The role of popular protest in the Eastern Bloc
- Reasons: lack of political and religious freedom; censorship; secret police; economic problems; low living standards.
- Examples: Poland – Solidarity; East Germany – exodus of people through Hungary, Monday demonstrations, groups such as New Forum and Democratic reawakening, crowds at the Wall prior to and on Nov 9th; Czechoslovakia – public demonstrations, Civic Forum group, govt caved in to popular pressure here – peaceful – Velvet Revolution; Romania – demonstration against Ceausescu, people took over the TV stations; Bulgaria – strikes put pressure on govt; USSR – demonstrations against food shortages, people demonstrating put an end to the coup to oust Gorbachev in August 1991, led on to Yeltsin becoming leader, the dissolution of the USSR and therefore the end of the Cold War.
- Impact in weakening the USSR: Criticism of the lack of response from Gorbachev – coming from hard liners weakens his position; inspired calls for further reform within the USSR; inspired calls for independence within the Soviet Republics, eg: Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia
The role of popular protest in the Eastern Bloc co
- Impact in ending the Cold war in other ways: Showed the West that the USSR was reforming on human rights because they did not respond with military force to stop the protests
- Counter-argument: Popular protest did not really weaken the USSR because they no longer needed the Eastern Bloc for military security – threat from West was diminishing due to arms reductions talks. Also – many of the Communist regimes in the Eastern Bloc had become politically embarrassing to the USSR, who was keen to show the West that they were reforming.
Reagan's foreign policy
- What was it? – Increased spending on arms, plus militarised counter-revolution. Designed to put economic pressure on the USSR – force it to respond and bankrupt it, leading it to collapse. Hard line – ‘roll-back’ in style. Continued relations with China.
- Examples: SDI, spending on nuclear weapons, financial and practical support for anti-Communist regimes, revolutions and rebels around the world, eg: Nicaragua, Afghanistan. Withdrawing of financial aid to Poland following the banning of Solidarity.
- Impact: Puts pressure on USSR to spend more on nuclear weapons – they can’t keep up. Failure to give financial aid to Poland increases economic problems – leads to continued popular protest. Caused difficulties for the USSR in supporting Communist regimes and revolutions/rebels around the world. SDI alarmed the Soviet leadership – encouraged concessions. Encouraged popular protests such as pleas to Gorbachev to remove the Berlin Wall (eg: Reagan’s 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate.) Support from Thatcher strengthened the position of the US – put across his position to Europe and allowed US nuclear weapons to be stationed here. Continued relations with China isolated the USSR.
Gorbachev's New Political Thinking
* What was it? – Glasnost, Perestroika, Democratisation, improved relations with the West.
* Why did it come about? – Economic weaknesses and pressures in the USSR; individuals such as Shevardnadze (Foreign Minister) in support; Afghanistan; cost of supporting Communist regimes and rebels around the world; Gorbachev’s own personal views that to use force to control the people of Eastern Europe was morally wrong; Gorbachev’s desire to preserve Communism and the USSR through reform.
Impact in ending the Cold War – Brought about the eventual collapse of the USSR and Communism in Russia.Glasnost lead to anti-government literature and reporting being allowed – criticism of the regime and information about past atrocities, such as the mass graves of the Stalinist Terror victims was aired. Dissidents were released from Gulags and their voice was heard – they not only exposed the conditions in the Gulags, but also engaged in promoting the anti-Communist agenda. The ‘moral bankruptcy’ of Communism was exposed.
Perestroika caused the move from a command economy towards a market economy – but this was not undertaken fully or efficiently across the country – there were still massive economic problems and food shortages due to spiralling government spending and production bottlenecks. Above all though, the need for Perestroika highlighted the fact that the Communist style economy had not worked.
Gorbachev's New Political Thinking
Democratisation enabled reformers to gain some seats in the People’s Congress and enabled Yeltsin to return to prominence following his sacking as leader of the Moscow Communist Party, because people voted for him. All of these policies were inspirational to those in the satellite states and the Soviet republics who were seeking reform and independence. Calls for independence from the republics brought about the intended New Union Treaty – which in turn led to the coup against him and the exploitation of this by Yeltsin. A more critical approach to Communism was adopted and there was acceptance of the moves towards more westernised political and economic ideologies and policies.
Foreign policy – he revoked the Brezhnev Doctrine, therefore not interfering in the affairs of the satellite states; allowing them to find their own paths to reform and democracy. In relations with the West, he was open to negotiation and compromise. He was willing to engage in arms reduction talks and to move towards ‘normalising’ Soviet foreign policy. At the Malta Summit in 1989, he announced that the USSR no longer saw the USA as a threat – thus implicitly ending the Cold War.
The actions of Pope John Paul II
What were they? – Gave support to critics of the Communist regime in Poland. Visited Poland in 1979 and his message of ‘Don’t be afraid’ gave courage to those seeking reform. Spoke out against human rights abuses in the eastern Bloc. He visited Poland again in 1983 and 1987, following the banning of Solidarity in 1981, whilst campaigners were working underground against the regime.
Impact in ending the Cold War – Inspirational – seen as a hero. Gained media attention for the anti-Communist cause in Poland. Polish himself. Lech Walesa was a devout Catholic, so took inspiration and encouragement particularly from him. Certainly encouraged those who brought down the Communist regime in Poland, but his influence was probably limited elsewhere.
The pressure of economic weaknesses
What were they? – in the USSR = inefficient, centralised economy; corruption and inefficiency amongst the Nomenklatura. This lead to declining production in some areas and bottlenecks in others, leading to food shortages in the towns and cities. USSR was behind the West in technology. Soviet economy had been stretched through spending on the military – conventional and nuclear. The USSR was struggling to maintain financial commitment to supporting Communist regimes and Communist rebels around the world. In Eastern Europe, their economies were facing similar problems due to centralisation, inefficiency and corruption. There were lower living standards throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet republics. There was also a lack of workers rights, and independent Trade Unions were banned in many countries.
The pressure of economic weaknesses continued
Impact in ending the Cold War – Economic pressures had contributed Economic pressures in the USSR lead to the adoption of Perestroika, ie: the adoption of westernised economic policies. They also lead to the more conciliatory approach towards the West with regards to nuclear weapons and the conventional army, because Gorbachev knew the USSR was unable to match the increased military spending of the US. He also wished to gain benefits from sharing technological knowledge. Economic pressures in both the USSR and the Eastern Bloc lead to popular protest and calls for reform.