The Cold War from the Soviet Union's view (23 December 1989)
Historical Map of Russia & the former Soviet Union
By the late 1980s, the Soviet Union was surrounded by hostile states, while having to cope with economic woes, discontent in Poland, and a high tech arms race with the United States. Mikhail Gorbachev, the new Soviet leader, responded with huge political and economic reforms. In 1989, he allowed elections and revolutions to overthrow the communist regimes in eastern Europe.
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan
First democratic elections held in the Soviet Union to elect the Congress of People's Deputies
Tadeusz Mazowiecki of Solidarity appointed Prime Minister of Poland
Hungarian government opens borders with Austria, permitting East Germans to travel to the West
Fall of the Berlin Wall
After Hungary and Czechoslovakia opened their borders to Austria, allowing tens of thousands of East Germans to escape to the West, the government of East Germany partially opened its border with West Germany. In the confusion over the new regulations, masses of East Germans gathered at the Berlin Wall, overwhelming the guards and demanding to cross to the West. At 10:45 pm on 9 November, the guards relented. The Wall was swamped by celebrating East and West Germans, then torn down over the ensuing days.
On 17 November 1989, a violent state crackdown on student protests sparked mass demonstrations in Prague. After seven days, the entire top leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party resigned. By December 29, single-party rule was abolished, with Prague Spring leader Alexander Dubček appointed Prime Minister and playwright/dissident Václav Havel appointed President.
On 16 December 1989, demonstrations by ethnic Hungarians erupted in the city of Timișoara, followed by a violent crackdown by the Romanian military. On 21 December, President Nicolae Ceaușescu attempted to address the public in Bucharest, only for the crowd to erupt in protest. The following day, the Armed Forces defected to the side of the protesters, arrested Ceaușescu, and proclaimed dissident Ion Iliescu President. Ceaușescu and his wife Elena were tried and convicted on 24 December and executed on December 25.