- Main article: Prehistoric Europe
Homo erectus and Neanderthals settled Europe long before the emergence of modern humans, Homo sapiens. The earliest appearance of anatomically modern people in Europe has been dated to 35,000 BC. Evidence of permanent settlement dates from the 7th millennium BC in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. The Neolithic reached Central Europe in the 6th millennium BC and parts of Northern Europe in the 5th and 4th millennium BC. There is no prehistoric culture that covers the whole of Europe. For short introductions to the various cultures, see Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age.
The first well-known literate civilization in Europe was that of the Minoans of the island of Crete and later the Myceneans in the adjacent parts of Greece, starting at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. Around 400 BC, the La Tene culture spread over most of the interior as far as the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), and later Anatolia. The Etruscans inhabited central Italy and Lombardy, where they were displaced by the Celts, who mingled with earlier residents of Iberia to produce a unique Celtiberian culture. As the Celts did not use a written language, knowledge of them is piecemeal. The Romans encountered them and recorded a great deal about them; these records and the archaeological evidence form our primary understanding of this extremely influential culture. The Celts posed a formidable, if disorganized, competition to the Roman state, that later colonized and conquered much of the southern portion of Europe.
- Main article: ancient Greece
At the end of the Bronze Age the older Greek kingdoms collapsed and a brilliant new civilization grew up in their place. The Hellenic civilization took the form of a collection of city-states (the most important being Athens and Sparta), having vastly differing types of government and cultures, including what are more-or-less unprecedented developments in various governmental forms, philosophy, science, politics, sports, theatre and music. The Hellenic city-states founded a large number of colonies on the shores of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean sea, Asia Minor, Sicily and Southern Italy in Magna Graecia, but in the 4th century BC their internal wars made them an easy prey for king Philip II of Macedonia. The campaigns of his son Alexander the Great spread Greek culture into Persia, Egypt and India, but also favoured contact with the older learnings of those countries, opening up a new period of development, known as Hellenism.
- Main article: Ancient Rome
Much of Greek learning was assimilated by the nascent Roman state as it expanded outward from Italy, taking advantage of its enemies' inability to unite: the only real challenge to Roman ascent came from the Phoenician colony of Carthage, but its defeat in the end of the 3rd century BC marked the start of Roman hegemony. First governed by kings, then as a senatorial republic (the Roman Republic), Rome finally became an empire at the end of the 1st century BC, under Augustus and his authoritarian successors. The Roman Empire had its centre in the Mediterranean Sea, controlling all the countries on its shores; the northern border was marked by the Rhine and Danube rivers; under emperor Trajan (2nd century AD) the empire reached its maximum expansion, including Britain, Romania and parts of Mesopotamia. The empire brought peace, civilization and an efficient centralized government to the subject territories, but in the 3rd century a series of civil wars undermined its economic and social strength. In the 4th century, the emperors Diocletian and Constantine were able to slow down the process of decline by splitting the empire into a Western and an Eastern part. Whereas Diocletian severely persecuted Christianity, Constantine declared an official end to state-sponsored persecution of Christians in 313 with the Edict of Milan, thus setting the stage for the empire to later become officially Christian in about 380 (which would cause the Church to become an important institution).
Rome had a strong economy, and trade system. It made the empire rich, strong, and stable. The trade helped sailors, and habor owners. The economy also made the empire strong, becuase of the money generated through it. The economy made many people rich, and a few people poorer, although overall the empire grew in wealth.
- Main article: Dark Ages
Western Europe emerged as the site of a distinct civilization after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, as barbarian invasions separated it from the rest of the Mediterranean, where the Eastern Roman Empire (a.k.a. Byzantine Empire) survived for another millennium. In the 7th century the Arab expansion brought Islamic cultures to the southern Mediterranean shores (from Turkey to Sicily and Spain), further enlarging the differences between the various Mediterranean civilizations. Huge amounts of technology and learning were lost, trade languished and people returned to local agrarian communities. In the same century, Bulgarians created the first Slavic state in Europe - Bulgaria. Feudalism replaced the centralized Roman administration. The only institution surviving the collapse of the Western Roman Empire was the Roman Catholic Church, which preserved part of the Roman cultural inheritance and remained the primary source of learning in its domain at least until the 13th century; the bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, became the leader of the western church (in the east his supremacy was never accepted).
