Read this article to learn about the development of European countries during the post war period!
For a fuller understanding of the developments in Europe during the post-war period it will be better to deal with each country separately.
Portugal, Spain and Greece:
The first major feature of post-war Europe till the 1980s was the division of Europe with the countries of Eastern Europe coming under the rule of the communist parties allied with the Soviet Union, whiles the Western part of Europe following a variety of democratic political systems with a capitalist economy and was under the influence of the US.
The main exceptions to the latter were the three backward countries of Europe—Portugal, Spain and, for many years, Greece.
In Portugal, the dictatorial rule of Salazar which had been established as far back as 1932 had continued till 1968, when ill health forced him to retire. In 1974, the dictatorial government was overthrown by a group of junior army officers with the support of Portuguese socialists, communists and other democrats and a new democratic constitution was promulgated.
In Spain, the fascist dictatorship established by Franco after his victory in the civil war continued till his death in 1975. His death was followed by the beginning of liberalisation and the release of political prisoners. In 1977, the first free election was held after over forty years. The Socialist Party in Spain emerged as a major political force in the country.
In Greece, the end of the civil war did not lead to the establishment of a stable democratic political system. In 1967, a group of army officers seized power and established a tyrannical regime. For many years the restoration of democracy in Greece became a major issue exercising the people of Europe. A number of famous Greek political and cultural figures had fled the country and many others languished in prisons in Greece.
While a movement of resistance grew inside the country, it was supported by a powerful protest movement outside the country. In 1974, the rule of the colonels, as the Greek military dictatorship was called, ended and Greece once again became a democracy.
In most of the countries of Europe, particularly France and Italy, socialists and communists had been major political forces, but their influence, particularly of the communists, has declined in recent years. In West Germany and many other countries of Europe, social democratic parties have been a major political force and very often they have formed governments, either independently or with coalition partners. In Britain, the Labour Party has come to power at different times.
The Second World War had a radicalising influence on the political thinking of the people of Europe. Soon after the war, left-wing governments had come to power in many countries of Europe. In France and Italy, till 1947, communists were also part of the government.
These governments had introduced many important legislations which helped end many gross inequalities that characterised most European societies before the war. Some important sectors of industry in these countries were nationalised.
The existence of powerful labour unions prevented any major reversals in welfare programmes even when conservative or centrist parties came to power.
A reference has been made earlier to the European Recovery Programme. This plan helped the economies of Western Europe to recover to their pre-war level. This was followed by a tremendous growth in the economy of these countries with France and West Germany emerging as industrial giants. The economic development of West Germany was particularly spectacular and it outstripped all other countries of Europe.
For many years after the war, Europe became the main centre of Cold War conflicts. Most of the West European countries were members of the NATO military alliance and had NATO troops and military bases, equipped with nuclear weapons and missiles supplied by the US, in their territories. These further added to tensions in Europe.
The removal of NATO bases became a major demand of the peace movements which grew powerful in many countries of Europe from the late 1950s. Britain and France began to develop their own nuclear weapons or “independent nuclear deterrents”, as they called them.
Britain still continued to believe that she was a great world power and, therefore, it was necessary for her to have her own nuclear weapons besides those of the US in her territory. One of the most powerful peace movements in Europe emerged in Britain. Led by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), it demanded the closing of the US bases in Britain and unilateral nuclear disarmament by her.
End of Europe’s Hegemony:
The most significant feature of the post-war world was the end of European hegemony around the world. Within about two decades after the end of the war, most of the European empires in Asia and Africa had collapsed.
The European imperialist countries were not willing to give up their empires and in some cases they got involved in protracted wars with the nationalist movements. For example, the French continued to fight a war to retain Indo-China from 1947 to 1954 and Algeria from 1954 to 1962.
In this regard we can mention that Portugal—the most backward country of Europe—held on to her empire the longest. The nationalist armed resistance against the Portuguese rule in Angola and Mozambique lasted as long as the dictatorship in Portugal lasted. After the revolution, the new Portuguese government entered into negotiations with the freedom movements of Mozambique and Angola. Mozambique became free in 1975 and Angola in 1976.
A significant development which would help the rise of Western Europe as a great world power was the emergence of a movement for the unification of Western Europe. To begin with, the major country to take a lead in this direction was France. She believed that she was the natural leader of a united Western Europe.
The first major step in this direction was taken in 1957 with the setting up of the European Economic Community (EEC). The countries comprising the EEC— France, West Germany, Belgium, Holland, Luxemburg and Italy set up what is known as the “Common Market”.
This was to be a prelude to the formation of a federation of West European countries. Initially Britain kept herself out of the EEC but in 1961 when she wanted to join, France did not let her join.
