The crisis and collapse of the Soviet Union brought forth two great surges of democracy, the first in the fall of 1989 when the Communists surrendered their monopoly of power in the satellite nations, and the second in the summer of 1991 when the constituent republics of the Soviet Union seceded. There was also a parallel surge of nationhood as four former Communist unions -- the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia and Yugoslavia -- shattered into 24 ethnic nations. [n.1]
All across the globe, the various petty tyrants who had stayed in power by playing one side against the other in the Cold War were swept away. The pro-Soviet among them were cast adrift, friendless and alone, while the pro-Western soon realized that their former sponsors didn't need anti-Communist thugs anymore. Throughout the Third World, strongmen agreed to relinquish their power. They released opposition leaders from jail, scheduled elections and pilfered national treasuries to set up retirement accounts in off-shore banks.
The end result was a world that has changed unrecognizeably from the world twenty years earlier. In the early 1970s, democracies were scattered in a few small clusters on the edges of the great land masses. By the late 1990s, four continents (Europe, Australia and the Americas) were almost entirely democratic. Africa had gone from almost entirely oppressive to only about half, and even if some of the new "democracies" didn't quite have the hang of it and occassionally continued to harass the opposition, reward cronies and fudge the ballot counts, at least the jails were emptied of dissidents and the press was allowed to complain more vocally about government abuses.
There is no single effect that the end of the Cold War had on hot war worldwide. In Africa, several long smoldering civil wars fizzled out as Soviet-sponsored governments and Western-sponsored guerrillas decided it was time to talk. But this trend toward peace in one part of the world was balanced by new conflicts elsewhere. In the former Communist lands of Eurasia, ethnic hatreds which had been kept under control by Russian hegemony now found an opportunity to flare up.
New countries from Communist unions: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia, Croatia, Czech Rep., Eritrea, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikstan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.
... plus Namibia was fully freed by South Africa.
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Last updated February 2000
Copyright © 2000 Matthew White