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Transnistria — Life in a Russian Bear Hug

Transnistria is a small breakaway state located between the Dniester River and Moldova’s eastern border with Ukraine. In November 1990, limited fighting broke out between Russian-backed pro-Transnistrian forces and the Moldovan police and military. The fighting intensified in March 1992, and lasted until an uneasy yet lasting ceasefire was established on July 22, 1992.

Transnistria’s Russian-speaking population believes that its identity would be overwhelmed by the ethnic Moldovan majority and thus sees the Russian military presence as protection. Moldova contends that those Russian troops violate its territorial integrity and that Moscow has repeatedly blocked any attempts to reach a settlement. For these reasons, many see parallels between this long-simmering “frozen conflict” and the ongoing situation between Crimea and Ukraine. (Photo of Young Communists: Davin Ellicson)
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The Strategic Defense Initiative — The Other “Star Wars”

On March 23rd, 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, signaling a massive paradigm shift in U.S. policy on nuclear policy. Dubbed “Star Wars” after the 1977 movie, SDI represented Reagan’s rejection of Mutual Assured Destruction. MAD had fostered an uneasy peace during the Cold War as neither the U.S. nor the USSR attacked the other knowing that it would in turn be the target of a massive nuclear retaliation annihilating it (and much of the planet). By extension, so the argument went, a weapons system that could deflect most of an opponent’s nuclear barrage would undermine MAD by making that country feel more protected and thus potentially more likely to at least consider launching an offensive attack. Read more

Remember, Remember 17 November

The shock of terrorist attacks in Europe in the past decade, notably in Paris, London, and Madrid, sadly recall an even grimmer period during the 1970’s and 80’s when terrorism was a widespread and chronic threat throughout the continent, especially in Greece. One of the chief culprits was the Revolutionary Organization 17 November, also known as November 17th or 17N, which carried out numerous attacks over the better part of three decades in Greece. Borne out of the armed struggle against the Greek military junta that ruled the country from 1967-1974, the group carried out attacks against Greek targets as well as American and British diplomatic personnel.

Due to poor police work, popular support for the group among many Greeks, especially those on the far left, and a lack of political will to crack down, the group was able to carry out attacks for many years. Only in the early 2000’s, with the threat of a possible boycott of the 2004 Olympic Games over security issues did the Greek government finally end the group’s reign of terror. Read more

Georgia and The Rose Revolution

Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in April 1991, and problems and instability arose almost immediately. The first President of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, governed in an authoritarian fashion and was deposed in a violent coup d’état less than a year later. Eduard Shevardnadze, seen as more moderate, was chosen as Georgia’s second president in 1995. Several bloody conflicts wracked the young country early on, such as a stunning military defeat by a separatist movement in the region of Abkhazia and ethnic violence in the region of South Ossetia.

During this time, Shevardnadze’s government faced many charges of corruption and steadily declined in support and popularity. The instability during Shevardnadze’s presidency led to poverty and economic stagnation, which, coupled frustration with the government, led to a widespread desire for change. On November 2nd, 2003, elections were held for the Georgian Parliament. Read more

Implementing the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords

The 1993 Oslo Accords were a historic point in Arab-Israeli relations. Hammered out in complete secrecy in Oslo, Norway, by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators acting without intermediaries, the Oslo Accords forced both sides to come to terms with each other’s existence. The Accords at the time were viewed as an extraordinary breakthrough. Many analysts now look back in hindsight and see them as the last real chance for peace in the region. (Photo: AP/ Ron Edmonds)

The Oslo Accords built on the 1978 Camp David Accords, which had envisioned autonomy for the local — and only local – Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. Because Israel viewed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a terrorist entity, it refused to negotiate with its representatives and instead dealt only with Egypt and Jordan, and elected representatives of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza.”  Read more

The “Other” Embassy Attack of November 1979 — The Siege of Embassy Islamabad

The attack on the American embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and the subsequent 444-day imprisonment of American personnel has become the stuff of legend – it was followed day by day on the news by millions of Americans, many of whom put yellow ribbons on trees and their houses as a sign of solidarity. It was the subject of an Academy-Award winning movie, Argo, and ultimately led to the downfall of President Jimmy Carter. However, most people would be hard-pressed to recall a similarly dramatic attack, which took place a mere 17 days after the attack on Embassy Tehran.

