King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
From Empire to Nationhood


GorbachevGorbachevThe leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, which began in 1985, witnessed a withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It also saw a Soviet commitment not to interfere with reforms under way in Eastern Block countries. These included Poland where mass demonstrations by the trade union, Solidarity, demanded political change.

It also heralded a breakthrough in arms limitation talks.

Within the USSR, the austerity of daily life belatedly prompted policies of openness and restructuring, popularised in the terms glasnost and perestroika. With the erosion of censorship came an appetite for further- reaching reforms.

The end of the Cold War came suddenly, borne by a wave of popular demonstrations sweeping through the Eastern Block during the course of 1989.

In Czechoslovakia, its essentially benign and bloodless character aptly merited the epithet, 'Velvet Revolution'.

SolidaritySolidarityPerhaps the most symbolic event was the breach of that most conspicuous relic of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, in November 1989.

One significant aspect of the revolutions in 1989 was the unwillingness of the Soviet Union to crush dissent as they had once done in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

This pointed towards a loss of self-confidence by its government and the stirrings of more fundamental change, which duly materialised in 1991 after the failure of an abortive hard line communist coup directed against President Gorbachev.

The break up of the Union and creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States began the process by which long suppressed national identities were able to flourish and seek full independence.

These included the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the Ukraine and the central Asian republics such as Kazakhstan.

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