Eastern Europe from 1450-present

Present-day Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria

In the 1600s and 1700s, the Kingdom of Prussia contained parts of Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus

During WW2, Nazi Germany invaded most of Eastern Europe


  • Nazis cruelly ruled their conquered lands & forced them to support German war effort

  • Nazis encouraged Germans to settle in these areas

  • Few resistance groups fought back because the different resistance groups weren't united among themselves

    • Nazis censored Polish press to remove any anti-Nazi propaganda

    • Still, Polish people had underground network of newspapers

      • A group of these people exiled in London would give German secrets to the Allies powers 

  • Nazis initiated the Holocaust as they sought to kill the Jews

    • Most Jews were in Western Poland​

    • Nazis enslaved Ukrainians, Russians, Poles

    • Forced Jews to live in communities called ghettos, which were poorly built & maintained

    • Later, Nazis came up with the idea of sending all Jews to concentration camps to kill them

      • Nazis sent Jews to one of 6 concentration camps

      • Largest camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, killed 1 million Jews

    • In total, 6 million Jews died


Russians Taking Over Eastern Europe & Axis Surrender

  • Russian forces defeated Germans & pushed westward into Germany

    • In 1944, the Polish underground army took over Warsaw (Warsaw Uprising), but Soviets didn't enter Warsaw as they predicted the uprising

    • Thus, Germans crushed the Warsaw Uprising & allowed Soviets to freely advance

    • Soviets took over Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary

    • Soviets entered Germany from the east in Jan 1925 & met US & British forces there

  • Germans were forced to surrender on May 8, 1945

    • Hitler committed suicide a week earlier


Legacy of World War 2 in Eastern Europe

  • In Feb 1945, US, UK and USSR met in Yalta in Crimea to discuss post-war peace settlement

    • US & UK sought to hold off on peace settlement until this time because they didn't want conflict with communist Stalin

    • The 3 Allies decided that USSR will occupy nations in Eastern Europe & impose free elections

      • Known as Yalta Compromise

  • Later, Yalta Compromise started falling apart​​

    • Communist regimes started taking root in some Eastern European nations

    • At Postdam Conference (Jul 1945), Stalin changed his mind about Yalta Compromise

      • Stalin sought to impose communism in the other Eastern European nations

    • US sought to prevent the spread of communism & impose capitalism (free elections) there

  • This was the start of the Cold War: An indirect war between US & USSR over spreading capitalism vs communism


Developments in the East Bloc (USSR & its Allies)

  • Stalin sought to promote the spread of communism, sometimes by force

  • Stalin initiated COMECON (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance), an organization giving aid to East Bloc nations

    • Allowed Eastern European nations to recover their economies

    • Similar to Marshall Plan of the US

  • Created Warsaw Pact (1955), a treaty organization of all communist nations of Eastern Europe

    • Included USSR as well as 7 other communist nations in Eastern Europe

      • These nations included Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria

  • Communist nations in East Bloc were formed when minority communist parties consolidated power & created one-party dictatorships


Life in the East Bloc

  • Stalin was very cruel in his governance

    • Put down all uprisings & revolts

    • Imprisoned political dissidents

    • Gave no civil liberties

    • Censored all anti-Soviet & Western press, literature, art, etc.

  • Stalin used force to establish & maintain communist dictatorships in East Bloc nations

  • East Bloc nations used five-year plans to boost their economies

    • Promoted heavy industry (iron, steel) over consumer goods

    • Promoted collectivization of agriculture

    • Stalin only allowed Poland to have private agricultural plots as Poland often rebelled, compromising USSR's stability

    • Neglected consumer goods as they promote individualism (bad for communist state)

  • Working conditions were very bad in East Bloc

    • People lacked household necessities as the state only promoted heavy industry

    • People worked long hours for little pay


De-Stalinization & Khrushchev's Reforms

  • After Stalin died in 1953, there were debates as to who should succeed him

    • Everyone wanted to reduce the cruelty of Stalin's rule

    • Conservatives wanted a gradual transition to a less cruel regime

    • Nikita Khrushchev wanted a radical transition to a less cruel regime

  • Khrushchev took power in 1955 & began program of de-Stalinization (removal of Stalin's cruelties)

    • Promoted agriculture & consumer goods more than heavy industry

    • Allowed more people to buy consumer goods (cars, TVs, radios, etc.)