On November 21, rioters, incited by false Iranian radio claims of an American attack on Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia, stormed U.S. Embassy Islamabad, trapping more than 130 people inside the communications vault for several hours. Several people died, including one young Marine Security Guard, Steve Crowley; the entire embassy was burned and eventually had to be rebuilt (with money from the Pakistani government). Read more

The 1989 Romanian Revolution and the Fall of Ceausescu

1989 was the year of remarkable popular uprisings throughout the world, most notably Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. December saw the fall of one of Eastern Europe’s most brutal dictators, Nicolae Ceaușescu and it did not come peacefully.

The Romanian Revolution started in the city of Timișoara on December 16, as one ethnic Hungarian pastor spoke out against regime policies. This led to massive protests and a crackdown by the military. Ceaușescu then made a speech at Palace (now Revolution) Square, on December 21, where people in the crowd, who had been bussed in to show support, began openly booing him and chanting “Timisoara!”

Rank-and-file members of the military switched, almost unanimously, from supporting the dictator to backing the protesting population. Rioting in several Romanian cities forced Ceausescu and his wife Elena, who was also Deputy Prime Minister, to flee the next day. They were quickly captured, tried, and then executed on Christmas Day 1989. Read more

Kopeks and Big Macs – Russia’s Move to a Market Economy

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the winter of 1991, the newly-formed Russian Federation took on the challenge of creating a market-oriented economy from the world’s largest state-controlled economy. President Yeltsin’s economic reforms led to hyperinflation and loss of financial security for many who had depended on state pensions, and Russia’s GDP contracted an estimated 40 percent in seven years.

Adding to the complexity of making this transition was Russia’s decision to settle the USSR’s huge external debts. State enterprises were privatized and foreign investment encouraged, but changes in elements needed to support this transition, such as commercial banking and laws, did not keep pace.

Nonetheless, many Russians did prosper in the new economic environment and by the mid-1990s were enjoying the same luxury brands and fast food as their Western counterparts. Most notably, the first McDonald’s opened in the USSR on January 31, 1990. Read more

The Velvet Revolution, November 1989

In 1989, change was in the air throughout all of Eastern Europe. Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika – openness and restructuring – signaled a radically different tone from Moscow and people in the Eastern Bloc took notice. The Berlin Wall, which had long stood as a concrete symbol of the clash between East and West, fell on November 9th. Czechoslovakia’s particular insurrection was known as the Velvet Revolution because of its relatively peaceful nature.

It began on November 17, International Students Day, ironically enough at a government-sponsored rally, as Czech students filled Wenceslas Square to peacefully march in remembrance of the students killed by the Nazi occupation 50 years earlier. Protests began to swell to hundreds of thousands and the government, to its credit, realized it could not win by force and quickly gave in to popular sentiment. Read more

The 1991 Iraq War – The Battle at the UN: The Gathering Storm

Although several resolutions were passed by the UN Security Council imposing sanctions on Iraq, they did not have the desired effect of forcing Saddam Hussein to order his military to stand down and withdraw from Iraq. Saddam, in an effort to rally Arab support for his position, said he would only withdraw from Kuwait if Israel withdrew from the Occupied Territories and Lebanon, if Syria withdrew from Lebanon, and there were “mutual withdrawals by Iraq and Iran and arrangement for the situation in Kuwait.” Any agreement would also involve the reversal of sanctions and boycotts on Iraq. The United States was staunchly opposed to any concessions to Iraq. Although several UN members and the Secretary General tried to negotiate with Iraq, it soon became clear these efforts were going nowhere.

Eventually the “mother of all resolutions,” Resolution 678, was passed in the UN Security Council, which set a deadline of January 15, 1991 for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait before the member states of the UN used “all necessary means” to force Iraq out of Kuwait. Read more