The "Hole In Flag" revolutions - or the "Revolutions of 1989" or the "Autumn of Nations", or simply "the Fall of Communism" - were a wave of revolutions that swept Europe in 1989-91 and signaled the end of the Cold War. Arguably started in Hungary by cutting the communist emblem out of the centre of their flags during the 1956 revolution.
For a fuller discussion of what led to the sudden and completely unexpected fall of Soviet Communism, you are directed to the page on the History of the Cold War.
Suffice to say, President Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to reform the USSR, promising Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (reconstruction), but was unprepared for the tide of emotion he unleashed in the Soviets' satellite states and the USSR itself. Poles, Czechoslovakians, Hungarians and many more all thought that Gorbachev would tell their own repressive leaders to extend the same policies. "Gorby save us" was the common cry.
One by one, beginning in Poland, the Communist governments were presented with peaceful demonstrations of their citizens on an unprecedented scale and for once decided to grant their demands instead of crushing them with tanks. Elections were held (except in Romania, where there was a coup instead) and the Communists were kicked out of power (except in Bulgaria, where they were democratically re-elected as the Bulgarian Socialist Party; and in Romania, where the National Salvation Front, the second-tier Communists who had led the coup against Ceaușescu, won hastily-organized elections. Both parties lost power in 1996, and peacefully stepped down).
In November 1989, the most visible and memorable event marking the end of communism occurred in Germany. After Hungary opened its borders with Austria, allowing East German tourists a quick means to leave for the West, Erich Honecker attempted to clamp down on the new exodus. However, rising protests eventually forced him to resign. In November, the Politburo of East Germany decided to calm things down by opening the border with West Germany. At a press conference on November 9, Günter Schabowski was given a note indicating that the border was to be opened, but no further instructions on how to handle the information (the opening was to occur the following day, giving the Border Guards time to prepare). He was pressed for an answer when asked when the border was to be opened, and assuming the wording meant the same day, he declared that the Berlin Wall was open effective immediately. With nearly the entire country hearing the announcement live, millions of Germans flooded to both sides of the Wall, demanding to be let through. With no one willing to authorize deadly force, the Border Guards allowed them to pass through. Thousands of families were reunited for the first time in decades amidst vast parties across the country. Germany commenced a massive recycling project, ripping down the Berlin Wall (the most published photos being of Germans with sledgehammers) and the entire Inner German Border. Within a year, after the borders became meaningless, East Germany was added into the Federal Republic of Germany, bringing an end to the last visible reminder of World War II.
The USSR held on for two more years before finally imploding in 1991 as its constituent republics (including Russia itself) all declared independence, leaving Gorbachev president of exactly squat. Yugoslavia also held on until 1991, when social and ethnic tensions exploded into The Yugoslav Wars - any pretense of Communism was quickly forgotten and aggressive nationalism became the order of the day.
One feature of the demonstrations that became a potent symbol of the revolutions of 1989 was the flag with a ragged hole where the communist emblem had been. In Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and East Germany, pre-war national flags had been adorned with red stars or the communist state coat of arms, and these were torn or cut from the flags by demonstrators. The page image is the Romanian flag (not to be confused with the Chadian, Andorran or Moldovan flags).
All this dramatically changed the situation in the West. No longer living in a world where the main bad guy wore red, held big parades, and lived in Moscow (or at least frequently visited it), thriller-writers — who had lived their whole professional lives in a world with an identifiable enemy — had to find a way to adapt, as did armies and spy agencies; but ordinary people were able to breathe easier, no longer living under quite so urgent a threat of nuclear annihilation, and the United States inherited sole-superpower status, enjoying a quiet decade in The '90s.
As for the people of the ex-Communist states?
Poland, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the two having parted ways), Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania have benefited enormously from the collapse of Communism, now enjoying securer economies and (more often than not) social liberalization despite the occasional Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell moment. Right now, the question for these countries is whether or not to continue being in the EUnote , which Eurosceptics find too liberal and infringing for their tastes. Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary are now in a formal alliance known as the Visegrád Group. Hungary, under Viktor Orban administration, has also been accused of entering democratic backsliding with Orban's long serving administration priding itself on illiberalism. Poland faces similar accusations, though not to the same extent.
