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EUROPE: FIVE YEARS LATER : The Decades of Division

November 01, 1994

1946: The Soviet Union tightens its grip on Eastern Europe. British statesman Winston Churchill warns a world exhausted by war that "an iron curtain has descended across the continent."

1948-49: In the Berlin Airlift, Western Allies mount a massive supply effort to keep West Berlin alive after the Soviets sever land routes in an attempt to starve the western half of the divided city and force the Allies--the United States, Britain and France--to abandon their jurisdictions in the city.

1949: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance of Western nations, is formed. Soviet-occupied eastern Germany becomes the German Democratic Republic.

1953: Soviet dictator Josef Stalin dies. Riots in East Berlin mark the first large-scale uprising against Soviet rule in Eastern Europe. Widespread protests are brutally crushed with the aid of Red Army tanks.

1955: The Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Bloc's equivalent of NATO, is formed.

1956: Workers in the Polish industrial city of Poznan riot. A rebellion breaks out in Hungary. The United States encourages a short-lived rebel government, but the revolt is crushed by Soviet forces.

1961: The Berlin Wall is erected. To stem an exodus in which more than 2 million East Germans had fled to the West, the Communists fill the last remaining hole in the Iron Curtain by building a heavily fortified barrier through the city. The Wall quickly becomes the most infamous symbol of Cold War division.

1963: U.S. President John F. Kennedy travels to West Berlin. Public morale soars when he declares himself a citizen of the city in spirit with the statement, "Ich bin ein Berliner."

1968: Reformist Communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek begins to liberalize Czechoslovakia. The Soviets arrest Dubcek, invade the country and place a hard-liner in control.

1975: The Helsinki Final Act is signed by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The commitment allows fledgling dissident movements to exist in the East, sowing the seeds of communism's demise.

1980: Shipyard electrician Lech Walesa leads Poland's Solidarity trade union into direct confrontation with Communist authorities.

1981: Martial law is imposed in Poland. The Solidarity leadership is arrested and anti-government strikes end as factories are occupied by the army.

1985: Mikhail S. Gorbachev assumes the Soviet leadership and embarks on radical liberalization of Soviet policy. Glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) become household words. Poland and Hungary follow Gorbachev's lead, but hard-line leaders in Romania, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Bulgaria resist.

1989--April: The first Soviet troops begin their withdrawal from Hungary. Solidarity gains legal status.

May: Hungarians remove barbed-wire fencing from their border with Austria, the first breach in the Iron Curtain, after 200,000 Hungarians travel to Vienna on special visas for an Easter weekend shopping binge.

June: Solidarity wins the first free elections in Poland since the Communist takeover.

September: Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn orders border posts on the Austrian frontier to no longer stop East Germans, who had been crossing into the West by doing an end run around the Berlin Wall. East Germans begin pouring through official checkpoints.

Oct. 7: Gorbachev urges East German leader Erich Honecker to liberalize, warning him that those who fail to see the need for reform will be punished by history.

Oct. 16: In Leipzig, 100,000 protest in the largest unauthorized demonstration in East Germany since 1953.

Oct. 18: Honecker resigns and is replaced by Communist Politburo member Egon Krenz.

Nov. 1-5: The East German government removes curbs on foreign travel and thousands pour across the border to Czechoslovakia.

Nov. 4: Up to 1 million protesters crowd the center of East Berlin, carrying banners and singing. The event is carried live by East German television.

Nov. 9: Buckling under pressure, East Germany opens the Berlin Wall, announcing that "private trips abroad can be requested without fulfilling any requirements." Within hours, Berlin is reunited and East Berliners flood through the city's checkpoints.

Nov. 17: In Prague, police attack about 20,000 demonstrators near the city center. Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution" begins.

Dec. 9: Communists relinquish power in Czechoslovakia. Alexander Dubcek becomes chairman of the National Assembly, and playwright Vaclav Havel is named president.

Dec. 17: The Romanians follow with a general strike, more demonstrations and shootings in Cluj. Turmoil leads to the arrest and Dec. 25 execution of Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. A National Salvation Front proclaims itself the provisional government.

1990: Germany reunifies. The Soviet Union pledges to withdraw its 380,000 troops in the former East Germany within four years. Lech Walesa becomes president of Poland.

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