In 1945, the USSR had been Czechoslovakia's hero, liberating them from Nazi oppression. The Red Army was met with euphoria as the locals joined hands with their Russian liberators, and flushed the Nazis out of their country. By 1968, the liberators had become the oppressors. High prices, no economic freedom and heavy censorship had led to great satisfaction. The USSR had outstayed her welcome.
In 1967, Breznev had replaced Khushchev. The Czechoslovakian leader - Novotny - had followed Khrushchev's destalinisation policy but many were unhappy. Remember, Czehoslovakia had been one of the most industrialized eastern European countries before WW2. Soon, the Czech people began to demand more. When a bad harvest forced prices rocketing, Novotny lost support
Demonstrations began. Novotny, worried, appealed for help from the USSR. Breznev ignored him and allowed a new government to form under Alexander Dubček. Spurred on by the people, he launched the 'Action Programme' which proposed sweeping reforms in society and economy.
The 'Action Programme' proposed an introduction of market workings in the country, as well as liberalization of the press. Discontented press members jumped at the opportunity and began furiously pumping out anti-government rhetoric that had been contained for years. Poets, authors, illustrators all joined in... this became known as the Prague Spring.
The USSR began to get uneasy. Breznev remembered Hungary's attempt at freedom. Dubček was summoned to Moscow in an attempt to slow him down. He was quizzed about rumours of a new Czechoslovakian constitution, and Red Army tanks rolled to the border to show how serious the USSR was. Other East European leaders began squirming at the idea of widespread reform. Breznev decided to talk face to face with Dubček to sort it out.
At a meeting in July 1968 the two men sat down and came to an agreement on the length and depth of the reforms. Part of the idea of the talks was just to take Dubček out of Czechoslovakia and so slow the whole process down. Whilst Dubček felt progress was being made, the USSR was scheming behind his back
Unknown to him, Breznev had summoned the might of the Warsaw Pact member's armies, and the dark storm of war began to gather beyond Czechoslovakia's shores. The USSR then took the world by surprise, when on 21 August 1968, they launched a major miitary offensive against 'capitalist conspirators' in Czechoslovakia. Thousands of tanks moved accross the border and fighting erupted in the streets of Prague.
Breznev was using the Breznev Doctrine to full force
Unprepared, and ill-equipped the Czechs were soon crushed. Dubček ordered passive resistance, but was forced to sign a humiliating treaty, before being demoted to a manual labour job in the forestry department. His reforms were undone and the his people's suffering would go un-czeched (!)
Crowd of protesters surrounding Soviet tanks during the first days of the invasion: [source: CCASA3.0Engramma.it]
Click on the video to see an overview of the Prague Spring
A Polish Trade Union created by Lech Walesa in 1980 which demanded and achieved 21 points (including more pay, benefits, freedom of religion and better prices)
Created at Gdansk shipyard
Came as a result of a terrible economic crisis in 1979—soaring meat and bread prices.
Used ‘civil resistance’ to achieve their aims from the government
Membership hit 9.5 million workers – 1/3 of all workers in Poland in 1981
What were the events in Poland?
Poland and the USSR had always had an uneasy relationship, dating back to the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and before. As one of the first countries to be encorporated into the USSR, it was also one of the first to strongly rebel.
Strange then, that an electrician - Lech Walesea - should be the figurehead of the uprising. In 1979 Poland faced severe shortages and spiralling food prices. Workers began to protest, starting at a shipyard in Gdansk. The workers formed together and formed a union, calling it Solidarity.
Joining with Catholic and anti-Communist forces, Solidarity soon gained enormous popularity - it had a third of all workers in Poland by 1981! With this came great power; the power to strike. Strikes occurred throughout Poland, and Solidarity became a symbol of resistance in the West. People wore Solidarity badges and Walesea became a cult hero.