East Germany, although a pretty good place to live in many regions, is still the least developed part of Germany and suffers from very strange politics. The Communist government's official policy was that all East Germans had been patriotic resisters during the Second World War and no one was to say anything more than that. This put the problems of the 1930s and 1940s on ice with Nazis being punished and nothing more, rather than systematically getting rid of them and rejecting their views to ensure a cultural shift like in the west, and today East Germany has a disconcertingly large number of both neo-Communists and neo-Nazis. Many of these Neo Nazis are from the younger generation born after Communism whose community couldn't deal with liberalization and blamed the far left regime before for their problems, while Neo Communists see the DDR as a preferable alternative to the EU. Thus, both the GDR's successor socialist party and more far right parties do a bit better in East Germany, much to the distress of western Germans who don't want to deal with another authoritarian Germany.
Yugoslavia, as mentioned above, disintegrated into civil war; Communist dictatorship had been the only thing that kept the various peoples of the region from killing each other. Oddly enough, the Serbs — who were more or less the rulers of peaceful, ethnic-cleansing-free Communist Yugoslavia — were the most eager ethnic cleansers in the post-Yugoslav situation. Slovenia, however, largely avoided this chaos; its war of independence lasted less than two weeks with fewer than 100 deaths, and it's generally viewed in the same category as Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and the Visegrád Group. Though Slovenia likes to push itself away from the Ex-Yugoslavs towards Central Europe, Tito being born to a Slovene mother does make a number of them claim him however, and this is mixed with him having a Croatian father but a more popular legacy in Serbia.
Russia has languished from 1991 to the present — or perhaps it would be truer to say 1987 to the present. Between fifty years of Communism and ten years of war in Afghanistan, the country had fallen into the doldrums in the late 1980s, and has yet to find its way out. The end of Communist rule meant the return of religious worship, free speech, and free assembly, but it also brought corruption, organized crime, anarchy, and a series of wars with Chechnya, which first secured its freedom from Russia and then started trying to see how many Russians it could kidnap, kill, or rob. Putin gained his reputation by defeating the Chechens, and fear of a new round of Chechen-style chaos is one of the things that has helped him stay in power.
The other ex-Soviet republics are all in awkward situations.
Belarus is a dictatorship under heavy Russian influence. The Central Asian states are also dictatorships; Russia keeps its influence over Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan but not Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which has its pros and cons. (Unlike the other states, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan maintain military neutrality; on the other hand, Russian influence might have kept the late dictator of Turkmenistan from building a gilded statue of himself that turns to face the sun, for example.)
Georgia, in the central Caucasus, has been dealing with serious political issues from 1991 to the present. South Ossetia tried to secede in 1991, Abkhazia in 1992; in both cases, the Georgians fought to keep them in the country, while the locals were backed by their cultural kin over the border in Russia (and, in Abkhazia at least, by the Russians themselves to an extent). Russo-Georgian relations have wavered between hot and cold ever since, with the low point being the Russo-Georgian War in 2008. (Georgia discovered that the Russians were staging non-peacekeeping troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and attacked them on August 7th; the Russians, most of whose troops had already been moved into these provinces, held firm and counter-attacked on August 8th. If the Russian goal was to scare Georgia out of NATO, or get the Georgians to allow South Ossetia and Abkhazia to secede, it backfired badly...)
Armenia and Azerbaijan immediately started fighting each other over the ethnic Armenian region in Azerbaijan known as Nagorno Karabakh. The conflict ended with Armenian control of the region with a Russian backed cease fire. Border clashes still continue to this day, with a renewed Azerbaijani offensive decades later taking a large amount of land before finally staging a full invasion of Nagorno Karabakh in 2023 and quickly overrunning the Armenian forces. Most of the ethnic Armenian population has since fled back to Armenia proper. Both countries are currently doing just okay domestically, but both have sharp corruption and economic issues. Armenia is mostly relying on its Iranian neighbor for a clear border with trade as it can't get exports from its Russian allies directly, while Azerbaijan relies on its cultural "big brother" Turkey, with Azerbaijan being a mostly non religious state and an Israeli ally pissing off Iran to no end. Iran itself has no interest in seeing Azeri nationalism spread, given that Iran has a large number of Azeris within it.
