Chapter 8 Europe since 1914

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European alliances in 1914

Europe since 1914 includes the end of the late modern period, and the contemporary period, which was from circa 1945 (post World War II) to the present time.

World War I

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Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria
Leaders of the Central Powers (left to right): Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany; Kaiser and King Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary; Sultan Mehmed V of the Ottoman Empire; Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria
Big Four: Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France), Woodrow Wilson (USA) (left to right)

Prelude to World War I

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The war had roots in the tensions between France and Germany, exacerbated by the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), and the French defeat and loss of Alsace-Lorraine to the Prussians. The Dual Alliance (1879) and Triple Alliance (1882) created an alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy that excluded France. Partly in response, and after the failure of the German–Austrian–Russian League of the Three Emperors (1873–1880) and the secret German–Russian Reinsurance Treaty (1887–1890), the French–Russian Franco-Russian Alliance was created with agreements between 1891 and 1894.

The Anglo-German naval arms race (1898–1912) worsened British and German relations. The Entente Cordiale (1904) between the British and French improved their relations, and marked the end of almost a thousand years of intermittent conflict between them. The First and Second Moroccan Crises (1905–1906, 1911) worsened German relations with both France and the Britain. The Anglo-Russian Convention (1907) led to the creation of the Triple Entente (1907), an alliance between Britain, France and Russia.

The Bosnian crisis (1908–1909), when Austria-Hungary announced the formal annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Ottomans, worsened Austria-Hungarian relations with Italy, Serbia, and Russia. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was on Sunday, 28 June 1914; the Austrian heir was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb nationalist. Franz Ferdinand was visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was a mixture of South-Slavic peoples: Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats. Many Bosnian Serbs and other Bosnians opposed the Austrian annexation; Serbia was sympathetic to them, and the Black Hand, a secret military society formed by officers in the Army of the Kingdom of Serbia, had helped the assassins.

World War I summary

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World War I (the Great War, 1914–1918) had the Allied Powers defeating the Central Powers. The Allied Powers included the Triple Entente of France, the British Empire, and Russia (to 1917), but also include Japan (from August 1914), Italy (from April 1915), the USA (from April 1917), and other allies and co-belligerents. The Central Powers would eventually include Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria, and other co-belligerents and client states; it evolved from the earlier Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy (but Italy never fought for the Central Powers).

Key aspects include:

  • In the July Crisis, after a series of diplomatic maneuvers, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July, who they blamed for the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Serbia was a Russian ally, so Russian mobilization had already commenced.
  • Events of August 1914: Germany declared war on Russia, and then France and Belgium; they would invade France through Belgium according to the Schlieffen Plan. Britain then declared war against Germany for violating Belgian neutrality, and sent the British Expeditionary Force to France. Austria-Hungary declared war against Russia, and Britain and France declared war against Austria-Hungary.
  • German advances in France came to a halt after the First Battle of the Marne (September 1914) with over a half a million casualties; afterwards the Western Front was little changed until 1917.
  • In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered the war in support of the Central Powers, and opened fronts in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and the Sinai Peninsula. The Middle Eastern theater included the Gallipoli campaign (1915), which resulted in over half a million casualties.
  • The Balkans Campaign (1914–1918) extended the war to the Balkans, with Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in 1915 and the Greece joining the Allies in 1917.
  • On the Eastern Front, the Austro-Hungarian offensive at the Battle of Galicia (1914) resulted in over half a million casualties; the German Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive (1915) resulted in as many as half a million casualties; the Russian Brusilov Offensive (1916) resulted in over a million casualties.
  • On the Western Front, the Battle of Verdun (1916), the longest offensive of the War, resulted in over a half a million casulaties; the First Battle of the Somme (1916) resulted in over a million casualties; the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) (1917) resulted in over half a million casualties.
  • In 1917, the Central Powers achieved victory on the Eastern Front, with Russian capitulation. Other Allied defeats included Serbia (1915) and Romania (1917).
  • The USA joined the Allied Powers in 1917, after German U-boats sank seven US merchant ships, and the Zimmermann Telegram suggesting that Germany was inciting a Mexican-American war.
  • On the Western Front in 1918, the German Spring Offensive resulted in one and a half million casualties; and the Allied Powers' Hundred Days Offensive resulted in over two million casualties.
  • The Central Powers, of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria, all capitulated to the Allied Powers in 1918. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and Germany signed an armistice on 11 November 1918.

