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Why did Soviet control of Eastern Europe collapse in 1989?

Soviet control of Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989 due to economic difficulties, political unrest, and the policies of Mikhail Gorbachev.

The Soviet Union's control over Eastern Europe was largely maintained through a combination of military force and political influence. However, by the late 1980s, a series of economic, political, and social factors had begun to undermine this control. The Soviet Union was facing severe economic difficulties, with a stagnant economy and a growing burden of military expenditure. This economic hardship was felt acutely in Eastern Europe, where the Soviet-imposed system of central planning had failed to deliver prosperity.

Political unrest was also a significant factor. The 1980s saw a wave of protests and strikes across Eastern Europe, fuelled by dissatisfaction with economic conditions and the lack of political freedom. The Solidarity movement in Poland, for example, began as a trade union protest against poor working conditions, but quickly evolved into a broader movement for political change. These protests were often met with repression, but this only served to increase resentment against Soviet control.

The policies of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev also played a crucial role in the collapse of Soviet control. Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985, pursued a policy of 'glasnost' (openness) and 'perestroika' (restructuring), aimed at reforming the Soviet system. However, these policies also had the effect of loosening the Soviet Union's grip on Eastern Europe. Gorbachev's commitment to 'glasnost' led to a relaxation of censorship and greater freedom of speech, which in turn encouraged dissent and protest in Eastern Europe. His policy of 'perestroika' involved a shift towards a more market-oriented economy, which undermined the system of central planning that was a key pillar of Soviet control.

Furthermore, Gorbachev made it clear that the Soviet Union would no longer intervene militarily to maintain its control over Eastern Europe, as it had done in the past. This was a significant departure from the 'Brezhnev Doctrine', which had justified such interventions in the name of protecting socialism. This policy shift, known as the 'Sinatra Doctrine', effectively gave Eastern European countries the freedom to determine their own political futures. The result was a wave of revolutions in 1989, as communist regimes across Eastern Europe were overthrown and replaced with more democratic governments.

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