change began in Hungary in 1987. One symbol was the posthumous state funeral of the former Hungarian prime minister, Imre Nagy, on 16 June 1989. Nagy had been executed after the Hungarian people’s uprising was suppressed in 1956.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/Istvan Bajzat
Baltic chain: on 23 August 1989 Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians formed a six-hundred-kilometre human chain along the line drawn by the Hitler-Stalin Pact fifty years previously. They called for the Soviet Union to give them back their independence and sovereignty.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/apn Novosti
The Romanian chief of state Nicolae Ceausescu (m.), 24 November 1989. The communist dictator rejected democratic reforms in Romania. Four weeks after this photo was taken, Ceausescu was toppled, sentenced to death by a special court and executed.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/epa afp
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