The Holy Roman Empire emerged around 800, as Charlemagne, king of the Franks, subdued western Germany, large parts of Italy and chunks of surrounding countries; he received substantial help from an alliance with the Pope, who wanted to cut the remaining ties with the Byzantine Empire; in this way the domains of the Pope became an independent state in central Italy.
In the late 9th century and 10th century, northern and western Europe felt the burgeoning power and influence of the Vikings who raided, traded, conquered and settled swiftly and efficiently with their advanced sea-going vessels such as the longships.
In the 10th century independant kingdoms were established in Central Europe, e.g. Poland and Hungary.
The subsequent period, ending around 1000, saw the further growth of feudalism, which weakened the Holy Roman Empire.
High Middle Ages
- Main article: High Middle Ages
After the East-West Schism, Western Christianity was adopted by newly created kingdoms of Central Europe: Poland, Hungary and Bohemia. The Roman Catholic Church developed as a major power, leading to conflicts between the Pope and Emperor.
Later Middle Ages
- Main article: Later Middle Ages
Early signs of the rebirth of civilization in western Europe began to appear in the 11th century as trade started again in Italy, leading to the economic and cultural growth of independent city states such as Venice and Florence; at the same time, nation-states began to take form in places such as France, England, Spain, and Portugal, although the process of their formation (usually marked by rivalry between the monarchy, the aristocratic feudal lords and the church) actually took several centuries. (See Reconquista for the latter two countries.) On the other hand, the Holy Roman Empire, essentially based in Germany and Italy, further fragmented into a myriad of feudal principalities or small city states, whose subjection to the emperor was only formal.
One of the largest catastrophes to have hit Europe was the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death. There were numerous outbreaks, but the most severe was in the mid-1300s and is estimated to have killed a third of Europe's population. Since many Jews worked as money-lenders (usury was not allowed for Christians) and were generally more immune to disease (thanks to their kosher laws concerning hygiene), the Jews were often disliked by Europeans, so it was popular to blame them for the epidemic. This led to increased persecution of Jews in some areas. Thousands of Jews fled to Poland which, ironically, was spared by the plague.
Beginning in the 14th century, the Baltic Sea became one of the most important trade routes. The Hanseatic League, an alliance of trading cities, facilitated the absorption of vast areas of Poland, Lithuania and other Baltic countries into the economy of Europe.
The conventional end of the Middle Ages is usually associated with the fall of the city Constantinople and of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Turks made the city the capital of their Ottoman Empire, which lasted until 1919 and also included Egypt, Syria and most of the Balkans.
Renaissance and Reformation
Europe in the 1470s
- Main articles: Renaissance, Protestant Reformation
In the 15th century, at the end of the Middle Ages, powerful nation states had appeared, built by the New Monarchs who had centralized power in France, England, and Spain. On the other hand the Parliament in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth grew in power, taking legislative rights from the Polish king. Contrariwise, the Church was losing much of its power because of corruption, internal conflicts, and the spread of culture leading to the artistic, philosophical, scientific and technological improvements of the Renaissance era.
The new nation states were frequently in a state of political flux and war. In particular, after Martin Luther started the Reformation in 1517, wars of politics and religion ravaged the continent: the schism of the dominant western church was to have major political, social and cultural implications for Europe. What became the split between Catholicism and Protestantism was particularly pronounced in England (where the king Henry VIII severed ties with Rome and proclaimed himself head of the church), and in Germany (where the Reformation united the various Protestant princes against the Catholic Habsburg emperors).