World War I was largely based on the attrition due to casualties of troops, rather than decisive territorial gains. As a result of the World War I, the Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian Empires ceased to exist. An estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a direct result of the war. The 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Eastern Question

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Ottoman Empire in 1912, after the loss of Libya
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey

The Ottoman Empire, then described as the "sick man of Europe", was in decline in the 19th and early 20th centuries. What would happen to the failing empire would be called the Eastern Question.

It led to a number of newly independent or autonomous Balkan countries by 1908. These included Greece in 1829, and the Cretan State of 1898–1908; Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, and the autonomy of Bulgaria after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878. Further afield, the Ottoman Empire had lost a number of territories by 1908: France had occupied Algeria and Tunisia; Great Britain had occupied Egypt and Cyprus, and gained the Aden Protectorate (1872–1963) in the Yemen.

Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire

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In July 1908, the Young Turk Revolution created multi-party democracy; the Bosnian crisis (1908–1909) occurred after Austria-Hungary announced the formal annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Ottomans. After Italian victory in the Italo-Turkish War (1911–1912), Italian Libya was occupied by Italy. The Balkan Wars (1912–1913) resulted in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by the Balkan League of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro; they conquered Ottoman-held Macedonia, Albania (which gained independence), and most of Thrace, but then fell out over the division of the spoils.

During World War I, genocide in Anatolia became prevalent; 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the Armenian Genocide (1914–1923), and there was also genocide of Greek and Assyrian minorities.

In 1916, Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, led the Great Arab Revolt, a pan-Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire to create a united Arab state. There was fighting in Hejaz, Transjordan, and Syria. Although Arab efforts to achieve unified independence failed, Allied victory in World War I assured the end of the Ottoman Empire. With the end of Ottoman suzerainty in Arabia, Hussein bin Ali became King of the Kingdom of Hejaz (1916–1925). The Saudi conquest of Hejaz (1924–25) was a major step in the unification of Saudi Arabia, along with defeat of the Rashidi Emirate (1836–1921). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the third Saudi state ruled by the House of Saud, and was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud; it dominates the Arabian peninsula.

Partition of the Ottoman Empire, after World War I outside of the Arabian peninsula, was largely under the terms of the British/French Sykes-Picot Agreement, which planned for a geographical divider called the Sykes-Picot line, with French influence to the north and British influence to the south. To the north, French had the Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon (1923−1946). To the south, British mandates included: Mandatory Palestine (1920–1948, today Israel and the State of Palestine), and Mandatory Iraq (1921–1932); the Emirate of Transjordan (1921–1946, today Jordan) was a British protectorate. Slowly, these states would became independent from the French and British.

Turkish War of Independence

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The Turkish War of Independence (1919–1922) was a war for a Turkish state covering Anatolia and Eastern Thrace; the Turks defeated Greece, the United Kingdom, France, and Armenia. The Ottoman Sultanate was then abolished (1922), and the Republic of Turkey declared (1923).

The Turks were led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, who became known as Atatürk. Atatürk had come to prominence during the Ottoman Turkish victory at the Battle of Gallipoli (1915) during World War I; and as the leading figure of the Turkish National Movement he won the Turkish War of Independence. Atatürk became the first President of Turkey, with Turkey guided by Atatürk's Reforms and Kemalism.

Interwar period

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Post World War I Europe in 1923

The interwar period was from 1918 post-World War I, until 1939 and World War II.

The Roaring Twenties, a period of economic prosperity, would end with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and followed by the Great Depression during the 1930s.

Territorial changes

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With the Treaty of Versailles, negotiated at the Paris Peace Conference (1919–1920), the Big Four imposed their terms on Germany; they were represented by David Lloyd George (for Britain), Georges Clemenceau (for France), Woodrow Wilson (for the USA), and Vittorio Orlando (for Italy).

Covenant of the League of Nations was a charter for the League of Nations, negotiated at the Paris Peace Conference. The League of Nations was founded in 1920 to maintain world peace, and dissolved in 1946, replaced by the United Nations.

Consequences of the Treaty of Versailles included:

  • Germany would lose European territories to France (Alsace-Lorraine), Belgium, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Poland (the Polish corridor), the Free City of Danzig, Lithuania (the Memel Territory), and under League of Nations protection (Territory of the Saar Basin).
  • Germany's overseas empire was dismantled.
  • Germany was disarmed, with restrictions imposed on their military; the Rhineland was demilitarized.
  • Germany was forced to make reparation payments, and admit "war guilt".

