THE CURTAIN RISES: EASTERN EUROPE, 1989 : East Bloc: Nations in Transition


In the vanguard of democracy, Hungary opened the year by legalizing freedom of assembly and association. It became the first Soviet Bloc nation to open its border with the West, the first ruling Communist Party to renounce Marxism and has declared itself a free republic, ending the Communist monopoly on power. All this has been accomplished peacefully, through negotiations.

Government: Multi-party republic

Capital: Budapest

Size: slightly smaller than Indiana

Population: 10,566,944

Major cities: Budapest (2,104,700), Debrecen (217,364), Miskolc (209,807)

Ethnic groups: 96.6% Hungarian, 1.6% German, 1.1% Slovak, 0.3% Southern Slav, 0.2% Romanian

Main exports: machinery, meat and produce, chemicals, misc. manufactures.

GNP: $91.8 billion, per capita $8,670 (1988)

Foreign debt: $17.7 billion (1987)

Life expectancy: 65 years male, 73 years female

Religion: 67.5% Roman Catholic, 20% Calvinist, 7.5% atheist, other, 5% Lutheran

Labor force: 43.2% in services, trade, government and other; 31.4% in industry, 18.3% agriculture, 7.1% construction.


Home to Eastern Europe's most famous reformer, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. His union's "round-table" talks with the Communist regime pioneered a vital tactic for peaceful change in Eastern Europe. When Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki was elected prime minister this year, it marked history's first democratic transfer of power away from a ruling Communist Party.

Government: Coalition dominated by non-Communists

Capital: Warsaw

Size: slightly smaller than New Mexico

Population: 38,169,841

Major cities: Warsaw (1,671,400),

Lodz (844,900), Krakow (744,900)

Ethnic groups: 98.7% Polish, 0.6% Ukrainian, 0.5% Byelorussian, less than 0.05% Jewish

Main exports: electro-engineering products, coal, chemicals, meat and other farm products and textiles

GNP: $276.3 billion, per capita

$7,280 (1988)

Foreign debt: $38.9 billion (1988)

Life expectancy: 66 years male, 74 years female

Religion: 95% Roman Catholic (about 75% practicing), 5% Uniate, Russian Orthodox, Protestant and other

Labor force: 44% in industry and commerce, 30% agriculture, 11% services, 8% government


The most industrialized and prosperous Eastern European nation, East Germany has also been the most turbulent in 1989. Thousands of its citizens fled to Western embassies and neighboring nations, touching off a diplomatic crisis. The crisis led to the opening of the Berlin Wall after 28 years. Up to 1 million protesters have taken to its streets, forcing out the hard-line Communist regime.

Government: In flux after Communists resign.

Capital: East Berlin

Size: slightly smaller than Tennessee

Population: 16,586,490

Major cities: East Berlin (1,246,872), Leipzig (549,229), Dresden (519,524)

Ethnic groups: 99.7% German, 0.3% Slavic and other

Main exports: machinery and transport equipment; fuels, minerals and metals; durable consumer goods

GNP: $207.2 billion, per capita $12,500 (1988)

Foreign debt: $20.4 billion (1987)

Life expectancy: 70 years male, 76 years female

Religion: 47% Protestant, 7% Roman Catholic, 46% unaffiliated or other. Most not active participants in faith

Labor force: 37.5% in industry, 21.1% services, 10.8% agriculture and forestry,10.3% commerce, 7.4% transport and communications, 6.6% construction, 3.1% handicrafts, 3.2% other


This nation has come full circle since a Soviet-led invasion ended its first fling with reform, the "Prague Spring" of 1968. In November, the man ousted for leading those reforms, Alexander Dubcek, made a triumphant return to public life, cheered by 300,000. In the space of a year, the tiny opposition group Civic Forum mushroomed into a mass movement that deposed the Communist leadership.

Government: Coalition dominated by non-Communists.