    • Relaxed workplace rules, allowing people to live more freely

    • This all led to a higher standard of living

    • Many authors wrote about life during de-Stalinization as censorship was eased

  • Khrushchev sought to ease relations with the West (known as detente)

    • Gave independence to Austria (which was neutral in Cold War) after 10 years of Allied control (1955)

    • Provided economic aid to Africa & Asia

  • Other East Bloc nations responded differently to Khrushchev's de-Stalinization

    • Poland didn't want de-Stalinization & followed initial Warsaw Pact, giving it more autonomy from USSR

  • As Khrushchev's stability was decreasing due to de-Stalinization, he sought to tighten control of his subjects

  • Many hated Khrushchev's lenient policies, so Leonid Brezhnev mounted a coup & took over in 1964

    • Began re-Stalinization, launched massive arms buildings, suppressed all dissidents, etc.​


Decline in East Bloc

Protests in East Bloc & Brezhnev Doctrine (1968)

  • East Bloc economies always lagged behind the West

    • In 1960s, some East Bloc nations initiated reforms to slightly privatize the economy

    • Nations diverted resources to consumer goods instead of heavy industry, allowing more people to have TVs

  • Some authors in communist nations published works criticizing the communist regime

    • This was allowed as nations relaxed censorship

    • Still, states suppressed these works, so authors created a secret network of books passed among dissidents

  • Leonid Brezhnev created Brezhnev Doctrine (1968), allowing him to intervene if any nation abolishes communism

    • Many communist nations protested against the communist regime, so Brezhnev created the Brezhnev Doctrine (1968), allowing him to intervene in any nation that threatens communism

Crisis in East Bloc & Repeal of Detente

  • Energy crisis of 1970s hurt East Bloc economies, causing dissent in East Bloc

    • East Bloc nations required lots of cheap energy as industrial factories needed energy to function

    • West Bloc nations developed into post-industrial & advanced tech societies that evaded the energy crisis

    • East Bloc nations couldn't adopt post-industrial tech economy without compromising communist principles, so East Bloc nations struggled during the energy crisis

  • In Poland, people revolted against communist regime

    • In Poland, after many worker strikes due to stagnating economy, gov adopted Gdansk Agreement (1980)

      • Stated that communist gov would rule on behalf of proletariat & support the workers

  • Polish reformer Lech Walesa organized anti-communist movement called Solidarity

    • Practiced idea of moderation, only giving the civil liberties outlined in Gdansk Agreement (1980)

    • Solidarity gained lots of power, so he got many concessions from Polish gov

    • Later, economic crisis undermined support for Solidarity as people believed Solidarity movement caused the crisis

    • In 1981, some Solidarity leaders were arrested, but the movement grew again in late 1980s as the Polish gov was unwilling to launch full campaigns against the movement


Collapse of Communism in East Bloc

  • East Bloc nations never fully recovered from economic crisis of 1970s, so anti-communist movements were inevitable

  • In Poland, Solidarity movement gained momentum again

    • In 1988, Polish economy was collapsing because many workers (who were Solidarity members) were on strike

    • In 1989, Poland legalized Solidarity, allowed some representatives to be chosen with free elections

      • Still, communists would be guaranteed a majority

    • Lech Walesa (Solidarity leader) made alliances with other communist parties, thus winning a majority

    • In 1989, Tadeusz Mazowiecki (member of Solidarity) became Polish Prime Minister

    • Mazowiecki made radical democratic changes to Poland

  • In Romania, dictator Nicolau Ceausescu ordered secret polish to crush the anti-communist protests

    • His own court killed him and his wife, putting a democratic government in place


Collapse of USSR

Gorbachev's reform programs led to decreased economic production, so many nations declared independence

Baltic Nations (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) started in Aug 1991. 12 other nations declared independence afterward

Gorbachev then abolished Communist party's monopoly on political power & gave some sovereignty to the Congress of People's Deputies

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Gorbachev's popularity was basically gone due to his failed reforms, so Yeltsin just took control & created Russian Federation. Former USSR nations formed Commonwealth of Independent States (1991)

A group of conspirators attacked Gorbachev while in Crimea. Yeltsin crushed the rebellion

Boris Yeltsin created Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (Russia)

Postwar Life in the Former East Bloc

  • Most East Bloc nations privatized their economies for economic growth

    • Poland rapidly privatized everything (known as "shock therapy"), causing severe inflation

      • The International Monetary Fund provided aid, allowing for Polish economy to be successful

    • Other nations were more gradual & often gave vouchers to people to buy stocks

  • Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary were the most successful economies

    • They created new civic institutions, legal systems, media outlets all in favor of business

    • Had new entrepreneurial classes

    • Romania & Bulgaria lagged behind as they were much poorer initially

  • Economic growth had similar consequences to Russia

    • Capital cities got larger, provincial centers & industrial centers declined

    • Elderly & workers got poorer

    • Young people, former communists, and investors got wealthier

  • Many people liked the new economic system, but others liked communism better

    • They liked that communism guarantees everyone a job and didn't like competitive nature of capitalism