Transition from below
Political change in the communist world at the end of the 1980s took a variety of forms, reflecting a range of internal and external factors. There was, however, a relatively clear distinction between the regimes that were overthrown ‘from below’ by popular action (in Poland, for instance, or in Czechoslovakia) and those in which the regime itself initiated change ‘from above’ and in some cases retained power (as in Hungary or Bulgaria). The central drama took place during the annus mirabilis of 1989, when a series of interconnected changes swept across Central and Eastern Europe; but there were no changes of a comparable kind in the USSR until 1991, and there was no comprehensive change of leadership in Romania until 1996. Equally, there were several countries where communist rule remained intact, most notably in China; the response of the authorities there to the pressure of a student movement for democratic change was to order tanks to suppress their unarmed demonstration on Tianenmen Square in June 1989, prompting some discussion of a ‘Chinese model’ that combined economic liberalism with political authoritarianism.