Visual History of the World
The Contemporary World
1945 to the present
After World War II, a new
world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United
States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their
ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and
fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also
drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able
to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end
in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent
downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been
driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political
systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations
of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the
developing nations of the Third World.
The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for
possibilities of using space continues.
see also: United Nations member states -
Even after the defeat of the Nazi regime, Germany was seen as the "key
to Europe." Due to its economic potential and strategic position, it
became hotly contested between West and East. This brought with it the î
partition of the country. The symbolic focus of the Cold War (p. 532)
was the city of Berlin, a city partially controlled by Western forces in
the middle of the Soviet occupation zone. In 1989 the fall of the Berlin
Wall at the Brandenburg Gate became the symbol of the demise of the
Communist state system.
East Germany: The Ulbricht Era 1948-1971
The Stalinist government of East Germany had to struggle against popular
resistance to it among the people. Consolidation was only possible
1 Walter Ulbricht (1893-1973), a founder of the German Communist
Party, was the first secretary of the Socialist Unity party of Germany
from July 1953, the same year the German Democratic Republic was
accepted into the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, the Soviet
counterpart to the Marshall Plan.
1 Walter Ulbricht
The Socialist Unity party had
presented the first five-year plan in 1951.
In 1952 the Western allies rejected Stalin's suggestion for a neutral
Germany, so the aim of Soviets became the integration of East Germany
into the Eastern Bloc. The establishment of an army posed economic
difficulties for the young republic, which were to be solved by overtime
and the reduction of wages. Resistance in the party and society was
broken through "cleansings" and repression.
When the party increased the
work requirements for industrial factories in May 1953, uprisings took
place in Berlin and almost all other large cities on
2 Uune 16 and
17—the first people's rebellion in an Eastern Bloc country.
tanks suppressed the uprising, and in its wake, the state government
bolstered the secret police of the Ministry of State Security—a force
referred to as the "Stasi"—headed by
6 Erich Mielke.
2 Uprising in East Berlin; a burning
police station, June 17, 1953
4 Uprising in East Berlin; Soviet tanks at
Potsdamer Platz, June 17, 1953
Erich Mielke, minister of state security
in the GDR from 1957-1989, in
East German government minister (1907-2000), was the long-time
head (1957–89) of the German Democratic Republic’s dreaded
ministry of state security (Stasi), a secret police and
espionage agency that scrutinized every aspect of East German
domestic life, persecuted and arrested suspected dissidents, and
ruthlessly suppressed all forms of dissent through a network of
tens of thousands of official operatives and civilian
informants, many of whom were forced to spy on their families
and friends. In 1993 Mielke was deemed physically unfit to stand
trial for his actions as director of the Stasi, but he served
two years in prison (1993–95) for the 1931 murder of two police
Minister Mielke and Stasi generals singing
East German government
official name Ministerium für Staatsicherheit (German: “Ministry for
secret police agency of the former German Democratic Republic (East
Germany). The Stasi was one of the most hated and feared institutions of
the East German communist government.
The Stasi developed out of the internal security and police apparatus
established in the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany after World War
II. The law establishing the ministry, whose forerunner was the
Kommissariat 5 (modeled along the lines of the Soviet KGB), was passed
by the East German legislature on February 8, 1950, four months after
the establishment of the German Democratic Republic. The Stasi, whose
formal role was not defined in the legislation, was responsible for both
domestic political surveillance and foreign espionage, and it was
overseen by the ruling Socialist Unity Party. Its staff was at first
quite small, and its chief responsibilities were counterintelligence
against Western agents and the suppression of the last vestiges of
Nazism. Soon, however, the Stasi became known for kidnapping former East
German officials who had fled the country; many of those who were
forcibly returned were executed.
Under Erich Mielke, its director from 1957 to 1989, the Stasi became
a highly effective secret police organization. Within East Germany it
sought to infiltrate every institution of society and every aspect of
daily life, including even intimate personal and familial relationships.
It accomplished this goal both through its official apparatus and
through a vast network of informants and unofficial collaborators (inoffizielle
Mitarbeiter), who spied on and denounced colleagues, friends, neighbours,
and even family members. By 1989 the Stasi relied on 500,000 to
2,000,000 collaborators as well as 100,000 regular employees, and it
maintained files on approximately 6,000,000 East German citizens—more
than one-third of the population.
In addition to domestic surveillance, the Stasi was also responsible
for foreign surveillance and intelligence gathering through its Main
Administration for Foreign Intelligence (Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung).
Its foreign espionage activities were largely directed against the West
German government and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Under
Markus Wolf, its chief of foreign operations from 1958 to 1987, the
Stasi extensively penetrated West Germany’s government and military and
intelligence services, including the inner circle of West German
Chancellor Willy Brandt (1969–74); indeed, the discovery in April 1974
that a top aid to Brandt, Günter Guillaume, was an East German spy led
to Brandt’s resignation two weeks later.