The Union was forcing the government into increasing reforms. Moscow looked on unapprovingly and then moved to crush the movement. The USSR appointed Jaruzelski who immediately declared martial law and began a full-scale crack down in 1981. Censorship increased, strikers were fired upon and by 1982 it was banned.
From 1982 - 88 Solidarity moved underground, not daring to be open, and with Walesea imprisoned. It remained very popular though. It was with the arrival of Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost that Solidarity became live once more.
Once again, terrible food prices - inflation was rising at over 30% in 1988 - caused strikes in Gdansk again. This time the government decided to negotiate, and Walesea (freed from prison) represented the Polish people. He managed to secure the legalization of Solidarity and gain an elections promise. Without pressure from Moscow, the Communists were powerless to say no.
Unsurprisingly Solidarity swept to victory in the elections and Walesea became the first non-Communist Eastern European country
Why did the Polish government allow Solidarity to thrive?
Popularity - Despite banning all phone-calls in the Gdansk area, and enforcing censorship, news of the Union spread quickly, especially through use of illegal radio and songs like ‘Mury’! Its rapid membership surge meant the USSR had to be careful not to encourage a revolution.
Catholics - It had support of the Catholic Church. Though Communist countries were not supposed to be Catholic, the Poles were very religious, and even the Pope (John-Paul II) was Polish. He had previously written on solidarity in the document ‘On Human Work’
The West - The West gave it a lot of support. From Raegan to Thatcher to the Pope to NATO it received messages of support. Thatcher even visited 5000 outlawed Solidarity member at Gdansk and urged British unions to ally with them! People in the West bought solidarity badges and stickers. CIA secretly funded it. USSR couldn’t be seen to be too anti-Solidarity. The CIA also provided funding and advice.
Strike - The government could not afford for the workers to strike as most of Solidarity’s members came from influential industries – e.g. shipbuilding. Mass striking struck at Poland’s heart. A strike in Poland could spread elsewhere, and so it neeeded managing carefully.
Non-political - It was not another political Party; its methods were non-violent and so it did not directly threaten Communism in the same way as a revolution might. Plus, trade unions were supposed to be the life-blood of communism!
Walesa - Lech Walesa was very careful to not involve the USSR. He had learnt the mistakes of the Hungarian and Czech uprisings. He got rid of extremists from solidarity. Was a popular working-man’s hero: just an electrician not a politician, so was trusted.
Surprise - The USSR was taken by surprise at the speed and popularity of Solidarity; they needed to hatch a plan, and so drew Walesa into a series of talks whilst secretly preparing Jaruzelski and Soviet troops for martial law.
Why did the Polish government clamp down on Solidarity in 1981?
It got too big - 10m members; this gave it too much power
It had become too political and was making political demands such as elections
There was economic disruption in Poland, including food shortages caused in part by Solidarity’s strikes
The USSR had signalled it was ready to supply force; it had used the Breznev Doctrine before and was ready to send another signal to E.Europe
What were the consequences of Solidarity?
Martial Law under Jaruzelski
Imprisonment of Solidarity leaders, including Walesa
Outlawing of Solidarity
Rival Solidarity movement (Patriotic Movement for National Regeneration)
Clamp down on Catholic Church—priests imprisoned.
Continued economic collapse—high inflation
Underground Solidarity which reasserted itself upon break up on USSR—Walesa became first non-Communist President!
Continued disillusionment with Communism—time was ripe for Gorbachev
Click on the video to see an overview of Solidarity
Click on the video to see the impact of Solidarity
Click on the video to see an overview of the collapse of the USSR
Who was Gorbachev?
Grandson of a peasant who had his land taken away by Stalin
Had a degree in Law from Moscow University
Elder brother was killed fighting in WW2
Leader of USSR in 1985 – hailed as the great reformer
Won the Nobel Peace Prize 1990.
Was the only leader to have been born in Soviet rule
Why did Gorbachev try to change the Soviet Union? (PALE)
Plan B? – The USSR did not seem to have an alternative plan to their economy, which was 80% state owned. People were no longer believing the slogans of the government. Under Stalin they had worked in fear or loyalty, now they did not care as there was nothing to work for and they had been punished enough.
