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

December 17, 1989


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

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