Updated: 22-May-2001 1989

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Since its creation in 1973, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) - since renamed the Organisation on Security and Cooperation in Europe or OSCE - worked to strengthen democracy and enhance security in Europe. A CSCE Follow-up Meeting in Vienna, from November 1986 to January 1989, establishes a system of continuous monitoring of accords on human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It also launches two new sets of negotiations: talks on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) would seek to lower levels of conventional armaments and equipment among the 23 members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact; separate negotiations among all 35 CSCE participants would be held on Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs) which, the NATO allies proposed, should seek a detailed exchange of information on military structures and on planned weapons deployments.

With the decision to open the new CFE talks, the states which had sought in Vienna to achieve Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions, agreed to conclude these negotiations. They held their last meeting in February 1989.

With General Secretary Gorbachev's liberalisation programme in the Soviet Union, freedom comes at last to Eastern Europe.

In February 1989, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist Party endorses a 'gradual and steady' transition to a multiparty political system, and elections are later scheduled for 1990.

In April 1989, the Polish Government and Opposition agree on major political reforms, including free elections and the recognition of the banned Solidarity trade union. In July, General Jaruzelski, the General Secretary of the ruling Polish United Workers Party (PUWP), is elected executive President. He unsuccessfully tries to secure a 'grand coalition' government of all parties in the parliament, led by the PUWP, but Solidarity insists on forming a coalition with other pro-democracy parties. On 24 August, the reformer Tadeusz Mazowiecki is elected Prime Minister of the first Polish non-communist government in 40 years.

By the autumn of 1989, East Germany is in deep political crisis. Thousands demonstrate almost daily throughout the country.

On 6 November, popular demands for rapid and radical change reach a climax when over 100,000 protesters call for the Berlin Wall to come down. The following day, the East German Cabinet resigns and this is followed by the joint resignation of the ruling Politburo. Then, on 9 November, the Wall is breached and swarms of East German citizens cross the border to be given a jubilant welcome in the West. East Germany announces the lifting of travel restrictions and sets up new crossing points.
The fall of the Berlin Wall signals a period of great revolutionary change. Before long, the East European countries will gain their complete independence; Germany will be unified ; the Warsaw Pact will be disbanded; and the Soviet Union itself will disintegrate. Communism, as a global ideology, passes into history.

4 December 1989. Signs of major change are evident across Europe. Meetings take place once more at the Summit level. NATO leaders assemble in Brussels at the same time as Warsaw Pact leaders get together in Moscow. Fresh from his meeting with Soviet President Gorbachev in Malta two days previously, US President Bush is in Brussels to share with other NATO leaders his impressions of the future course of events in Central and Eastern Europe. While he is doing so, Warsaw Pact leaders, meeting in Moscow, denounce the action of their predecessors in invading Czechoslovakia in 1968 and repudiate the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty, used since the time of the invasion to justify Soviet control over political developments in Eastern Europe.

Events in Eastern Europe reach a new pitch in the last weeks of the decade. The communist government of President Husak in Czechoslovakia yields to a coalition intent on establishing democracy. Bulgaria's communist government follows suit.

In Romania the most corrupt and sinister of Eastern European regimes falls and its leader, Nicolai Ceaucescu, is summarily executed. Before the year is out the communist government of Poland has also relinquished its hold on power and Czechoslovakia has elected a former dissident, a poet and an international folk hero, as its President.

In the midst of these events Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardenadze's visit to NATO makes history of another kind. On departing, side by side with NATO's Secretary General Manfred Wrner, he informs the assembled world's press with a broad smile that he has been "to the mouth of the volcano" and that "it wasn't too bad".