Unlike Western Europe, the countries of Central Europe, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Hungary, resolved religious questions by adopting religious tolerance. Central Europe was already split between Eastern and Western Christianity. Now it became divided between Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Jews.
- Main article: Age of Discovery
The numerous wars did not prevent the new states from exploring and conquering wide portions of the world, particularly in Asia (Siberia) and in the newly-discovered America. In the 15th century, Portugal led the way in geographical exploration, followed by Spain in early 16th century, were the first states to set up colonies in South America and trade stations on the shores of Africa and Asia, but they were soon followed by France, England and the Netherlands.
Colonial expansion proceeded in the following centuries (with some setbacks, such as the American Revolution and the wars of independence in many South American colonies). Spain had control of a great deal of South America, the Caribbean and the Philippines; Britain took the whole of Australia and New Zealand, most of India, and large parts of Africa and North America; France held parts of Canada and India (nearly all of which was lost to Britain in 1763), Indochina and large parts of Africa; the Netherlands gained the East Indies (now Indonesia) and islands in the Caribbean; Portugal obtained Brazil and several territories in Africa and Asia; and later, powers such as Germany, Belgium, Italy and Russia acquired further colonies.
This expansion helped the economy of the countries owning them. Trade flourished, because of the minor stability of the empires. The European countries fought wars, that were largely paid for by the money comming in from the colonies.
- Main article: Early Modern Europe
The Reformation had profound effects on the unity of Europe. Not only were nations divided one from another by their religious orientation, but some states were torn apart internally by religious strife, avidly fostered by their external enemies. France suffered this fate in the 16th century in the series of conflicts known as the French Wars of Religion, which ended in the triumph of the Bourbon Dynasty. England avoided this fate for a while and settled down under Elizabeth to a moderate Anglicanism. Germany, divided into numerous small states under the theoretical framework of the Holy Roman Empire, was also divided along internally drawn sectarian lines, until the Thirty Years' War seemed to see religion replaced by nationalism as the motor of European conflict. The single exception to this was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an entity created by the agreement between the nobility of those two countries, highly valuing the religious tolerance.
Throughout the early part of this period, capitalism was replacing feudalism as the principal form of economic organization, at least in the western half of Europe. The expanding colonial frontiers resulted in a Commercial Revolution. The period is noted for the rise of modern science and the application of its findings to technological improvements, which culminated in the Industrial Revolution. New forms of trade and expanding horizons made new developments in international law necessary.
After the Treaty of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years War, Absolutism became the norm of the continent, while parts of Europe experimented with constitutions foreshadowed by the English Civil War and particularly the Glorious Revolution. European military conflict did not cease, but had less disruptive effects on the lives of Europeans. In the advanced north-west, the Enlightenment gave a philosophical underpinning to the new outlook, and the continued spread of literacy, made possible by the printing press, created new secular forces in thought. Again, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth would be an exception to this rule, with it's unique quasi-democratic Golden Freedom.
Eastern Europe was an arena of conflict for domination between Sweden, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire. This period saw a gradual decline of these three powers which were eventually replaced by new enlightened absolutist monarchies, Russia, Prussia and Austria. By the turn of the 19th century they became new powers, having divided Poland between them, with Sweden and Turkey having experienced substantial territorial losses to Russia and Austria respectively. Numerous Polish Jews emigrated to Western Europe, founding Jewish communities in places where they had been expelled from during the Middle Ages.
The English Civil War
Main article: English Civil War
The English Civil War was a battle between King Charles I and Parliament. Under Elizabeth I and James I England had become a relatively prosperous state. However, the accession of Charles I would see great changes.
The first and foremost cause of the English Civil War was religion. Elizabeth had established the Anglican Church in 1559 and had deliberately avoided controversial issues, such as Catholic-style relics in churches and ceremonial vestments in order to keep the peace. James had allowed the Elizabethan Church to continue. However, when Charles became King in 1625 he allowed an Arminian style of Anglicanism, which seemed like a slide back toward Catholicism and popery. Charles' marriage to the French Catholic princess Henrietta Maria seemed to confirm this slide.