Capital: Prague

Size: slightly larger than New York state

Population: 15,658,079

Major cities: Prague (1,200,266), Bratislava (424,378), Brno (385,965)

Ethnic groups: 64.3% Czech, 30.5% Slovak, 3.8% Hungarian, 1.4% other

Main exports: machinery and transport equipment; iron and steel, textiles and other basic manufactures

GNP: $158.2 billion, per capita $10,130 (1988)

Foreign debt: Less than $2 billion (1988)

Life expectancy: 68 years male, 75 years female

Religion: 20% Protestant, 77% Catholic, 2% Orthodox, 1% Other

Labor force: 12.3% agriculture, 36.9% in industry, 12.3% agriculture, 50.8% construction


Few thought that the Eastern European upheaval could jar this tightly controlled nation, ruled by the same Communist for 35 years. But in November, President Todor Zhivkov abruptly resigned, the day after the Berlin Wall was opened. A reformist Communist replaced him. Fifty thousand Bulgarians rallied to celebrate the change--the nation's biggest demonstration in 40 years.

Government: One-party Communist state, but in flux

Capital: Sofia

Size: slightly larger than Tennessee

Population: 8,972,724

Major cities: Sofia (1,114,759), Plovdiv (342,131),Varna (302,211)

Ethnic groups: 85.3% Bulgarian, 8.5% Turk, 2.6% Gypsy, 2.5% Macedonian, 1.1% other

Main exports: machinery and equipment; meat and dairy products, tobacco and alcohol; industrial goods

GNP: $67.6 billion, per capita $7,540 (1988)

Foreign debt: $6.1 billion (1987)

Life expectancy: 68 years male, 74 years female

Religion: 13% Muslim, 2% Other, 85% Bulgarian Orthodox

Labor force: 33% industry, 20% agriculture, 47% Other


The poorest and most repressive of the six East Bloc nations, Romania is the only holdout against reform. For 24 years, it has been ruled by Nicolae Ceausescu, an anachronistic maverick in the Communist world. In November, the party resoundingly rejected reform and reelected him for five years. Ceausescu basks in a personality cult unparalleled, many say, since Stalin.

Government: One-party Communist state

Capital: Bucharest

Size: slightly smaller than Oregon

Population: 23,153,475

Main cities: Bucharest (1,989,823), Brasov (351,493), Constanta (332,676)

Ethnic groups: 89.1% Romanian, 7.8% Hungarian, 1.5% German, 1.6% other

Main exports: industrial and transport equipment; fuels, minerals, metals; consumer goods

GNP: $151.3 billion, per capita $6,570 (1988)

Foreign debt: $2.2 billion (1988)

Life expectancy: 67 years male, 73 years female

Religion: 10% Greek Orthodox, 6% Catholic 4% Other, 80% Romanian Orthodox

Labor force: 34% industry, 28% agriculture, 38% Other

Sources: The World Factbook 1989 and The Europa World Yearbook 1989


The changes sweeping Eastern Europe are inspird by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's programs, begun shortly after he took power in 1985. His reforms are known as perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). They allow for more private enterprise, free speech and more open elections.

Throughout 1989, Gorbachev has encouraged the spread of his programs. At critical junctures in Poland, East Germany and other nations, he pushed hard-line Communist leaders to make concessions or resign. He has repeatedly forsworn using Soviet-led forces, which crushed Czechoslovak reform in 1968, to thwart peaceful change in Warsaw Pact nations.


United States: President Bush has strongly endorsed Eastern European reform, although critics accuse him of moving too slowly. In July, he toured reformist Hungary and Poland. Later, $533 million in new U.S. aid was approved to help the two nations' economies. Efforts are also being made to ease Poland's heavy foreign debt.

Western Europe: The 12-member European Community has pledged over $300 million to Poland and Hungary. Individual nations are also helping; West Germany has pledged $1.6 billion to depressed Poland. But many Western Europeans have mixed feelings about reform, notably in East Germany. They fear East and West Germany may reunite into a powerful military machine, like the one that ravaged Europe in World War II.

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