Austria-Hungary was dismantled largely under the terms of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Treaty of Trianon, prepared at the Paris Peace Conference.

Territorial changes that involved former Austria-Hungary territories included:

  • Austria and Hungary were founded as reduced states with the end of Austria-Hungary.
  • Czechoslovakia was created from former lands of Austria-Hungary, including Bohemia and Moravia.
  • Poland was reborn as the Second Polish Republic (1918–1939; the first republic being the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth). The borders of the state were finalized in 1922 after the Polish–Ukrainian War, Greater Poland uprising, Polish–Czechoslovak War, Polish–Lithuanian War, and Polish–Soviet War; It included former parts of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Russian Empire.
  • Yugoslavia was created as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes; it included Serbia, Montenegro, and some former lands of Austria-Hungary. Josip Broz, also known as Tito, would later become the Yugoslav leader.
  • Romania would expand; it gained the duchies of Bukovina, Transylvania and two-thirds of the Banat from the former Austria-Hungary; Bessarabia (roughly the present-day Republic of Moldova) would be annexed by Romania from Russia.
  • Italy would gain some former Austro-Hungarian lands.
  • Principality of Liechtenstein, which had formerly looked to Vienna for protection, formed a customs and defense union with Switzerland, and adopted the Swiss currency instead of the Austrian.

Other post-war European territorial changes included:

  • Finland achieve independence from Russia.
  • The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia achieved independence from Russia.
  • Bulgaria ceded territories to Greece, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia), and Romania.
  • Following the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921), the Irish Free State (1922–1937), of southern Ireland, achieved independence with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The earlier Easter Rising (1916) had been unsuccessful. The Irish Civil War (1922–1923) followed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It is now the Republic of Ireland (1937–present day).
  • Republic of Turkey founded in 1923 after the Turkish War of Independence, and the end of the Ottoman Empire.

Spanish Civil War

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Francisco Franco

Following the First Spanish Republic (1873–1874), a coup d'état by Martínez Campos restored the Bourbons to the Spanish crown, beginning the period known as the Restoration (1874–1931). The reign of Alfonso XII (1874–1885) was followed by Alfonso XIII (1886–1931). After the fall of Alfonso XIII, in part due to economic chaos caused by the Wall Street Crash (1929), the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939) was established.

The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) began when General Franco was proclaimed Head of State, after the Spanish coup of July 1936. It was a war of two factions:

  • Republicans, loyal to the left-leaning Second Spanish Republic, was an alliance with communist and syndicalist anarchists. They received support from the Soviet Union and Mexico. The International Brigades, of foreign nationals, mainly fought for the Republicans.
  • Nationalists, loyal to General Francisco Franco, was an alliance of Falangists (with fascist leanings), monarchists, conservatives and traditionalists. They received support from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

The war was characterized by many atrocities on both sides, and created hundreds of thousands of refugees, who fled mainly to camps in southern France; total deaths have been estimated at 500,000. After winning the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Franco would remain dictator of Francoist Spain (1936–1975), officially known as the Spanish State (Spanish: Estado Español), until his death in 1975.

In 1947, Spain was declared a kingdom, but without a monarch; not until 1969 did Franco establish Juan Carlos of Bourbon as the heir to the monarchy. After Franco's death, democracy was slowly established under a constitutional monarchy with a Bourbon monarch; this continues to this day. Juan Carlos I (who reigned 1975–2014) was succeeded by Felipe VI (2014 to present).

Russian revolutions and Soviet Union

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Lenin and Stalin in Gorki in 1922

Russian revolutions: the first successful revolution was the February Revolution (March 1917), and the Russian Provisional Government, a coalition of various revolutionary factions, came to power. With the October Revolution (November 1917), the Bolsheviks, a communist faction led by Vladimir Lenin, took over, and established the Russian SFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic). The Russian SFSR left World War I with the armistice of December 1917, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918).

Russian Civil War (1917–1922): was a civil war in which the Red Army of the Bolsheviks defeated the anti-communist White Army; there were between 7 and 12 million deaths during the Russian Civil War (including civilians). In July 1918, the former Russian Emperor Nicholas II, and his wife Alexandra and their five children, were executed. The Russian famine of 1921–1922 killed an estimated 5 million people.