Charles could never seem to get along with Parliaments, and unproductive sessions in 1625, 1626, 1628 and 1629 resulted in Charles's closure of Parliament for 11 years ?\ called by his opponents the 11 Years' Tyranny. The King and Parliament could not agree over his (really his favourite minister the 1st Duke of Buckingham's) very expensive wars against Spain and France. Therefore, as Charles relied on Parliament for money, he spent carefully and ruthlessly enforced prerogative taxation, the most contentious of which was Ship Money.
Buckingham was murdered in 1628 and Charles's new ministers were Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford and William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. Wentworth became Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1633 to ensure the colony became more profitable. Laud however started the Bishops Wars when in 1637 he tried to introduce the English Prayer Book in Scotland, and so the Scots invaded England in 1640.
Charles was forced to call Parliament to raise money for an army. However Parliament wanted its grievances addressed and was furious at not being referred to for 11 years. The Petition of Right, pushed through Parliament by the main opposition leader, John Pym, forced Charles to agree that the English people had rights and liberties and that he had been undermining them. Strafford was executed on 12 May 1641, and Laud was to follow him to the scaffold in 1645. Charles attempted to arrest Pym and five other members in February 1642 after they attempted to impeach the Queen, claiming that Henrietta had been attempting to control Charles and impose a French style tyranny on them.
The King and his family left London in May 1642 and the Queen and her children sailed for France. The raising of the royal standard at Nottingham started war. Charles's side were called the Cavaliers; Parliament's side were the Roundheads. In spite of initial successes, Charles's defeat was assured by 1644, when Pym signed an agreement with the Scots. Charles was defeated and captured at Marston Moor in 1647, but he fled to the Isle of Wight and enlisted the help of the Scots, as Parliament had reneged on their agreement. However, his hopes came to naught when the Roundheads defeated them at Naseby.
Pym had since died and the Grandees in the New Model Army and Parliament including Oliver Cromwell, faced with Charles's perceived duplicity, reluctantly came to the conclusion that they would have to kill him. Charles was brought to trial by a special court in January 1649, he was found guilty by fifty nine Commissioners (Judges) of high treason and executed the same month. With the abolition of the Monarchy Britain entered a period known as the English Commonwealth, Government by a Council of State with a Rump Parliament as the legislator. Real power rested with the Grandees of the New Model Army and in 1653 Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of the Protectorate. After Cromwell died in 1658 his son Richard Cromwell inherited the title of Lord Protector but not the power. After a short return of the Commonwealth, the English Interregnum came to an end with the English Restoration of the Monarchy under the son of Charles I, King Charles II.
