By the 1980s the Soviet Union was in economic crisis. A new era began in 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. In his attempt to reform Soviet society he relied upon perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). Competitive elections were instituted, and non-Communist political parties were legalized. In 1990 Gorbachev was chosen as the first president of the Soviet Union. However, the Soviet Union was in disarray as nationalistic movements began in most of the republics, a consequence of the reduction of the Soviet dictatorship. When conservative elements attempted to remove Gorbachev in 1991, Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, led the resistance. The Soviet Union was abolished in December, and a voluntary Commonwealth of Independent States replaced the Soviet empire.Yeltsin gave backing to a market economic and a pluralistic political system, but the transition from the old to the new was fueled by corruption and organized crime and ethnic outbreaks in the Caucasus against Russian rule, notably in Muslim Chechnya. Yeltsin resigned in 1999, and a former KGB official, Vladimir Putin, rep laced him. Putin’s tenure saw economic progress, much of it the result of oil and natural gas, but at the cost of greater political centralization. The Chechnya problem remained unresolved.
Gorbachev’s policies also impacted Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe, and in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, Communist regimes collapsed, replaced by democratic governments. The Berlin Wall was torn down, and Germany was reunified. However, as in the former Soviet Union, the transition to free market democratic society was not easy. A few of the eastern states joined NATO and more became members of the European Union (EU). Ethnic demands shook Serb-dominated but multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, and war resulted when Croatia declared its independence. “Ethnic cleansing” occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina against the Muslim majority. Eventually the province was divided among Serbs and Muslims and Croats, but only a bombing campaign by NATO brought autonomy to Kosovo with its ethnic Albanian majority. Yugoslavia, which had come into existence after World War I, disappeared from the map, with the remaining rump renamed Serbia.
German reunification came at considerable economic cost given the former East Germany’s bankrupt economy. In Britain the Labour Party moved to the political center and was elected in 1997, with Tony Blair as prime minister, whose tenure was tarnished by corruption and his active support of the Iraq War. Socialism failed to work in France under François Mitterrand, but economic problems continued under conservative Jacques Chirac. The existence of a large Muslim community, many immigrants from North Africa, challenged the government. Italy’s economy rebounded during the 1980s, where political corruption was endemic. By 2004, the population of European Community was 455 million. The EC became the European Union in 1994, and a common currency, the euro, was adopted by most member states. A single common market had been establishing, but nationalistic attitudes still remained, and a common foreign policy was yet to be achieved.
In the United States, the 1990s was a period of prosperity, but Bill Clinton’s presidency was tarnished by his affair with a White House intern. The events of September 11, 2001, and the resulting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, dominated the presidency of George W. Bush. As the wars dragged the administration’s popularity plummeted, compounded by corruption and the failures associated with the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Barack Obama’s message of change swept the Democrats to victory in the 2008 election. The dramatic collapse of the American financial system posed new challenges and opportunities, and the Obama administration focused on dealing with recession and health care reform.
Although the Cold War had ended by 1990, “history” had not. There was a new era of conflict, an Age of Terrorism. The motives of terrorists could be nationalist, economic, political, and increasingly religious. The Age of Terrorism did not begin on 9/11 with al-Qaeda’s attack on New York’s World Trade Center, but that event symbolized the new era. The immediate response by the West was war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, followed in 2003 against Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was believed to have weapons of mass destruction.
Women continued to enter the workforce in greater numbers, and the women’s movement prospered. In spite of the opposition of the Catholic Church, birth control and abortion were widely available. The birth rate in many Western countries declined, necessitating immigrants and “guest workers” to staff jobs. The task of integrating non-westerners, often Muslims, into western society was daunting. Social tensions increased and violent anti-immigrant actions occurred in France and Germany and elsewhere, and the United States faced conflict over “illegal” Latin American immigrants.
Church attendance declined precipitously in the West. The exception was among fundamentalist Christians, particularly in the United States. Islamic fundamentalism found a receptive audience, some of whom turned to terrorism. The religious icon of the West in the late twentieth century was the charismatic but theologically conservative Pope John Paul II. In the visual arts, Neo-Expressionism reached its apex. Popular music was exemplified by “grunge”, hip-hop, and gangsta rap. The world became digitalized, exemplified by Microsoft and Bill Gates. Video games and cell phones transformed society. In the global economy, the multinational or the transnational corporation has become the central arbiter, whose relations are mediated by international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). But globalization could also contribute to environmental challenges such as global warming and mass immigration, with its social consequences.
Reading 1: Pages 927-937
Toward a New Western Order:
The Revolutionary Era in the Soviet Union
Eastern Europe: The Revolutions of 1989 and the Collapse of the Communist Order
The Reunification of Germany
The Disintegration of Yugoslavia
Reading 2: Pages 937-942
Toward a New Western Order:
Western Europe and the Search for Unity
The Unification of Europe
The United States: Move to the Center
Contemporary Canada [optional]
Reading 3: Pages 942-947
New World Order or Age of Terrorism?:
The End of the Cold War
An Age of Terrorism?
Terrorist Attack on the United States
The West and Islam
New Directions and New Problems in Western Society:
Transformation in Women’s Lives
Guest Workers and Immigrants
Reading 4: Pages 947-953
Western Culture Today:
Varieties of Religious Life
Art and Music in the Age of Commerce: The 1980s and 1990s
The Digital Age:
The Technological World
Music and Art in the Digital Age
Reality in the Digital Age
Reading 5: Pages 953-958
Toward a Global Civilization: New Challenges and Hopes:
The Global Economy
Globalization and the Environmental Crisis
The Social Challenges of Globalization
New Global Movements and New Hopes