The Second Polish Republic was declared in 1918; after the Polish–Soviet War (1919–1921), Ukraine and Belarus were partitioned between Poland and the Soviet Union. There were successful wars of independence in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and Finland declared independence.

Subsequently the Soviet Union or USSR (1922–1991) was established as a union of socialist states formerly in the Russian Empire; the Soviet Union was dominated by the Russian SFSR. Decossackization was a policy of elimination against the Cossacks who had formed the effective core of the anti-Bolshevik White Army.

After the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, he was replaced by a "troika" ('a set of three') consisting of Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, and Joseph Stalin. Joseph Stalin, who had been General Secretary since 1922, gradually became an absolute ruler; working with Nikolai Bukharin, he had his great rival Leon Trotsky, along with Zinoviev and Kamenev, ousted from the party in 1927; in 1929 Trotsky was exiled, and then murdered in 1940.

The Soviet famine of 1932–33 may have killed as many as eight million, and was related to the forced collectivization of agriculture as a part of the Soviet first five-year plan; it included the Holodomor, widely seen as genocide against the Ukrainians, as well as alleged genocide against the Kazakhs. Stalin's Great Purge (1936–38) was a campaign of political repression that killed hundreds of thousands; it included the executions after show trials of Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Bukharin.

World War II

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Pacific imperial powers in 1939
Europe under Nazi domination 1941-1942
Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in 1940, leaders of fascist Italy and Germany
Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at the Yalta conference (1945)

Background to World War II

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Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister of Italy in 1922. In 1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor (and later Führer) of Nazi Germany, and Germany withdrew from the League of Nations. Ethiopia was invaded by Italy in 1935. Italy and Germany created the Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936, which was later widened to Japan. In 1938 Germany annexed Austria; Czechoslovakia was then annexed by Germany, Hungary and Poland. In March 1939 the UK and France promised to defend the independence of Poland. In August 1939, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany planned for mutual non-aggression, and the division of Europe into spheres of influence.

World War II summary

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World War II (1939–1945): was a world war in which the Allies would eventually defeat the Axis powers.

The Allies of World War II would eventually include the Big Four of the USA, UK (United Kingdom), Soviet Union, and China; and also governments-in-exile of occupied countries and other combatant states. It started as France, Poland and the United Kingdom, and their dependent states. They were joined by independent Dominions of the British Commonwealth: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, and Yugoslavia joined the Allies, but would quickly fall to the Axis powers, as did France, and Poland (with German–Soviet partitioning).

The Axis powers included the Tripartite Pact (September 1940) powers of Germany, Japan and Italy (until 1943); the pact later included Hungary (1940), Romania (1940), Bulgaria (1941), Slovakia (1940, a German client state), and the State of Croatia (an Italo-German client state of 1941 covering much of Yugoslavia). There were other co-belligerents, such as Finland (Soviet–Finnish Continuation War), Iraq (Anglo-Iraqi War), Thailand, and the Soviet Union (until their invasion).

Key aspects include (this list is very limited):

