Eastern European countries emerge from breakup of USSRby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Describe the impact of the breakup of the Soviet Union on the emerging Eastern European countries.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the citizens of the newly-formed countries of Eastern Europe found themselves suddenly thrust into a new era. Once they had relied on the Soviet system of socialism and central planning to dictate the minute details of their lives. Then, in the post-Soviet era, their newfound independence forced them to face a myriad of changes. All they once knew had disappeared—the old government, the old economy, and the old Marxist idealism had all collapsed. As the transition to a new way of life progressed, confusion and difficulties accompanied it, leaving the people of Eastern Europe frustrated and desperate for solutions to their problems. Ultimately the changes accompanying the Soviet Union’s collapse and the changes that followed prepared Eastern Europe to receive the Gospel.
Despite the trend toward democracy that had already begun under Soviet rule, the transition to democratic government posed a great challenge for many Eastern European countries. While Mikhail Gorbachev held power, policies such as Perestroika (which called for the restructuring of the Soviet Union) and Glasnost (which reduced the censorship of information) introduced new freedoms to the Soviet people. This taste of freedom made them eager for more (White). When the Soviet Union weakened and finally collapsed, Eastern Europe naturally turned to democracy as a new system of government which would provide the freedoms its people desired. But the residents of Eastern European countries did not possess all of the skills required for the citizens of successful democracies, which included the ability to engage in political discourse, the ability to compromise, and political initiative (The Power of Place). In addition, the democratic process was foreign to them. These factors impeded the democratization of Eastern Europe and caused residents to become frustrated.
Further frustration resulted from the difficulty of the transfer from a socialist economy to a free market economy. Initially people were optimistic regarding the transition—but their optimism did not last (Reimer). Between 1990 and 1994 many Eastern European countries saw a huge jump in registered unemployment because of the collapse of the Soviet Union (Ellman pg. 6). Industrial production declined severely, inflation rates soared, and poverty increased significantly (Reimer). All the countries of the former USSR faced a post-Soviet economic depression (Reimer). Many Eastern Europeans had a difficult time adapting to capitalism, and some eventually decided they had led better lives under communism (The Power of Place).
On top of all the political and economic problems, Eastern Europeans faced another challenge—that of finding a new worldview upon which to base their lives. In the past the leaders of the Soviet Union had promoted Marxist idealism, which had served as the foundation for the socialist economy. Marxism taught that God did not exist and that a person’s environment determined his nature. In this view someone raised in a perfect Communist society would always think and act for the good of the community, and humans would become selfless and generous beings with no need for government (Schwarz). Communists, therefore, promised improvements that would eventually lead to a utopian society—but these improvements never came. As the economic situation in the Soviet Union worsened in the 1980s, it became increasingly apparent that Communism offered only empty promises of economic and social success. People began to reject the Communists and their Marxist teachings. Voters began electing democrats rather than socialists (White), and increased rates of alcoholism revealed the emptiness that consumed the hearts of Eastern Europeans. By the time the USSR collapsed in 1991, Eastern Europe was prepared for something different, and the new freedoms in its formerly suppressed countries opened the doors for new ideas to circulate openly.
Eager to spread the Gospel, Christian missionaries poured into Eastern Europe. They arrived just as many people were turning to alcohol and the occult to fill the emptiness that Marxism and the troubles of the times had created (Reimer). This hunger for something more in life, this desire for purpose and hope, had prepared the Eastern Europeans for the Gospel. Christianity offered both purpose and hope, and the new openness of the region allowed missionaries to work freely among the people. Mission organizations spent billions of dollars distributing Bibles and Gospel tracts (Reimer). Local churches, too, began to work more openly. As a result millions of people had an opportunity to respond to the good news of Jesus Christ.
In Eastern Europe the impact of the Soviet Union’s collapse clearly went beyond the political and economic situation. The transition from socialism to democracy and a free market economy shaped the future of Eastern Europe. Its most significant impact in history, however, derived from the fact that it led to another, greater event—the spread of the Gospel through Eastern Europe. God has uses the events of history to accomplish his purposes, and He used the collapse of the Soviet Union and the difficult changes that accompanied it to draw many people to Himself.
Ellman, Michael. "The Social Costs and Consequences of the Transformation Process." United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. 18 Oct. 2003
"Poland: Diffusion of Democracy." Deborah Dorsey. The Power of Place. PBS.
Reimer, Johannes. "Mission in Post-Perestroika Russia." Southern Africa Missiological Society. 18 Oct. 2003
Schwarz, Dr. Fred. "Why Communism Kills: The Legacy of Karl Marx." Christian Anti-Communism Crusade. 16 Oct. 2003
White, John. "A Study of the Breakup of the Soviet Union." 16 Oct. 2003
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