The Cold War was the name for a non-military conflict involving the vast majority of Western countries and Communist led by two superpowers with great anger and fear on both sides. The two were capitalist United States with its allies on one side and the communist USSR (Soviet Union) with its allies on the other.
Insight into the Conflict
The Cold War lasted for almost 50 years (1945-1991) and was a major theme of the second half of the 20th Century. Europe found itself in the very middle of the conflict, especially this applies to Central Europe (modern Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia). Germany was divided into two spheres of influence, the capitalist West Germany and the communist East Germany. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany and Romania and other countries behind the Iron Curtain weren't independent or democratic, there were many rebellions against local communist governments which Soviet troops put down. That shows local leaders were dependent on Soviet military power to cojntrol their populations.
Living during the Cold War
The Western world was deeply divided during the Cold War. During this time many people on both sides feared that World War III could start and they, their families and friends could be killed. The two superpowers of the time tried to outdo each other militarily, industrially and through Propaganda.
Communists in the United States were persecuted, as the capitalists, religious people and opponents of Communism were in the USSR. Note: persecution in the USA under Joseph McCarthy was far less extreme than persecution in the USSR under Joseph Stalin and few if any other democratic nations in the Western Bloc intriduced anything as intolerant as McCarthyism. In the Western Bloc the fight was seen as a good democracy against evil Communist Dictatorship and Totalitarianism.
In Europe, some countries (most of western Europe, parts of southern Europe, parts of northern Europe and parts of central Europe) became allies of the United States, and formed the so-called Western Bloc, while other countries (in Central Europe and the Balkans) became Communist dictatorship and allies of the Soviet Union, and formed Eastern Bloc. The division between them was called the Iron Curtain which ran across Europe from north to south splitting Germany into East and West Germany.
Many wars happened in foreign countries which US American and Free world propaganda saw as containment of Communism while Communist propaganda saw the USSR furthering “glorious Communist revolutions” and freeing countries from high-class tyranny, elitism, religion and superstition in the name of the community and progress.
The end of the conflict
Central Europe played an important role in the fall of the communism in the West. There were rapid and peaceful (except for Romania) revolutions in 1989, also called the Autumn of Nations. Some events that occurred were:
- 6 February to 4 April 1989 - Round Table Talks and the reintroduction of democracy in Poland
- March 1989 - Hungarian Round Table and reintroduction of democracy in Hungary (1990)
- 9 November 1989 - the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany (1990)
- 17 November to 29 December 1989 - the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia)
- December 1989 - Revolution of 1989 in Romania.
- Final dissolution of the Soviet Union on 25 December 1991
Neutral Countries and the birth of Social Democracy
Several European nations (Sweden, Yugoslavia, Ireland, Finland, Switzerland, Albania, Cyprus, Sweden) remained neutral and critical of both United States and the USSR. In some of these countries, i.e. Sweden, a successful system was created and implemented which joined the best of both capitalism and communism: social democracy.
Consequences and removing Cold War imaginary boundaries
Containment of communism failed and communism gradually spread, but later, as the economic weakness of communist governments took its toll, the western allies could contain and rollback communism and reintegrate communist countries to the mainstream Western World. Most former communist countries are now exemplary democracies (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia and other countries in Central Europe and northern Europe). Others turned into non-communist dictatorships (i. e. Belarus, Russia) or democracies in transition (i.e. Ukraine, Moldova).
Russia also had trouble transitioning from a communist to a capitalist government and suffered from widespread unemployment and underemployment contributed by a quarter of a million Russians moving out of the country. The poverty rate increased from 1.5% to around 45% and, as a result, disease became widespread and alcohol related deaths increased.