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View series: Europe and nations since 1945

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Crises in Eastern Europe

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of Europe and nations since 1945.

One by one, the Eastern and Central European countries fell into the hands of communist parties between 1945 and 1949 and consequently under the influence of the USSR.  Only Yugoslavia maintained its independence, since Tito had broken off relations with Stalin in June 1948.

In order to reinforce his control over these countries and dissuade them from following Yugoslavia’s example, Stalin ordered the elimination of a number of communist leaders in Hungary, Bulgaria and later in Czechoslovakia.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, the East European peoples began to hope that the Soviet grip would be relaxed. Their demands for freedom of expression, political pluralism and socio-economic reforms provoked a series of crises:

- The first uprising took place in East Germany in June 1953 where striking workers challenged the government, especially in East Berlin, causing an intervention by Russian tanks.

- In 1956, Polish workers staged demonstrations and an uprising in Hungary was crushed by the Russian Army.

- There were more troubles in Berlin in 1961. Determined to stop escapes by East Germans via West Berlin, a wall was built to divide the city in two.

- Moves for reform and for a more liberal political regime in Czechoslovakia in 1968, known as the ‘Prague Spring’, led to military intervention by Warsaw Pact troops, including Russian tanks.

- Finally in 1981, following strikes by the independent trade union Solidarity, the Polish authorities declared martial law to maintain control in the country.

Each of these crises was followed by periods of ‘normalization’: trials and punishment of rebel leaders, tighter control over the population, etc. orchestrated by governments acting on orders from Moscow.