  • Preceded by and included the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), after Japan invaded China, who already occupied Manchuria after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931–1932), with resulting Soviet–Japanese border conflicts (1932 to 1939).
  • In September 1939 the UK and France declared war on Germany after the Invasion of Poland, which included Germany and the Soviet Union. This commenced the European theatre of conflict. Under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Eastern Europe was occupied by Germany and the Soviet Union. Poland was partitioned, and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) were occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.
  • Phoney War (September 1939 to May 1940) was a period of limited engagement, although the Soviets attacked Finland in the Winter War (November 1939 to March 1940), and there was the German invasion of Denmark and Norway (April 1940).
  • The Western Front commenced with the Battle of France (May 1940); within six weeks Germany had conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Germany avoided the stronger Maginot Line fortifications by invading through the Ardennes forest. Erich von Manstein formulated the plan for the battle. This ended land operations on the Western Front until D-Day. Germany divided France into German-occupied northern France and a German-friendly Vichy France to the south. The UK evacuated their forces with the Dunkirk evacuation.
  • The Mediterranean and Middle East theatre opened in June 1940, beginning with the Battle of the Mediterranean, and later extending to the Middle East, North Africa, and West Africa. Erwin Rommel commanded the Germans in the North African campaign.
  • Conflict in the South-East Asian theater began when Japan invaded French Indochina in September 1940, who they occupied. It later included British Burma, Ceylon, Malaya and Singapore; and in Thailand. There was also warfare in the Indian Ocean, as well as the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, and Borneo (see the Pacific War).
  • By early June 1941, only the UK actively opposed Germany in Europe; the Soviet Union and Germany were still at peace, and controlled much of Europe. The Battle of the Atlantic (1939–1945) had weakened the UK due to a blockade of supplies by German U-boats. During July–October 1940, the Battle of Britain was the successful defense of the UK from the German air force.
  • On the 22nd June 1941, Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, commenced the German-Soviet War at the Eastern Front; German-occupied Europe reached a territorial peak 1941–1942. On the Eastern Front, Georgy Zhukov was responsible for some of the Russian Red Army's most decisive victories.
  • In 1941 the USA joined the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7. This commenced the Pacific War; theaters can be divided into North; Central (including Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway); South (including the Solomon Islands and the Battle of Guadalcanal); and South West (including the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, and Borneo). Warfare continued in the South-East Asian theater and China.
  • During 1942, key Axis defeats included the Battle of Midway (in the Pacific), the Second Battle of El Alamein (in North Africa), and Stalingrad (in the Soviet Union, ending in 1943). The Italian Campaign, commencing July 1943, resulted in the collapse of Fascist Italy (1943) and the Allied occupation of all of Italy by 1945. In December 1943 Dwight D. Eisenhower was made Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. On 6 June 1944, D-Day commenced the Allied invasion of northern Europe, the second stage of conflict on the Western Front.
  • V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) declared on May 8, 1945, after the defeat and occupation of Germany by the Allies. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki contributed to the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945 (V-J Day).

Conferences and aftermath

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There were a number of conferences during and after World War II, which involved members of the Big Three (USA, UK and Russia). Conferences included:

  • Casablanca Conference (January 1943): included Franklin D. Roosevelt (USA President), Winston Churchill (UK Prime Minister), and Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud (for Free France).
  • Cairo Conference (November 1943): included Roosevelt, Churchill, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (of the Republic of China). It ended with the Cairo Declaration for post-war Asia.
  • Tehran Conference (November and December 1943), the first meeting of the Big Three: with Roosevelt, Churchill, and Joseph Stalin for Russia. It planned for the continuing European war, and a date for D-Day.
  • Fourth Moscow Conference (October 1944): included Churchill and Stalin and some ministers, with planning for post-war spheres of influence in Eastern Europe.
  • Yalta Conference (February 1945), a pre-V-E Day conference between the Big Three (Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin). It planned for the defeat of Germany, and post-war arrangements.
  • Potsdam Conference (July to August 1945), a pre-V-J Day conference between the Big Three: Stalin, Harry S. Truman (USA President), and Churchill and Clement Attlee (UK Prime Ministers). It created the Potsdam Declaration on the surrender of Japan, and a policy for Germany.

Aftermath of World War II: there were between 50 to 85 million fatalities, mostly civilians in the Soviet Union and China. The war marked the advent of air supremacy and nuclear warfare. The Holocaust, a genocide perpetrated by the Germans during the war, resulted in 17 million deaths, including 6 million Jews. Strategic bombing, the bombing of non-military targets, was a result of the blurring between civilian and military contributions to the war effort, and total war meant that entire populations were dedicated to the war effort. The end of the war marked the beginnings of the Cold War.

Cold War

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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 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

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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

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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; plus the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo in 2008. The countries are:

  • Serbia. According to Serbia, it includes the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, and the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina.
  • Montenegro.
  • Croatia.
  • Slovenia.
  • North Macedonia, also called the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008; 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 South-Western Slavic and mainly Catholic Christian, and make up much of Slovenia and Croatia.
  • Bosniaks: are South-Western Slavic and mainly Sunni Muslim; they make up about half of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which also has many Serbs and Croats.
  • Serbs and Montenegrins: are South-Western Slavic and mainly Orthodox Christian, and make up much of Serbia and Montenegro.
  • Macedonians: are South-Eastern Slavic and mainly Orthodox Christian, and make up much of North Macedonia.
  • Albanians: are non-Slavic and mainly Sunni Muslim. They make up much of Albania (not a Yugoslav country), but there is a sizeable Albanian diaspora especially in Kosovo, a disputed region of the former Socialist Republic of Serbia.

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

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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.

← Late modern period until 1914 · Brief History of Europe