1989 was a year of major change in Europe. Communism collapsed in Eastern European countries and the Iron Curtain was opened.
Poland was the largest Communist country after the Soviet Union. The population supported Poland’s free trade union Solidarity. In the June 1989 national elections Solidarity won the most seats, making Poland the first Soviet satellite state to have a non-communist Prime Minister.
In 1988, Communist Hungary started making it easier for its citizens to travel to the west. It tore down the barbed wire fences along the border to Austria. East Germans, who were allowed to travel to Communist countries, went to Hungary for their holidays. They never returned, escaping to West Germany through Austria.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Berlin. East German citizens demonstrated for freedom and the right to leave Communist Germany. Gorbachev warned the Communist leaders not to ignore the rights of the population.
As the protest movement got stronger, East German television announced in 1989 that all citizens were free to travel to West Germany. Within hours, thousands crossed the border. A day later bulldozers started tearing down the Berlin Wall. In 1990 East and West Germany joined to become one nation.
In 1989 unrest spread to Czechoslovakia. The weeks of demonstrations and protest were called the Velvet Revolution. The whole communist government had to resign. In Prague, 200,000 people celebrated freedom and the collapse of Communism. The leader of the movement, playwright Vaclav Havel, became president of Czechoslovakia.
Protests also erupted in communist Romania in 1989. Communist dictator Nicolai Ceausescu ordered the police and the army to crush the protests. Dozens were killed. But as protests grew, the army started to support the demonstrators. Ceausescu fled, only to be recaptured and later executed.
Bulgaria's change to freedom occurred without violence. Its communist leader Zhivkov stepped down after 34 years in power. A few months later the first free elections were held in Bulgaria.
Source: 1989 - The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe
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