Afghanistan – the USSR was locked in a costly battle in Afghanistan, which it was not winning. It was costing lives and money. Military spending was 25% of GDP by 1980s. Afghanistan was becoming the USSR’s Vietnam; they could not win the guerilla war.
Living Standards – these were at an all time low. Life expectancy was low, mainly because of alcoholism. This annoyed Gorbachev, who did not drink and found it an unneccessary burden on the economy. Many Soviet goods did not work.
Economy –the economy was in chaos. It was spending far too much on the arms race. GDP falling by 3-5% in 1990! The USSR had been locked in a costly arms race with USA, developing a range of missiles and nuclear arms that was not sustainable.
How did Gorbachev change the Soviet Union?
Peristroika (restructuring) – introduced in 1987. Freed up the command economy and allowed market forces to play a part. Profit-incentive was resurrected.
Glasnost (openness) – this was the idea that foreign relations should get better. Withdrew Soviet forces from Afghanistan, emphasized international co-operation and responsibility, announced a new policy on eastern Europe which said they should be able to determine their own paths. Disbanded Warsaw Pact and COMECON. He met President Reagan 4 times too, discussing foreign policy and did not intervene when Bush invaded Iraq!
‘Towards a Humane, Democratic Socialism’ - document which allowed for criticism of previous Communist governments.
How far was Gorbechev personally responsible for the collapse of the USSR?
Gorbachev explicitly allowed Eastern Europe to pursue its own path : Glasnost (openness) - this led to revival of previous feelings (Prague Spring etc). It encouraged reform in Czechoslovakia 1989, and East Germany 1989-90.
Gorbachev allowed Solidarity in Poland in 1990: this was a step in the direction of disintegration
He allowed people to practice their religion and even met the Pope – this went against the firm rule of Communism. Reversed Brezhnev doctrine in Afghanistan.
He introduced perestroika (restructuring) – this loosened the chains of the economy and people were allowed to make money
Alienated hardliners with his policies—they eventually stabbed him in the back with the coup of 1991.
Growth of Nationalism It was falling apart anyway (explain Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Berlin Wall 1961)
Gorbachev just provided the spark that lit the fire – his reforms acted as a catalyst – such as Romania and Bulgaria revolted in 1989 as a result
People were very unhappy – living standards were low and too much was spent on arms (25% of GNP by 1980s)
There was a lack of jobs, American farmers were 7 times more productive.
Raegan’s hardline policies pushed the USSR to the brink; he won the arms race and was on the offensive—helped Afghanistan beat USSR, called USSR ‘evil empire’...
“Signing the Agreement to eliminate the USSR and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States”, 8 Dec 1991President Leonid Kravchuk (second from left seated), Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus Stanislav Shushkevich (third from left seated) and Russian President Boris Yeltsin (second from right seated) during the signing ceremony to eliminate the USSR and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States. Viskuly Government House in the Belorusian National Park "Belovezhskaya Forest". [source: RIA Novosti archive, image #848095
How did the USSR collapse?
1987 : Perestroika and Glasnost
1988 : Rising prices in Poland lead to strikes and talks with Solidarity
: Gorbachev pledges to remove troops from E.Europe
1989 : Hungary promises elections and choice of parties
: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia declare sovereignty
: Solidarity takes control and promises elections
: Gorbachev visits E. Germany and urges it to take its own path
: Czechoslovakian Velvet Revolution removes Communists from power
: Romania: Ceaucescu executed
1990 : Ukraine declares sovereignty
: Germany unified; wall falls
1991 : Croatia, Slovenia declare independence
: Warsaw Pact ended
: Soviet Coup attempt; Russia declares independence under Yeltsin in Dec
: Gorbachev resigns on 25 December 1991; the USSR was no more