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

Movement against the communist dictatorship

From the very beginning, the establishment of communist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe prompted protest and resistance. Revolts were suppressed, reforms were prevented. It was not until 1989 that a revolution brought the dictatorship of the GDR's ruling SED party to an end.

Communist states in Europe 1945 - 1989
Source: Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft/Graphik eckedesign
Soviet tanks in East Berlin, 17 June 1953. In mid-June of 1953 a popular uprising spread across large parts of the GDR. The revolt was suppressed by the police and the military.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/DB
Soviet tanks in Budapest (Hungary), 14 December 1956. An uprising began in Hungary on 23 October 1956, with the Soviet Union staging a military intervention on 4 November. There followed weeks of street fighting, demonstrations and strikes, in which over two thousand people died.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/UPI
Tank in Prague (Czechoslovakia), 21 August 1968. Soviet troops and their allies invaded the country, putting a forceful stop to the Czechoslovakian communist party’s attempts at reforms. The brief period of political and economic reforms in Czechoslovakia went down in history as the “Prague Spring”.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/akg-images
The Polish police using tear gas against a demonstration in support of the banned trade union Solidarnosc. On 31 August 1982, the second anniversary of Solidarnosc’s founding, riots erupted in the Polish capital Warsaw.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa/Lehtikuva Jorma Puusa

After the end of World War II in 1945, communist parties established dictatorships in the area under the control of the Soviet Union. They used their armies, secret police and justice systems to smother any political protest. Revolts were put down by armed violence, democratic reforms were prevented by military interventions, political opposition was banned.

Despite persecution, arrests and expulsions, critical voices could not be silenced entirely. Finally, at the end of the 1980s the process of political and economic decline led to a breakdown of communist rule in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In the GDR, peaceful protests by large swathes of the population prompted the end of the Socialist Unity Party's (SED) dictatorship and the introduction of democracy.

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