The Stasi also had links to various terrorist groups, most notably
the Red Army Faction (RAF) in West Germany. During the 1970s and ’80s,
the Stasi worked closely with the RAF and cooperated with Abū Niḍāl,
Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (commonly known as Carlos, or “the Jackal”), and
the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Stasi also allowed Libyan
agents to use East Berlin as a base of operations for carrying out
terrorist attacks in West Berlin. Following the bombing of a discotheque
in West Berlin (April 1986) that killed two U.S. servicemen, the Stasi
continued to allow Libyan agents to use East Berlin as both a base of
operations and a safe haven.
Soon after the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the East German
legislature passed a law to reconstitute the Ministry of State Security
as the Office for National Security (Amt für Nationale Sicherheit);
however, because of public outcry, the office was never established, and
the Stasi was formally disbanded in February 1990. Concerned that Stasi
officials were destroying the organization’s files, East German citizens
occupied its main headquarters in Berlin on January 15, 1990. In 1991,
after considerable debate, the unified German parliament (Bundestag)
passed the Stasi Records Law, which granted to Germans and foreigners
the right to view their Stasi files. By the early 21st century, nearly
two million people had done so.
Joel D. Cameron
Under massive pressure, the 5 nationalization of agriculture into
production cooperatives and of businesses into people-owned enterprises
was carried out.
The level of production, however, did not improve,
which fanned opposition to the government among many parts of the
population. The short political "thaw" after 1956 did not alter the
inadequate situation. The most visible form of resistance was citizens
"voting with their feet"—leaving the country.
It was determined that 3
sealing of the borders was necessary to save East Germany from economic
collapse, and on August 13,1961, construction of the Berlin Wall was
Many citizens lost their lives trying to cross the wall.
In the following years, the import of food from the Soviet Union to East
Germany provided some relief. The political system opened itself slowly
and economic reforms led to briefly to a mood of new beginnings.
A former manor is divided into lots and given to industrial workers, 1945
3 Sign at the border between East and
German communist leader
born June 30, 1893, Leipzig, Germany
died August 1, 1973, East Berlin, East Germany
German Communist leader and head of the post-World War II German
Democratic Republic, or East Germany.
Ulbricht, a cabinetmaker by trade, joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD)
in 1912 and during World War I served on the Eastern Front, deserting
twice. After the war he entered the new Communist Party of Germany (KPD).
A bureaucrat and organizer, he was elected to the party’s central
committee in 1923. With the rise of Joseph Stalin, Ulbricht became
instrumental in Bolshevizing the German party and organizing it on a
cell basis. He became a member of the Reichstag (parliament) in 1928 and
led the Berlin party organization from 1929.
After the accession of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany (January
1933), Ulbricht fled abroad, serving for the next five years as an agent
of both the KPD and the Comintern in Paris and Moscow and in Spain
during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), all the time relentlessly
persecuting Trotskyites and other deviationists. Back in Moscow at the
start of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union (1941), Ulbricht was
assigned to propagandize German prisoners of war and process information
from the German army.
Returning to Germany on April 30, 1945, Ulbricht helped reestablish
the KPD and was charged with organizing an administration in the
Soviet-occupied zone of Germany. He played a leading role in the merger
of the KPD and the SPD into the Socialist Unity Party (SED; April 1946),
which controlled East Germany until 1989.
On the formation of the German Democratic Republic (October 11,
1949), Ulbricht became deputy prime minister, adding the post of general
secretary of the SED in 1950. When President Wilhelm Pieck died in 1960,
the office of the presidency was abolished and a council of state
instituted in its stead. Subsequently, Ulbricht became chairman of the
council, thus formally taking supreme power. He crushed all opposition
and became so powerful that he was able to block the de-Stalinization
movement that swept eastern Europe after the death of the Soviet
dictator. Only after the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 did the
government finally begin to ease its strict control and permit a certain
amount of economic liberalization and decentralization. East Germany
became one of the most industrialized countries in eastern Europe, yet
Ulbricht remained implacably opposed to the Federal Republic of Germany.
Forced to retire as first secretary of the SED in May 1971 when the
Soviet Union opened new relations with West Germany, he retained his
position as head of state until his death.
"Voting with the Feet"
In the first year of the German Democratic Republic, 130,000 of its
citizens fled to the West; in the year of the 1953 uprising, it was
In total, some 2.5 million people—a seventh of the population,
of which 60 percent were employed—had left East Germany by the time the
wall was built.