Armenia, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus (which have high concentrations of Neo Soviets, displeased with the results of post communist life) are currently within the Eurasian Economic Union, the closest thing to a neo USSR at the moment, but it's a very loose binding. Azerbaijan is definitely "Turkey aligned" and other Central Asian nations are doing their own thing, so that leads us to...
Ukraine and Moldova both have breakaway Russian territories in their east. Moldova has Ukraine between it and Russia, so it's unlikely to face any land wars soon; but Putin annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 (it had been transferred from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian one in 1954), and shortly afterwards Donbas — the easternmost part of Ukraine bordering on Russia, just west of the Don — rose up against the Ukrainian government, in a spontaneous insurgency that just happened to have access to cutting-edge Russian tanks, artillery, and anti-aircraft systems, led by a Russian general, and manned in part by vacationing Russian soldiers. Neither side managed to decisively defeat the other, and in February 2022, the situation escalated further with Russia launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and annexing territories of Southern and Eastern Ukraine (the Donbas puppet republics included).
The Georgian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan economies are not very good. Georgia and Ukraine were initially ruled by cronyist dictators, then had those governments replaced by overly raw free-market economies (protectionism is historically necessary to let local industries develop); both are also primarily agricultural. Soviet policy was to build factories in the outlying, under-developed parts of the country— which is how Georgia's main exports are red wine, cheese, and SU-27s.
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have also seen "Color Revolutions"— Westernizing democratic revolutions, improving human rights but not necessarily the economy. The Russian wars against them after these revolutions were probably to keep them out of NATO: Russia's main asset in a conventional land war is strategic depthnote , and if Ukraine was in NATO, then the alliance would have territory just sixty miles from Volgograd; if Georgia was in NATO, air forces would be less than an hour from the Baku oil fields.
The Baltic states — Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia — were admitted to NATO in the 1990s, when Russia was hemorrhaging influence. Now, they're in an awkward position for everyone: no Western army could defend them in case of a Russian attack, but Russia couldn't defend itself in case of a NATO attack out of the Baltics (especially Estonia) either, and neutrality doesn't seem to be in the cards. And Estonia and Latvia have large ethnic-Russian minorities whom the government really doesn't treat particularly well (a great deal of them have not even been granted citizenship because they moved to Baltics during the Soviet occupation)...
Suffice it to say that the effects of the Fall of Communism — especially on Russia and the other ex-Soviet states — have not yet been fully felt.
The Hole-in-Flag revolutions in media:
- Bornholmer Strasse is the Based on a True Story account of the East German guard who on his own initiative opened the Berlin Wall on the night of November 9, 1989.
- Kolya ends with the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Louka, who'd gotten fired from the Czech Philharmonic when he pissed off a Communist bureaucrat, gets his old job back.
- The Lives of Others, about the East German Stasi, ends with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The protagonist, a Stasi spy who grew a conscience, winds up as a mailman.
- Good Bye, Lenin!, about a young man who, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, initiates a charade to convince his sick mother that all is well in the DDR.
Live Action TV
- Deutschland 89, the 3rd season of Deutschland 83, is set amidst the fall of the Berlin Wall.
- Ken Follett's The Century Trilogy, a novel series dramatizing the 20th century, ends with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunion of Carla's family, formerly separated by Communism.
- Pink Floyd's "A Great Day for Freedom" recounts the fall of Communism and the rise of ethnonationalism in Eastern Europe in its wake.
- Although not written specifically about the falling Eastern Bloc regimes of the time, Scorpions' "Wind of Change" and U2's "One" heavily featured imagery of it in the music videos.
- "Right Here, Right Now" by Jesus Jones actually was written specifically about 1989 and the fall of Communism.
"I saw the decade end/I saw the world change in the blink of an eye"