Baylor College Medical School

141 3. The End Of The Cold War

141 3. The Soviet Union emerged from World War II as a superpower, with control over many Eastern European countries. For many people, the country's superpower status brought few rewards. Consumer goods were inferior and workers were poorly paid. BECAUSE WORKERS HAD LIFETIME JOB SECURITY, THEE WAS LITTLE INCENTIVE TO PRODUCE HIGH-QUALITY GOODS. Still, there were some important technological successes. One example was sputnik I, the first artificial satellite. Keeping up with the United States in an arms race also strained the economy. Then in 1979, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan and became involved in a long war. The Soviets had few successes battling the mujahedin, or Muslim religious warriors, creating a crisis in morale in the USSR.

Then, new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged reforms. He called for glasnost. He ended censorship and encouraged people to discuss the country's problems. Gorbachev also called for perestroika, or a restructuring of the government and economy. His policies, however, fed unrest across the Soviet empire.

Eastern Europeans demanded an end to Soviet rule. Previous attempts to defy the Soviets had failed. When Hungarians and Czechs challenged the communist rulers, military force subdued them. By the end of the 1980s, a powerful democracy movement was sweeping the region. In Poland, Lech Walesa led Solidarity, an independent, unlawful labor union demanding economic and political changes. When Gorbachev declared he would not interfere in Eastern European reforms, Solidarity was legalized. A year later, Walesa was elected president of Poland.

Meanwhile, East German leaders resisted reform, and thousands of East Germans fled to the West. In Czchoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, a dissident writer, was elected president. One by one, communist governments fell. Most changes happened peacefully, but Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu refused to step down and he was executed. The Baltic States regained independence . By the end of 1991, the remaining Soviet republics had all formed independent nations. The Soviet Union ceased to exist after 69 years of communist rule.

In 1992, Czechoslovakia, was divided into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Additionally, some communist government in Asia, such as China, instituted economic reforms.


3. How did the arms race affect the Soviet economy?

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Keeping up with the United States in an arms race also strained the economy. Instead of money going to help the people of the Soviet Union, money was spent on the military.