GDR border officials arrest a citizen
who was trying to flee through
sewage system, 1962
East Germany: The Honecker Era 1971-1989
The supply situation improved, yet due to its high debts, East Germany
was dependent on the West. The refusal to reform led to the demise of
East German general secretary 11
Erich Honecker, who took office in
1976 after the death of Walter Ulbrich, proclaimed "real existing
socialism"—meaning that one should no longer hold off for a coming
communist paradise but should attempt to improve contemporary living
Erich Honecker, front, at the eighth party meeting of the SED,
1971: In front of the committee, from left to right:
In fact, the national income of the country rose steadily
until it reached its highest level in 1975, giving East Germany the
highest 12 standard of living in the Eastern bloc.
10 Housing reform was
implemented; while West Germans spent 20 percent of their income on
rent, an East German spent only five percent.
Medical care was free, and
family support led to an increase in the birth rate.
In 1974, East and
West Germany were welcomed into the United Nations together, and the
equal participation of both states in the Conference for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was a successful step on the way
to international recognition. In September 1987, when Honecker was
received in Bonn by West German chancellor Helmut Kohl with all the
honors of a state leader, de facto recognition had been acknowledged.
The country could not finance the desired increase in social spending,
however. Due to inadequate modernization, productivity stagnated. The
finance gaps were bridged by credits from the West. In 1983 Bavarian
prime minister Franz Josef Strauss provided a billion-mark loan, which
gave the East Germans some breathing space. Wages once again rose, yet
there was less and less to buy.
The average citizen had to wait ten
years for a car, and the only choice was the locally manufactured and
poor quality Trabant, known as the 9 Trabbi.
Uniforms of the GDR youth organizations Young Pioneers and Free German
Youth Organization (FDJ), 1972
View from within the ruins of the newly constructed buildings for the
social housing program in Berlin, ca. 1955
9 A "Trabbi", ca. 1970
Television sets were
present in 90 percent of the households, however, and most of them could
receive broadcasts from the West.
In response to the growing discontent,
the state government increased 7 propaganda and the development of the Stasi.
The expatriation of the politically critical singer Wolf Biermann in
1976 pushed the East German cultural elite into the opposition.
the protection of the church, the environmentalist and
8 peace movements
In 1984, 32,000 citizens applied for permission to leave the
country; by 1988, this figure had risen to 110,000. Honecker's refusal
to implement the reforms recommended by Mikhail Gorbachev proved
disastrous and within a few months would bring the East German regime
crashing down in ruins.
7 Honecker portrait on display, 1986
8 Members of the peace movement
demonstrate in Dresden, 1987
Leonid Brezhnev kissing Erich Honecker in 1979;
Bruderkuss - Michail Gorbatschow und Erich
born Aug. 25, 1912, Neunkirchen, Ger.
died May 29, 1994, Chile
communist official who, as first secretary of East Germany’s Socialist
Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, or
SED), was East Germany’s leader from 1971 until he fell from power in
1989 in the wake of the democratic reforms sweeping eastern Europe.
The son of a miner who was an official of the Communist Party, Honecker
joined the Communist Youth Movement at the age of 14 and in 1929 became
a full party member. By trade he was a slater. After the Nazis came to
power in 1933, he organized illegal activities by young communists in
various parts of Germany. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1935 and
sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour for “preparing treason.” He refused
to repudiate his communist convictions.
In 1945 he was freed by the Soviet Red Army as it swept across
eastern Germany, and he quickly caught up with those German communists
who had been trained in the Soviet Union to set up a communist
government in the Soviet-occupied zone. He was one of the founders of
the Free German Youth movement (Freie Deutsche Jugend, or FDJ) and was
its chairman from 1946 to 1955.
He was elected a member of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party in 1946 and was one of the prime movers behind the fusion of the
Communist and Social Democratic parties in East Germany into the newly
formed SED. In 1961 he was put in charge of building the Berlin Wall.
His influence in the SED grew rapidly, and in 1967 he was designated as
the successor to the East German leader, Walter Ulbricht. He became
leader of the SED in 1971 and chairman of the Council of State in 1976,
thus heading both party and government. Under Honecker’s rule, East
Germany was one of the more repressive but also one of the most
prosperous of the Soviet-bloc countries of eastern Europe. He allowed
the growth of some trade and travel ties with West Germany in return for
West German financial aid. His wife, Margot, was minister of education
in the East German government.
Having lost the support of the reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev, the aged and inflexible Honecker was forced to resign in
October 1989 when confronted with massive prodemocracy demonstrations in
East German cities. In the face of growing public agitation, he was then
charged with abuses of power and other crimes. In ill health, he was
released by the German authorities in 1993 and allowed to go to Chile,
where he died.
Since the 1960s the Stasi officer Alexander Schalck-Golodkovski had
built up a shadow economy empire to supply foreign currency for the
servicing of foreign government debt.
Rubbish was imported, and
expropriated antiques, weapons, and the blood of East German citizens
were exported. Political hostages who were bought free by the Western
powers were also a source of income.
see also: United Nations member states -