The French Revolution
Main article: French Revolution
By 1789 France was on the verge of crisis, but revolution was not obvious before this time. Its causes were royal absolutism, ideas of the Enlightenment (embodied particularly in the person of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher), and the American war of independence. King Louis XVI's absolute refusal to give up power resulted in the storming of the Bastille in Paris on 14 July 1789. Louis was forced to call the Estates-General, the French Parliament, which had last been called in 1614. This comprised of the three estates ?| the clergy (First Estate), the nobility (Second Estate) and the commons (Third Estate). The parliament issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man, demanding an end to the feudal system. The Tennis Court Oath of 1790 led to the drafting of a constitution by the Third Estate for a constitutional monarchy, which the King ignored. As the famine which had plagued France deepened, hundreds of Parisians marched on the royal chateau at Versailles, demanding bread. Louis was hunting at this time, and his hated Austrian wife, Marie-Antoinette, fled. Liberte?L, E?Lgalite?L and Fraternite?L (Liberty, Equality and Fraternity) became the catchcry of the revolution. Word has it that when Louis saw this march on Versailles, he asked one of his ministers, "Is it a revolt?". This minister replied, "No Sire, it is a revolution." Louis failed to respond and increased violence led the King and Queen, with the royal children, attempting to flee to Austria. They got as far as Varennes, in northern France, before they were discovered and were forced to return to Paris. (The King's profile was on all currency. Due to his prominent nose, he was recognized by a commoner.) The Duke of Brunswick, the brother of Marie-Antoinette, issued the 'Brunswick Manifesto', threatening war against the French revolutionaries if the Queen and the royal family were injured in any way. In 1791 the Committee of Public Safety, led by the sans-culottes formed the French Republic, headed by the lawyer Maximilien Robespierre. Over 40,000 Parisians were executed by the newly invented guillotine, in an effort to rid France of all aristocrats. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were to share their fate in 1793, or Year II of the Republic. Robespierre was eventually conspired against and guillotined in 1794. Austria and France went to war after the deaths of Louis and Marie-Antoinette, but the Austrians were defeated. It is important to note that the French Revolution was also a revolt against the Catholic Church. Church property was seized, many clergy were killed and Papal authority was challenged. Never again would the Catholic Church have as much influence in France.
- Main article: Napoleonic Wars
The revolutionary period ended when General Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the government in 1799. Although he began as a defender of the Revolution against aggression from Austria and Britain, he conquered half of Europe before finally being defeated and deposed by the powers allied against him.
Congress of Vienna
- Main article: Congress of Vienna
The Congress of Vienna was a conference between ambassadors from the major powers in Europe. It was held in Vienna from 1 October 1814, to 9 June 1815. The discussions continued despite Napoleon's return and the Congress's Final Act was signed nine days before his final defeat at Waterloo. The Congress was concerned with determining the entire shape of Europe after the Napoleonic wars, with the exception of the terms of peace with France, which had already been decided by the Treaty of Paris in May 1814.
The Congress's principal results, apart from its confirmation of France's loss of the territories annexed in 1795 - 1810, were the enlargement of Russia, (which gained most of the Duchy of Warsaw) and Prussia, which acquired Westphalia and the northern Rhineland. Germany was consolidated from the ~300 states of the Holy Roman Empire (dissolved in 1806) into 39 states. These states were formed into a loose German Confederation under the leadership of Prussia and Austria.
Poland was again devided by Russia, Prussia and Austria. The Polish Kingdom became part of Russia, while western Poland became Prussian and southern Poland was made Austrian. Only the Republic of Cracow stayed independant until 1846.
Representatives at the Congress agreed to numerous other territorial changes. Norway was transferred from Denmark to Sweden. Austria gained Lombardy-Venetia in Northern Italy, while much of the rest of North-Central Italy went to Habsburg dynasts (The Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Modena, and the Duchy of Parma). The Pope was restored to the Papal States. The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia was restored to its mainland possessions, and also gained control of the Republic of Genoa. In Southern Italy the Bourbon Ferdinand IV was restored to the throne. A large United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created for the Prince of Orange, including both the old United Provinces and the formerly Austrian-ruled territories in the Southern Netherlands.
There were other, less important territorial adjustments, including significant territorial gains for the German Kingdoms of Hanover and Bavaria, and the Portuguese rights to the Territory of Olivenza were recognized.
The countries involved with the Congress also agreed to meet at intervals and this led to the establishment of the "Congress system". This system was frequently criticized by 19th century historians for ignoring national and liberal impulses associated with the French Revolution. However, in the twentieth century many historians began to admire the work of the statesmen at the Congress of Vienna, whose work appeared to have prevented another large-scale European war for nearly one hundred years (1818-1914).
