Twenty-Five Years After 1989: Issues in Postcommunist Europe

Sharon L. Wolchik
Jane Leftwich Curry, Santa Clara University

Copyright © 2014 Rowman & Littlefield. Reproduced by permission of Rowman & Littlefield. All rights reserved. Please contact the publisher for permission to copy, distribute or reprint.

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In 1989, the unthinkable happened: communist rule collapsed, virtually like a house of cards, all over what had been the Soviet bloc. As Timothy Garton Ash said, "In Poland it took ten years, in Hungary ten months, East Germany ten weeks: perhaps in Czechoslovakia it will cake ten days!" 1 This statement, although not entirely accurate, captures several crucial aspects of the end of communist rule: it was fast, unexpected, and unplanned.

Slightly more than a year later (October 3, 1990), not only had the Berlin Wall come down, but Germany was no longer divided into the Soviet-occupied communist German Democratic Republic and the richer democratic Federal Republic of Germany. As Germany came together, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union came apart, creating, from what had been eight states, twenty-nine states, nineteen of which are geographically in Europe. In the process, the collapse of Yugoslavia brought the first European war since the end of World War II.

A decade and a half after the collapse of communist rule, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-once the military bulwark of the Americans and chose we then called the West Europeans against communism. Five years later, in 2004, NATO took in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. That same year, fifteen years after the first roundtable negotiations between the Polish communists and their Solidarity opponents, the European Union (EU) expanded eastward to take in eight of the new democracies. Romania and Bulgaria became members in 2007. In 2013, Croatia became the twenty-eighth member of the EU. Macedonia and Montenegro remained candidate members; Serbia became a candidate in 2014, and Albania was expected to become a candidate member in 2014, pending further progress on issues such as corruption and judicial reform. After the Orange Revolution in 2004, Ukraine pushed to begin negotiations with the EU, only to have this policy reversed under Victor Yanukovych. After Yanukovych fled in the wake of street demonstrations following his refusal to sign, as anticipated, an association agreement with the EU at the Vilnius summit in November 2013, the acting Ukrainian government signed the agreement. In 2014, only Bosnia, Kosovo, and Ukraine remained far from membership.