Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
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Visual History of the World
First Empires
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The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


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 year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



Southeast Asia

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia,
Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Maldives
Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Viet Nam


After 1945, most of Southeast Asia was preoccupied with the struggle for liberation from colonial rule. Many of the region's countries including Malaysia and Singapore—and in particular Indonesia, with the largest Muslim population in the world—faced the problem of maintaining cohesion among various ethnic groups. The Cold War struggle was also played out in the Pacific arena, most notably in the Vietnam War. Since 1989, the region has tended more toward stability, and democratic systems have begun to emerge in most of the states.


Sri Lanka and Indonesia

Since its independence, Sri Lanka has been preoccupied with the conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority. After coming to power in 1966, Sukarno ruled Indonesia for the next 32 years. The country has had a functioning democracy since 1998.


On February 4,1948, 9 Sri Lanka (then the British colony of Ceylon) gained independence, becoming a member of the British Commonwealth.

From the outset, the nation's difficult economic situation was further complicated by the tense relationship between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil 3 minority.

In April 1956, the Sinhalese nationalist Freedom party under Solomon Bandaranaikc won the national elections. He nationalized key industries, but his attempt to make Sinhalese the official language in 1958 escalated ethnic tensions, and he was murdered by a Buddhist monk in 1959. His widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then continued her husband's policies.

Their daughter, 2 Chandrika Kumaratunga, has been president since 1994.

9 The holy city Kandy in Sri Lanka, declared a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 1988

3 A Tamil fisher woman and her child, February 2005

2 Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga
at a press conference, 1997

As communal relations worsened, a Tamil paramilitary force known as the "Tamil Tigers" or LTTE was formed in 1976, and Sri Lanka experienced a civil war for much of the next two decades as the Tigers in the north fought government forces. A Norwegian peace initiative in 2002 brought about a cease-fire and held out the prospect of a settlement.

Since Indonesia gained full independence in 1949, ethnic and religious conflicts have plagued the nation. While the majority of the population on the main island of Java is Muslim, Hindu or indigenous faiths tend to predominate on the other islands, such as Bali.

The immediate postindependence leader was President 4 Suharto, who looked to the USSR and domestic Communists for support and was prone to nationalistic posturing. After an attempted coup against the rule of the "Javanese" in i960, Sukarno dissolved parliament and pursued an increasingly authoritarian course. In 1965 violence erupted against the pro-Communist Chinese minority, during which hundred of thousands were killed. Isolated and under pressure, Sukarno ceded power to General Suharto in March 1966.

After becoming president in 1967, Suharto cultivated ties with the West while maintaining a military-backed regime. The government took a hard line against separatist movements and in 1976 forcibly annexed the newlv independent region of East Timor. The issue resurfaced two decades later when the brutal actions of the Indonesian government in crushing a Timorese revolt attracted widespread international condemnation. East Timor only became an autonomous state in 2002 after Indonesia had released it from its rule in 1999.

6 Popular unrest in the wake of the Asian economic crisis of 1997 forced President Suharto to step down in May 1998.

After corruption allegations saw President Wahid forced out of office in 2001, 5 Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of the nation's independence leader Sukarno, held the office until 2004.

The Indonesian island of Simculue was the epicenter of the tsunami caused by an underwater earthquake that devastated the shores of Indonesia and the surrounding countries in 2004.

4 Change of government: Sukarno (left) points at Indonesia's new strong man General Suharto, September 1, 1966

6 Burning houses in Dili, the capital of East Timor, December 4, 2002

5 Megawati Sukarnoputri (right) president
since 2001, with the former President
Abdurrahman Wahid



Achmed Sukarno, June 1945 on his Political Philosophy ("Pancasila")

"The Indonesian people should not only believe in God; more than this, it should be clear that each Indonesian is allowed to pray to his own God. The Christians should serve God after the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Muslims after the teachings of the prophet Mohammed.

The Buddhists should foster their religion after their books.... The Indonesian state should be a state in which everyone can pray to his God without religious jealousy! The Indonesian state should be a state to which the belief in God belongs ...on civilized way, on the path to mutual respect."

Achmed Sukarno, 1956




Malaysia and Singapore

The Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia and Singapore achieved stability and economic growth under authoritarian governmental regimes.


In 1963, the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Sarawak, and Sabah unit ed to become the independent Federation of  1 Malaysia, which consisted of nine sultanates and is an elective monarchy.

Political rivalries, ethnic tension, and competing economic interests caused 7 Singapore to secede from the federation on August 9,1965.

1 View over a valley with terraced vegetable-growing in central Malaysia

7 Head of state of Singapore, Jusuf Ishak (middle),
inspects a guard of honor during the celebrations
for the new state Malaysia, September 15, 1963

The Sultanate of Brunei never joined the federation because of its reserves of oil; it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. A Communist insurgency began in Sarawak in 1963 and continued until a peace was achieved in 1990.

Malaysia's head of state is the king, who is chosen every five years from the group of nine Malay sultanates, the other four states do not participate in the election of the king.

The first prime minister, 8 Abdul Rahman, sought to mediate between the Malay majority and wealthier Chinese minority following race riots in 1969 by instituting a new economic policy intended to redistribute gains and known as the New Economic Policy.

Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammed, who governed between 1981 and 2003, oversaw a period of political stability and rapid economic growth.
Lee Kwan Yew was Singapore's first prime minister, ruling until 1990.

During his time in office, the country was transformed from an economically weak former colony into a prosperous high-technology 10 powerhouse.

Public life in Singapore is staunchly conservative and subject to strict regulation by the state and its stringent legal system. Lee's successor, 11 Goh Chok Tong, steered the country through the Asian economic crisis of 1997-1998, signing free-trade agreements with both Japan and the United States.

8 The first prime minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, signs the constitution of federation, July 1963

10 The center of high-rise offices of banks and business of the tiny island country of Singapore

11 The prime minister of
Singapore, Goh Chok Tong
Commonwealth summit in
Australian Coolu


see also: United Nations member states -
Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia,
Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Maldives
Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Viet Nam



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