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After 1953: Destalinisation
1968: Prague Spring
1981:Poland and Solidarity
Towards 1989: Year of Revolution
1989-2000: after communism
Further reading

IB History Route 2 - Topic 4 - Post-1945 nationalist and independence movements in Central and Eastern Europe.

This section of the website is an extension of our chapter in the IB 20th Century World History Course Companion. It examines Topic 4 from the IB History Guide, "Post-1945 nationalist and independence movements in Central and Eastern Europe", and concentrates on two of the countries identified as 'material for detailed study' Poland and Czechoslovakia. In addition, as required by the History Guide, particular attention is invested in the leadership of Lech Wałęsa in Poland and Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia.

From outside it is tempting to see the Soviet sphere of influence as a monolithic bloc of nations, each conforming to the demands of the Moscow leadership. Poland and Czechoslovakia certainly share a lot in common; the people of both nations are predominantly Slavs, sharing similar languages and cultural traditions. Nationalist aspirations of sustained independence in both countries would continue to be limited by their geographical position between powerful neighbours. However, this chapter also highlights the ways in which these close neighbours differed in their experience of war, Soviet control, revolution and post-communism.


Topic 4 requires the student to explore 'the origins and growth of movements challenging Soviet or centralized control'. 'The role and importance of leaders, organizations and institutions' should be also considered along with 'the methods of achieving independence'. These syllabus themes should be kept in mind as you work your way through the first part of this section. Solidarity in Poland and Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia would become the organisations most associated with the challenges to Soviet control in 1989, but both organisations had deep roots in their respective societies. You will also need to evaluate how significant these organisations and their leaders were, relative to the external factors which also contributed to the end of the Cold War. Finally, when considering the methods used in achieving independence, the relatively peaceful events of 1989 in Poland and Czechoslovakia need to be contrasted with the earlier street fighting of 1956 and 1968 and the brutal civil war in Yugoslavia

As required by the History Guide, this chapter brings the story of Central and Eastern Europe into the new millennium. (pages 25-33) Students are expected to consider how new states were established and how they dealt with new political, economic, social and cultural challenges of becoming democratic states. Some states, including Czechoslovakia failed to survive the transition; others like Poland survived despite massive upheaval. Yugoslavia disintegrated in the bloodiest way imaginable.

When the authors of this section of the website were finishing their secondary schooling, nothing seemed more permanent than the division of Eastern and Western Europe behind Mr Churchill's iron curtain. Now, twenty years after the destruction of the Berlin Wall, our IB Diploma students in the former socialist republic of Czechoslovakia, are amongst the first of a generation born after the Velvet Revolution of 1989. They inhabit a city in which the capitalist symbols of MacDonalds and Ikea seem as natural and inevitable as the Berlin Wall once did to us. Now, communism is ancient history; more than that it has become part of the heritage industry, a curiosity to entertain. Now you can visit a museum to communism in Prague or a park of communist statues in Budapest. In all of this, communism appears to have been an aberration, a detour whose ending tends to be explained as almost inevitable. The French Philosopher Henri Bergson once described this as the illusion of 'retrospective determinism'. You can always find more than sufficient causes for every great event - after the event. In the final section of this chapter, the problem of inevitability is examined and an attempt made to explain not why the communist regimes collapsed but, rather, why they lasted as long as they did.

1945-1953 Destalinisation Prague Spring Solidarity 1989: Revolution 1989-2000



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