December: USSR invades Afghanistan, where it fears that the pro-USSR government is about to be defeated by traditionalist and Islamist rebellion. The invasion becomes “Russia’s Vietnam war”.
Mass workers’ movement, Solidarnosc, erupts in Poland. It is banned after a military coup in December 1981, but continues to exist underground.
March: After two brief periods of office for elderly conservatives following the death of Leonid Brezhnev (in 1982, after 18 years of rule), Mikhail Gorbachev is appointed General Secretary of the USSR’s ruling party, with a mandate to shake the USSR out of stagnation. He starts winding down the USSR’s war in Afghanistan, and, bit by bit, introduces measures of “glasnost” (openness) to budge bureaucratic inertia and make the system more flexible and workable.
February: Gorbachev proclaims “Gorbachev doctrine”. USSR troops will not invade to stop change in Eastern Europe.
From the spring: Hungary allows opposition parties.
May: USSR starts final troop withdrawal from Afghanistan (completed in February 1989).
February: Polish government initiates talks with Solidarnosc. Hungary’s ruling Stalinist party repudiates its constitutional right to rule, and dissolves its Politburo.
March: Semi-free elections in USSR.
April 5: The Roundtable Agreement is signed in Poland, legalising independent trade unions and calling partially democratic elections in June.
May 2: Hungary disables the electric alarm system and cuts through barbed wire on its border with Austria.
June 4: Chinese army kills hundreds in Beijing’s Tienanmen Square; suppresses democracy movement.
June 18: Solidarnosc wins big victory in Polish elections.
August 19: 600 East German citizens flee to the West through the Hungary-Austria border.
August 24: Solidarnosc nominee Tadeusz Mazowiecki becomes Polish prime minister.
October 8: Hungary’s Stalinist party dissolves itself.
October 9: Mass street demonstrations begin in East Germany (in Leipzig). East German leader Erich Honecker is forced to resign.
November 9: The Berlin Wall falls.
November 10: Bulgaria’s Stalinist leader Todor Zhivkov falls from power.
November 17–24: “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia — days of mass demonstrations, following by resignation of Stalinist government.
December 22: After mass street battles, Romanian army turns against Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu. He is overthrown and killed.
October: Germany reunified.
June: Boris Yeltsin, who has left the Communist Party, is elected President of the Russian Republic within USSR.
August 19: Attempted conservative coup in USSR. Demonstrators gather at the Russian Parliament, led by Yeltsin, and the coup is defeated.
August 22: Gorbachev resigns as secretary of the Communist Party and dissolves its Central Committee.
December: USSR dissolved.
As economies are privatised through “shock therapy”, Russia’s economic output halves. By mid-1993 40-odd% of the population are living below a poverty line which only 1.5% of them fell below in the late 1980s. Life expectancy for men drops from 64 in 1990 to 57 in 1994; for women, from 74 to 71. Meanwhile “oligarchs” make huge fortunes by grabbing chunks of the old nationalised economy.