After the defeat of revolutionary France, the other great powers tried to restore the situation which existed before 1789. However, their efforts were unable to stop the spread of revolutionary movements: the middle classes had been deeply influenced by the ideals of democracy of the French revolution, the Industrial Revolution brought important economical and social changes, the lower classes started to be influenced by Socialist, Communist and Anarchistic ideas (especially those summarized by Karl Marx in the Manifesto of the Communist Party), and the preference of the new capitalists became Liberalism (a term which then, politically, meant something different from the modern usage). Further instability came from the formation of several nationalist movements (in Germany, Italy, Poland etc.), seeking national unification and/or liberation from foreign rule. As a result, the period between 1815 and 1871 saw a large number of revolutionary attempts and independence wars. Even though the revolutionaries were often defeated, most European states had become constitutional (rather than absolute) monarchies by 1871, and Germany and Italy had developed into nation states. The 19th century also saw the British Empire emerge as the world's first global power due in a large part to the Industrial Revolution and victory in the Napoleonic Wars.
The first revolution to occur in Europe after the French Revolution was the Serbian Uprising of 1804, and the Second Serbian Uprising of 1815, which resulted in the proclamation of autonomous Serbia by the Ottoman Empire. The political dynamics of Europe changed three times over the 19th century - once after the Congress of Vienna, and again after the Crimean War. In 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, the major powers of Europe managed to produce a peaceful balance of power among the empires after the Napoleonic wars (despite the occurrence of internal revolutionary movements). But the peace would only last until the Ottoman Empire had declined enough to become a target for the others. (See history of the Balkans#Rise of Independence.) This instigated the Crimean War in 1854 and began a tenser period of minor clashes among the globe-spanning empires of Europe that set the stage for the first World War. It changed a third time with the end of the various wars that turned the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Prussia into the Italian and German nation-states, significantly changing the balance of power in Europe.
- Main articles: World War I, World War II
After the relative peace of most of the 19th Century, the rivalry between European powers exploded in 1914, when World War I started. On one side were Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Turkey (the Central Powers/Triple Alliance), while on the other side stood Serbia and the Triple Entente - the loose coalition of France, Britain and Russia, which were joined by Italy in 1915 and by the United States in 1917. Despite the defeat of Russia in 1917 (the war was one of the major causes of the Russian Revolution, leading to the formation of the communist Soviet Union), the Entente finally prevailed in the autumn of 1918.
In the Treaty of Versailles (1919) the winners imposed hard conditions on Germany and recognized the new states (such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Yugoslavia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) created in central Europe out of the defunct German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, supposedly on the basis of national self-determination. Most of those countries engaged in local wars, the largest of them being the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921). In the following decades, fear of Communism and the economic Depression of 1929-1933 led to the rise of extreme governments - Fascist or National Socialist - in Italy (1922), Poland (after the May Coup in 1926) Germany (1933), Spain (after a civil war ending in 1939) and other countries such as Hungary.
After allying with Mussolini's Italy in the "Pact of Steel" and signing a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, the German dictator Adolf Hitler and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin started World War II on 1 st and 17 th September 1939 attacking Poland and following a military build-up throughout the late 1930s. After initial successes (mainly the conquest of western Poland, much of Scandinavia, France and the Balkans before 1941) the Axis powers began to over-extend themselves in 1941. Hitler's ideological foes were the Communists in Russia but because of the German failure to defeat Britain and the Italian failures in North Africa and the Mediterranean the Axis forces were split between garrisoning western Europe and Scandinavia and also attacking Africa. Thus, the attack on the Soviet Union (which together with Germany had partitioned central Europe in 1939-1940) was not pressed with sufficient strength. Despite initial successes, the German army was stopped close to Moscow in December 1941. During this period, Germany began the systematic genocide of over 11 million people, including the majority of the Jews of Europe, in the Holocaust. Even as German persecution grew, over the next year the tide was turned and the Germans started to suffer a series of defeats, for example in the siege of Stalingrad and at Kursk. Meanwhile, Japan (allied to Germany and Italy since September 1940) attacked the British in south-east Asia and the United States in Hawaii on December 7, 1941; Germany then completed its over-extension by declaring war on the United States. War raged between the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied Forces (British Empire, Soviet Union, and the United States). Allied Forces won in North Africa, invaded Italy in 1943, and invaded occupied France in 1944. In the spring of 1945 Germany itself was invaded from the east by Russia and from the west by the other Allies respectively; Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered in early May ending the war in Europe.
