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Thread: What was it like internationally when the Soviet Union fell?

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    What was it like internationally when the Soviet Union fell?

    For those who were old enough to be aware of it happening, I'm curious how people in the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia, and Western Europe reacted when it happened?

    Was it considered something of a big event, and widely talked about? Or was it largely ignored and unnoticed by most people?

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    My Brane Hertz spikepipsqueak's Avatar
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    The demolition of the Berlin wall got a lot of TV coverage, for days on end, because it was such a visual thing. Some local celebrations.

    I don't remember finding out until much later how the USSR got divided up (if indeed I know now) because I was otherwise engaged with a very new baby.

    The next related memory I have is the opening of the orphanages in Romania. That put the politics of it out of mind.
    My Brane Hertz

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    Veteran Member skepticalbip's Avatar
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    It was a very big deal for world politics. Me personally, I was shocked. I understood the USSR was having serious internal problems but obviously didn't understand the extent of those problems.

    For a comparison, how big an event and how much would people talk about it if the U.S. broke up into fifty independent countries?


    Last edited by skepticalbip; 07-14-2019 at 02:19 AM.

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    Elder Contributor Keith&Co.'s Avatar
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    I had the watch.
    My sub was on patrol, doing us a deterrent, when the enemy dissolved.
    We joked about spending the day lining thru USSR in all the targeting books, writing in "TBA" (to be announced). Our commands framed it as a victory, that we had proven out superior, but it felt more like a midseason cancellation. Like Firefly or Brimstone. How were we supposed to know we won if we never got to see the final episode?

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    It was the end of history.

    For my entire life it had been obvious that the Cold War was the defining political reality that underpinned everything that happened. Every political question was couched in terms of its effect on the Cold War - if a cabinet minister had a mistress, he had to resign because otherwise the Soviets could blackmail him. Same if he was homosexual. Or had any other secrets he wouldn't want to be made public.

    It was an obvious and unquestioned certainty that the Cold War would keep going, essentially forever. The only way that this could possibly NOT occur would be a Hot War, which would have been an extinction level event for Homo Sapiens.

    The Soviets were inscrutable; Masters of strategy and deception, for whom chess was a major spectator sport. All kinds of weird rumours came out of Moscow, but anything other than totalitarian crackdowns on dissidents, and the steadfast opposing of any and all Western activity, was always a ruse.

    So Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (reconstruction) were just Gorbachev's way of unsettling the status quo to flush out his enemies, and to deceive the NATO powers into letting down their guard.

    And then, overnight, it fell apart. And it took a few weeks to even consider the possibility that it wasn't all a big strategic play to flush out the remaining anti-Communists so that they could drive tanks over them.

    It's impossible to overstate the impact on everything of this event. Living in the UK at the time, it was like winning a World War, that most of us barely knew we had even been fighting until it suddenly wasn't there anymore.

    Jesus Jones sums up the mood perfectly:

    (View video on YouTube)
    A woman on the radio talked about revolution
    when it's already passed her by
    Bob Dylan didn't have this to sing about
    you know it feels good to be alive

    I was alive and I waited, waited
    I was alive and I waited for this
    Right here, right now
    there is no other place I want to be
    Right here, right now
    watching the world wake up from history

    I saw the decade in, when it seemed
    the world could change at the blink of an eye
    And if anything
    then there's your sign of the times...
    In hindsight thirty years on, it seems almost obvious - the last of the Stalin era statesmen were exhausted in quick succession, and putting Gorbachev in charge changed everything, because he was a First Secretary who wasn't shitting his pants about upsetting Uncle Joe's memory. Stalin's influence lasted long after his death. It finally broke down in 1989, and the Soviet Union couldn't live without it.

    Gorbachev could have simply crushed the Polish 'Solidarity' movement with tanks - as had been done in Prague, and would not long after be done in Beijing - but he didn't want to kill a bunch of people in the streets, just for not loving his regime. Which frankly was a huge shock to everyone, because since before Stalin, that was just how it was done behind the Iron Curtain (and as the Chinese discovered, it was still the way it was done in China).

    The West German autobahns were littered with Trabants - they were driven west until they ran out of fuel. Not gasoline; the West German service stations were happy to supply gasoline. But the Trabbie had a two stroke engine, and West German two stroke oil stocks were sufficient for a few lawnmowers - not an invading army of ersatz cars.

    Trabants were prized possessions in East Germany before the wall came down. There was a waiting list of many years. In West Germany, they were literally garbage. They didn't even have enough steel in them to have value as scrap metal. So when they ran out of oil, people just walked away from them.
    Last edited by bilby; 07-14-2019 at 09:15 AM.

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    I was way too young to remember, but from what I have heard, it was a big thing, followed by optimism that lasted throughout the 90s, roughly to 9/11. Now there would be liberal democracies everywhere, a massive increase in wealth and prosperity around the world.

    While I of course think it was a good thing that the Soviet Union collapsed, we know now that things didn't turn out as rosy afterwards. Not all of the former East Bloc countries became liberal democracies, Russia is revanschist even though it is in long-term decline, China is a strong, formidable anti-democratic country, we now have issues with terrorism and looming climate change.

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    Member Tharmas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tammuz View Post
    Now there would be liberal democracies everywhere, a massive increase in wealth and prosperity around the world.
    Yes, we talked of a "peace dividend" now that we no longer needed a defense budget. Ha!

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    Contributor barbos's Avatar
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    USSR fell in 1991, not in 1989.

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by barbos View Post
    USSR fell in 1991, not in 1989.
    Gorbachev made the decision not to intervene militarily to defend communism in the Warsaw Pact nations in 1989, breaking with almost seven decades of Stalinism. Once the Berlin wall fell, it was all over for the Cold War - the final break up of the USSR a couple of years later was far less significant in the immediate term, from a western European perspective.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    I grew up in the western United States, and this is the first political event I have a conscious memory of. Obviously I was too young to understand the implications at the time aside from "everyone is very happy that a wall fell down", but I do remember the era of optimism that followed; us 90's kids were raised with this feeling that the old world was on its way out, that we were headed toward a new globalized reality in which many long-standing problems - ecosystemic collapse, warfare between major powers, racism, terrorism - might perhaps be tackled by some chirpy PSAs and storybooks with moral lessons at the end. We were going to be richer than our parents, more caring than our parents, we would create technological wonderlands. Well, best two out of three I guess! People in my generation often blame 9/11 for the collapse of all that optimism, but I think the slowly deteriorating economy had as much to do with it. There were political battles, but at least if you were white and middle class and hadn't yet realized yet that you were gay *cough*, they all seemed pretty low-stakes compared to the trauma and quiet anxiety our parents had clearly been raised under. I remember my parents (ardent Democrats in the middle a mostly Republican county) being not just horrified, but kind of disgusted, offended by the Gulf War. This was exactly the kind of violent foreign adventuring that was supposed to end now that we no longer had the USSR to pin our garland wars on. Little did they know...

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