She was finally admitted to the EEC in 1973 along with two other countries—Denmark and Ireland. The nine members of the EEC later set up the European Parliament. Later, Greece, Spain and Portugal were also admitted to the EEC.
During the next few years, the emergence of a united Western Europe as a political entity has become a real possibility. Already, plans are afoot to introduce a common currency in the EEC countries and to do away with the requirement of a passport for Europeans to travel from one EEC country to another.
In the meantime, Germany has emerged as the strongest economic power in the EEC. With her unification, the influence of Germany is likely to grow even further. In spite of the loss of their empires, the countries of Western Europe together have emerged as a new power in the world. Their economic dependence on the US has diminished and they are likely to play an increasingly independent role in world affairs.
On 1 November 1993, the EEC was transformed and became the European Union. From a grouping of mainly Western European countries, it became, by 2007, a union of 27 European nations. Its objectives included enhancing political, economic and social cooperation as well as guaranteeing freedom of movement of people, goods and services and capital between different European countries. In 2004, seven countries of Eastern Europe—Estonia, Latvia,
Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia (the former Czechoslovakia by then had broken up into two independent countries), Poland and Hungary—which had been earlier ruled by communist parties and had been allied to the Soviet Union joined the European Union.
Soon after, they were joined by former communist countries, Bulgaria and Romania, and Slovenia (which had broken away from Yugoslavia). It is interesting to note that all these countries had transformed themselves into free market economies.
Also, all these new member countries of the European Union have become member countries of NATO. In two of them— Poland and Czech Republic—missiles have been deployed which the leaders of the Russian Federation think are directed against their country.
This development is becoming a source of new tension in Europe. Some other countries such as Turkey and the former republics of Yugoslavia, have been seeking the membership of the European Union. Turkey has already been a member country of NATO.
Some significant steps have been taken in the direction of integrating Europe into a single entity. Fifteen member countries of the European Union now have a common currency—the euro. In most member countries, there is free movement of people without any passport.
A common institutional framework has also been developing. There is, for example, a European parliament which is composed of members elected from various countries comprising the European Union but their grouping in the parliament cut across the national boundaries.
There is a European Court of Justice which can, on certain matters, hear complaints form individual citizens of member countries of the European Union. On some issues concerning international relations, the European Union has developed a common position.
But on various other issues, each country has adopted its own position. Britain, for example, has been a close ally of the US in the Iraq War while some other countries, such as France, have been totally opposed to the US invasion of Iraq, and Spain which had sent its troops to Iraq when the war broke out withdrew them when the country elected a Socialist government.
In the European countries which were liberated by Soviet troops, Communist parties and their supporters had established their exclusive control. These countries were allied to the Soviet Union as members of the Warsaw Pact.
They were often described as ‘satellites’ of the Soviet Union. The latter frequently imposed its will, sometimes with the use of armed forces, on the communist parties and governments of these countries. These countries did not receive the benefits of the European Recovery Programme and had to rely mostly on their own resources. The Soviet Union was in no position to provide the kind of massive aid which the US had given to Western Europe.
The kind of socialism that was sought to be built in these countries was based on the Soviet model. The economies of these countries were closely linked with the Soviet economy and suffered from many ills of the latter. Most of these countries had been backward agricultural economies.
Although the level of their economic development was not comparable to that of the advanced West European countries, the industrialisation of these countries was a significant development. The evils associated with the concentration of economic power in private hands were avoided and the hold of the old ruling classes and big landlords eliminated in these countries. .
A reference has already been made to the end of the rule of the communist parties in Eastern Europe. The events in the Soviet Union after 1985 had a direct impact on the political developments in these countries. In almost all these countries, communist rule came to an end between 1989 and 1991.
Romania and Albania:
Two of these countries—Romania and Albania—had freed themselves of Soviet control in the 1960s following the split between the Soviet Union and China. Albania had also withdrawn from the Warsaw Pact. However, there was no change in the exclusive control of the communist parties in these countries. In fact, the communist rule in these countries can be said to have been more authoritarian than in most other countries of Eastern Europe.
In December 1989 there was a popular upsurge in Romania against the government which was headed by Nikolai Ceausescu. Many army units also came out against the government. Ceausescu and his wife were captured, tried and executed. A coalition government came to power after the elections. In Albania, the communist rule came to an end in 1992.
Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia:
In Poland, the movement against the Communist Party was led by an organisation called Solidarity. In 1989, an agreement was reached between Solidarity and the communist government. After the free elections, a non-communist became the Prime Minister of Poland.