- Main article: Cold War
World War I and especially World War II ended the pre-eminent position of western Europe. The map of Europe was redrawn at the Yalta Conference and divided as it became the principal zone of contention in the Cold War between the two power blocs, the capitalistic Western_countries and the communist Soviet Union. The U.S. and Western Europe (Britain, France, Italy, West Germany, etc.) established the NATO alliance as a protection against a possible Soviet invasion. Later, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, East Germany) established the Warsaw Pact as a protection against a possible U.S. invasion.
Meanwhile, Western Europe slowly began a process of political and economic integration, desiring to unite Europe and prevent another war. This process resulted eventually in the development of organizations such as the European Union and the Council of Europe.
The Solidarno?? movement in the 1980s in weakened the Communist government in Poland. The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev initiated perestroika and glasnost, which weakened Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. Soviet-supported governments collapsed, and West Germany absorbed East Germany by 1990. In 1991 the Soviet Union itself collapsed, splitting into fifteen states, with the Russian Federation taking the Soviet Union's seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The most violent breakup happened in Yugoslavia, in the Balkans. Four (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia) out of six Yugoslav republics declared independence and for most of them a violent war ensued, in some parts lasting until 1995. The remaining two republics formed a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, under the direction of Slobodan Milo?evi?. Milo?evi? presided over the Kosovo War, and was overthrown after his government was weakened by NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia. Following the ouster of Milo?evi?, the country changed its name to Serbia and Montenegro as a move to placate the frictions between the two federal units and claimed to be instituting a Western-style democracy.
In the post-Cold War era, NATO and the EU have been gradually admitting most of the former members of the Warsaw Pact.
The Treaty of Rome signing ceremony.
Early 21st century: the European Union
- Main article: History of the European Union
The process of European integration was slow due to the reluctance of most nation states to give up their sovereignty. However, the process began to accelerate in the early 21st century. Whereas the European Union started out as a loose economic alliance among European nations, the European Union took further steps to more closely integrate the member states, and make the EU into a more supranational organisation.
At the turn of the century, nations within the European Union had created a free trade zone and eliminated most travel barriers across their borders. A new common currency for Europe, the Euro, was established electronically in 1999, officially tying all of the currencies of each participating nation to each other. The new currency was put into circulation in 2002 and most of the old currencies were phased out. However, not all EU member states have decided to join the Euro project, including the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden.
As of 2005, the European Union is in the process of ratifying a new constitution, inducting additional member states (most of them in central Europe) and to consolidate various treaties. However, the creation of the constitution has been controversial, it is seen by many eurosceptics as an undesirable step towards a single EU state. There has been disagreement as member states wrangle over how much voting power each will have in EU, taxes, and the standards to which new member states must be held before they are admitted. Rejection of the constitution by referendums in two EU founding states (France and the Netherlands) has left the future of the constitution in much doubt.
Histories of present-day territories
- Armenia and Georgia are countries ethnically associated with Europe, but exist in the continentally Asian portion of the Caucasus
- Greenland is politically European (i.e., belonging to Denmark), but is peopled mostly by Inuit and geographically is part of North America. Greenland left the EEC in 1982.
- Iceland is culturally and politically European, but geographically isolated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge junction of the American and European continental plates. Iceland is member of the EFTA, and EEA, not of the EU.
- Russia's western lands are in Europe, whereas its vast eastern lands are in Asia (see Siberia)
- Turkey straddles Asia and Europe, with a small portion of its territory -- Thrace -- and Istanbul being situated in Europe, and the remainder geographically part of Asia. Turkey is currently in talks to join the EU.
Sources: University World and Wikipedia