1939: The Balance Sheet: Paradoxes and Imponderables -- Part 35
By the late 1980s, few observers expected Communist rule to fall so quickly.
Even though support for Gorbachev waned inside the Soviet Union, he gained his greatest popularity outside it.
He became known as "Gorby" and was awarded the peace prize.
Few recipients deserved it more than he did.
History has rarely seen such profound changes with so little violence.
Gorbachev was not willing to preserve Communist rule with brute force.
The days of Communism's rule in the soviet bloc countries were numbered since he made it clear that they could introduce reforms without fear of soviet military intervention.
In some countries, such as Czechoslovakia, a significant part of the population had at least initially been open to the idea of Communism, but that attitude had not lasted, and in many other areas, such as Poland, a strong majority of the population had always detested Communism.
There were Westernstyle elections in the Soviet Union that allowed non-Communist parties to run and they proved to be the beginning of the end.
Part of the population was attached to the ideals and practices of Communism, but a larger portion wanted to be free of them.
The freedom and prosperity offered by Western-style democracy became more apparent as the Communist parties in western Europe continued to survive.
A man falling into a deep slumber in 1945 and waking up in 2012 would have been more confused than Rip Van Winkle was.
Europe recovered in 2012 beyond anyone's expectations.
Europeans had a level of material prosperity envied throughout the world, even if that prosperity seemed threatened after 2007.
There was a European Union that encompassed twenty-seven countries, seventeen of them under a common currency.
The chancellor of Germany was a woman.
The president of the United States had appointed a woman as his secretary of state.
One of the major issues being considered by the European Union was whether Islamic Turkey would be allowed to join it.
After a decade of sleep, anyone would have been surprised by the changes.
One of the major turning points of European history was 1989 and it was a year of miracles.
The year from late 1989 to late 1990 had a low level of violence, even while events of enormous import were taking place, such as the fall of Communism in eastern Europe and the unification of Germany.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 symbolized the new threats and an unfamiliar world.
Europe's economic future began to look shaky within the next decade.
The area's progress toward unification ran into obstacles.
The "Arab Spring" of 2011) started the destruction of dictatorships in much of the neighboring Arab world, with highly uncertain implications for Europe's long-range future, to say nothing of international relations more generally.
The challenge of fashioning new economic and political institutions in the former Communist lands was overwhelming and celebrations were more short-lived than in the West.
The citizens of the former German Democratic Republic were the most fortunate since they were taken over by a prosperous West Germany and became part of a united Germany.
Germany's status as the economic powerhouse of the European Union made it the most populous country in Europe.
The transition in other areas was torturous.
After the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, liberal-democratic institutions did not last in areas that had little previous experience of them.
The successor states to the Soviet Union were often corrupt and inefficient and reverted to authoritarian rule.
The Orange Revolution of 2004-5 in Ukraine, in which popular demonstrations led to the reversal of previously rigged elections, was one example of the variety in the experiences of the formerly Communist areas.
The transformation of the Soviet Union into the Russian Federation took place by January 1993.
The transformation of Russia from tsarist to Communist rule, from 1917 to 1921, was nothing like this process.
The Russian Federation, with 80 percent of its population ethnic Russian, still extended beyond the Urals into Siberia and included around eighty-five federated areas, with widely varying ethnic mixes, borders that were repeatedly being renegotiated, and different degrees of autonomy being recognized.
The Russian Federation was officially recognized as taking over the state responsibilities of the Soviet Union, including its treaties with other nations and its seat in the UN Security Council.
The fall of the Soviet Union was described by large numbers of people in various polls as a tragedy, and many of them would be happy to see it return.
The events of 1991 were not considered a genuine victory for democracy by a majority of the people surveyed.
In 2000 when a former KGB official, Vladimir Putin, became president, many still yearned for strong leadership, which they got when he oversaw extensive reforms and impressive economic growth.
His popularity was real and he was not like Stalin.
The Cold War was over because one side of the war, the Communists, had splintered from the other side, the liberal democracies, remained relatively strong and stable.
The area of the former Soviet Union had previously unimaginable changes regardless of the various dissatisfactions with developments there.
The break up of the Soviet Union was more than an end to the dream of world revolution; it was also the end of the Russian empire.
The Russian Federation was still the largest country in the world with a half a billion people compared to 300 million in the United States.
The new Russia did not challenge the United States as a major power, but it still has long-range potential for economic growth because of its rich natural resources.