In Hungary there was a revolt in 1956 which was crushed by Soviet troops. In 1990, free elections were held and a non-communist government was formed there. In Czechoslovakia, after the armed intervention by Warsaw Pact countries in 1968, the Communist Party had removed Alexander Dubcek who had started introducing political and economic reforms.
In December 1989, following mass demonstrations and strikes, the dominant role of the Communist Party came to an end. An eminent Czech writer, Vaclav Havel, became the President of Czechoslovakia. The country had emerged as an independent state in 1918.
Since 1968, she had been a Federal Republic comprising Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. Following the end of the communist rule, the two republics decided to form two separate independent states. The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic came into being in 1993.
This was the result of a series of developments which began in 1989. There was change in the leadership of the Socialist Unity Party, in the ruling party of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and in the government in 1989.
In November 1989 the new leaders of East Germany (GDR) announced the opening of the Berlin Wall. Soon after, political parties and organisations which were not controlled by the ruling party of East Germany began to function freely.
Early in 1990, the East German government made it known that it was in favour of unification of Germany Talks were held between the governments of East Germany and West Germany and on 3 October 1990, after which Germany became a unified state. A new coalition government came to power in unified Germany after country-wide elections in December 1990.
The end of the communist regimes in Europe, and the speed with which it came about, is one of the most important developments since 1989. What has been remarkable in this development is that it took place, except in the case of Romania, more or less in a peaceful manner.
However, the change-over has not been without problems. In some countries, the collapse of the highly centralised economies has not been followed by significant economic development based on free enterprise. In some countries, there has been some aggravation of immediate economic problems.
In the former East Germany, the change-over had led to the collapse of many industrial enterprises which led to increased unemployment. The communist parties in most of these countries were reorganised as democratic socialist parties. In some countries, they have become a powerful force, winning majority support in the elections.
The move towards European unity and the formation of the European Union have been mentioned earlier. It may be remembered that the concept of United Europe is no longer confined to the countries of Western Europe.
Break-up of Yugoslavia:
A major development in recent years has been the break-up of Yugoslavia and the tragic violence that has accompanied it. It may be recalled that Yugoslavia emerged as an independent state at the end of the First World War. During the Second World War, the people of Yugoslavia had waged a heroic war of resistance against the Nazi occupation.
She became a federation of six republics after the Second World War. Though ruled by the communist party, she had rejected Soviet control. Josip Broz Tito, who had led the Yugoslav resistance against Nazi occupation and subsequently headed the government of Yugoslavia, was, along with Jawaharlal Nehru, Nasser and Sukarno, the pioneer of the Non-Aligned Movement. At the end of the 1980s, as in other communist-ruled states in Europe, there was a demand for ending the control of the communist party. By early 1990, non- communist governments had come to power in most of the republics of Yugoslavia.
In the meantime, many republics had started demanding independence. By early 1992, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina had declared their independence, and Serbia and Montenegro together formed the new state of Yugoslavia.
The declaration of independence by Bosnia-Herzegovina was been followed by terrible violence in which thousands of people have been killed. This republic is inhabited by Serbians, Croats and Muslims. The Bosnian Serbs, supported by Serbia, controlled a large part of Bosnian territory. The various ethnic groups were hostile to the idea of a multicultural independent state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A bloody war has been going on since 1992 between Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims in spite of the presence of the UN Peace Force. The war was characterised by what came to be called as a war for “ethnic cleansing”. It is an obnoxious term which has been used to justify the extermination of one ethnic group by another.
The ethnic conflict that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia was encouraged by the US and some countries of Europe with tragic consequences for the population. The US-led NATO troops conducted horrible reads on Serbia.
Many hundreds and thousands of people were displaced from their homeland and thousands were killed and their homes burned down. By 2000 Serbia and Montenegro remained as the successor states of Yugoslavia.
In 2006, Montenegro also became independent. Kosovo was an autonomous province of Serbia. The ethnic Albanians had set their army and thousands of Serbs had to leave their homes. There was a NATO-led peace keeping force which was supposed to help preserve the autonomy of Kosovo as a province of Serbia.
However, early in 2008, the ethnic Albanian- led government declared Kosovo’s independence which was soon recognised by the US and some countries of Europe. This has added to the tensions between the countries that supported Kosovo’s independence and various others, notably Russia and China, who were opposed to it.
Earlier in 2001, the pro-Western government of Serbia had handed over Milosevic, the former President of Yugoslavia, to the UN War Crime Tribunal, to stand trial for the crimes alleged to have been committed by him during the war in Bosnia.
The trial had gone on for five years, when in 2006 he was found dead in his cell as a prisoner. Recently, in July 2008 Karadzik, a leader of the Kosovo Serbs, has been extradited to The Hague to stand trial. Some countries are skeptical of the legitimacy of the Tribunal.