Brief History of Europe/Contemporary period

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Contemporary period from circa 1945 (post World War II) to the present time.

Cold War[edit]

Cold War Europe
Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan (signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty at the White House in 1987)
Germans stand on top of the Berlin Wall shortly before it was demolished; behind is the Brandenburg Gate

The Cold War (1945–1991) was a period of simmering tension between the the USA with its allies (the Western Bloc), and the Soviet Union and its satellite states (the Eastern Bloc), after World War II. There were sporadic wars in various theaters which did not directly involve the major powers, but instead were wars by proxy. Eventually it would end with the Revolutions of 1989, and the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991).

Two major military treaties divided the Cold War factions:

  • The Western Bloc countries; many of these formed NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1949. Twelve countries were part of the founding of NATO: the European countries of Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom; and the North American countries of the United States, and Canada. It would later expand to other European countries.
  • The Eastern Bloc countries, which were described as being "behind the Iron Curtain". They signed the Warsaw Pact in 1955, a treaty establishing the mutual defense organization known as the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO) of communist countries; these included the Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary; but Albania withdrew in 1960. Yugoslavia was a communist state that remained non-aligned.

Notable events during this period included:

  • United Nations: founded in 1945 it replaced the ineffective League of Nations.
  • Truman Doctrine (1947): the US doctrine aimed at "containing" Soviet expansion.
  • Marshall Plan (1948): economic aid was offered to European nations that worked out a program for rehabilitation.
  • Czechoslovak Communists seized control of the country in 1948.
  • USA, UK and France merged their German zones in 1947 and 1948, which became West Germany in 1949, as opposed to East Germany.
  • Berlin Blockade (1948–1949): the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' access to Berlin, resulting in the Berlin airlift to supply Berlin
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization founded in April 1949.
  • People's Republic of China established in 1949 by Mao Zedong, and the Republic of China under Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan.
  • Korean War (1950–1953), a war between North Korea (with the support of China and the Soviet Union), and South Korea (with the support of the United Nations).
  • Cuban Revolution (1953–1959): Fidel Castro's forces defeated the military dictatorship of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista.
  • Warsaw Pact (Warsaw Treaty Organization) founded in May 1955.
  • Vietnam War (1955–1975): or Second Indochina War, took place after the First Indochina War (1946–1954), a war of independence from the French. It was principally a conflict between the communist North Vietnam and its allies, and the anti-communist South Vietnam and its allies.
  • Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which was crushed by a Soviet invasion.
  • Suez crisis (1956), after Egypt attempts to nationalize the Suez Canal.
  • Berlin Wall construction began in 1961, separating West Berlin (a political enclave surrounded by East Germany) from East Berlin.
  • Cuban Missile Crisis (1962): after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961, Cuba requested nuclear missiles to deter a future invasion, causing a showdown with the USA.
  • Prague Spring (1968), a period of political liberalization and mass protest in Czechoslovakia, resulting in Warsaw Pact occupation.
  • Soviet-Afghan War (1979–1989): resulted in a strong denunciation of the Soviet Union by the West.
  • Strategic Defense Initiative (1983): dubbed "Star Wars", it was a proposed missile defense system of the United States from ballistic strategic nuclear weapons.

Fall of communism[edit]

Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, and brought policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Following the 1989 revolutions, dissolution of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact was in 1991. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 came German reunification in 1990.

15 states were formed from the former USSR: in Europe they consisted of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova; and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Other states were states in the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia), and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Yugoslav Wars[edit]

Six socialist republics of Yugoslavia, and the two autonomous provinces in Serbia
Religion in the Balkans

Yugoslav Wars (1991–2001) were civil wars that resulted in the partitioning of the six constituent republics of Yugoslavia, into the new countries of:

  • Serbia
  • Montenegro
  • Croatia
  • Slovenia
  • North Macedonia (also called the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina

Serbia includes the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, and the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija; but Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and this is currently recognized by about 100 UN states but not Serbia.

Wars included:

  • Croatian War of Independence (1991–1995): there was a long war in Croatia between the ethnic Croats and Serbs.
  • Bosnian War (1992–1995): the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina include ethnic Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs, and saw much conflict.
  • Kosovo War (1998–1999): in the Kosovo region of Serbia, there was fighting between the Serbs and the ethnic Albanian majority.

Other wars included the Ten-Day War (1991) in Slovenia; Insurgency in the Preševo Valley (1999–2001) in southern Serbia; and Insurgency in the Republic of Macedonia (2001).

Much of the conflict was a result of the religious differences between the mix of ethnicities that inhabit the former Yugoslav countries:

  • Slovenians and Croats: are mainly Catholic Christian, and make up much of Slovenia and Croatia.
  • Serbs, Montenegrins, and Macedonians: are mainly Orthodox Christian, and make up much of Serbia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.
  • Bosniaks: are a mainly Sunni Muslim, and make up about half of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which also has many Serbs and Croats.
  • Albanians: are a mainly Sunni Muslim. They make up much of Albania (not a Yugoslav country), but there is a sizeable Albanian diaspora especially in Kosovo.

Languages spoken by these ethnicities:

  • Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Montenegrins, and Slovenians speak Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, and Slovene. They are a closely related group of South-Slavic languages called South-Western Slavic (formerly "Serbo-Croato-Slovenian").
  • Macedonians speak Macedonian, which is a South-Eastern Slavic language like Bulgarian.
  • Albanians speak Albanian, which is a non-Slavic language.

Other aspects of the contemporary period[edit]

Decolonisation gained traction, with European colonial empires in Africa and Asia gone by 1975. In 1947, the British Empire had begun a process of voluntarily dismantling with the granting of independence to India and Pakistan.

Spain: democracy was restored in Spain in 1975, with a constitutional monarchy.

EEC and EU: Treaty of Rome (1957) founds the European Economic Community. The European Union formed in 1993 with the Maastricht Treaty. The Euro adopted as a currency in 2002. Enlargement of the EU in 2004: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007

The 2014 Ukrainian revolution had armed conflict in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, after attempts to cede to the Russian Federation. A referendum held in Crimea led to its annexation to the Russian Federation as the Republic of Crimea, which is largely unrecognized.

Technology and industry: Western countries began de-industrialisation; globalization led to the emergence of new industrial centres, including Japan, Taiwan, China. The rise of science, technology, and computers led to the Information Age (1971–) and the widespread use of the Internet, creating profound changes. The Space Age was established in 1957.

The arts: popular music became prominent in the 20th Century. Postmodernism (c. 1930–) was an arts movement that developed in the mid- to late 20th century; the avant-garde (from the French for "advance guard") was seen as the cutting edge of experimentation.

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