Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Contemporary World

1945 to the present


After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



Trends in World Politics

SINCE 1945


After the dissolution of the anti-Hitler coalition in 1945, the Cold War between the superpower nations—the United States and the Soviet Union—defined international relations until 1989. Conflicts between the ideological and military systems of the superpowers split the world into hostile blocs of countries and hindered the functioning of the United Nations as an instrument of global peace. The collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 ended the î Cold War, but fundamentalist terror and the uncontrolled proliferation of weapons of mass destruction created new problems and fields of conflict.



Decolonization and the Dissolution of the Blocs

A period of decolonization began during the 1950s. Some of the states that emerged fell into neither the Western nor Eastern camps. Soviet reform policies starting in 1985 induced the implosion of the Eastern Bloc and ended the Cold War.


With India's release from British guardianship in 1947, after a long political struggle and the partition of the subcontinent into two mutually suspicious nations, India and Pakistan, a period of global decolonization began.

In 1949, Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia became independent, and in the 1950s and 1960s almost all of the colonies in 3 Africa gained autonomy.

3 Nigeria: Celebrations on the occasion
of the fifth anniversary of independence, 1965


The Nonaligned Movement

In April 1955, 29 countries, primarily from Asia and Africa, prepared the way for the nonaligned states movement. Nations such as China, India, Indonesia, and Yugoslavia condemned the confrontation of the blocs.

 The term "Third World" was coined there to differentiate the movement's members from countries aligned with the superpowers.

Nonaligned states conference in Bandung, Indonesia, April 1955


The number of sovereign states rose from around 50 in 1900 to 180 in 1990.

The process of decolonization took place cither violently, as was the case in Algeria, or through agreement, as in the case of India. Some of the colonial rulers—in both blocs—were replaced by dictatorial regimes. Dictatorship and the resultant corruption have been characteristic of many African independent countries. To avoid becoming pawns of the major powers, Third World countries in 1955 formed the Nonaligned Movement.

The end of the rigid bloc confrontation began in 1985, when 2 Mikhail Gorbachev assumed office as the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

2 Standing in front of a statue of Lenin,
Gorbachev addresses the Congress of
People's Deputies, 1989

Increased armament, inefficient state structures, and rigid dogmatism had brought the USSR to an economic and social crisis during the preceding Brezhnev era. Gorbachev began a radical reform policy, with the bywords glasnost ("openness") and percstroika ("economic and political reform"). The claim to Soviet supremacy over the Eastern Bloc states was relinquished.

Whereas the Soviet Union had sent 4 tanks in response to the 1968 Czech uprising demanding reform, the suppressed societies in the satellite states now used their new freedom of movement for revolutionary change.

1 Demonstrations, strikes, and mass exoduses in 1989 brought the communist regimes to the point of collapse.

With the disappearance of the Eastern Bloc, the Cold War ended after nearly four decades almost without violence.

4 Soviet tanks in Prague, 1968

1 GDR citizens demonstrate for free elections, Leipzig, 1989



"Life punishes those who come too late!"

This famous statement by Mikhail Gorbachev was never actually made in public.

When Gorbachev was met by East German general secretary Erich Honecker at the Berlin airport on October 5, 1989, Gorbachev said on East German state television:

"I believe danger only awaits those who don't react to life."

Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev
greets Erich Honecker, 1987




The New World Order

The West's peaceful victory in the Cold War brought freedom and democracy to Eastern Europe. Wider access to weapons of mass destruction and the growth of international terrorism, however, presented the world with new challenges.


The 8 fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9,1989, symbolized the victory of the freedom-seeking movements in Eastern European nations and the rapid collapse of the Soviet empire.

In effect, it initiated German reunification along Western lines. East Germany became a part of the Federal Republic of Germany and a year later a member of NATO.
The Warsaw Pact, the Soviet bloc's defense alliance, fell apart, and its Eastern European member states joined the Western alliance after the United States made security reassurances to the Soviet Union and its successor Russia.

At the turn of the millennium, a group of Eastern and Central European states, including Poland and the Baltic States, joined the 6 European Union.

8 The Berlin Wall is demolished
by Berlin citizens,1989

6 The European Union Parliament
meets in Brussels, 2005

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) replaced the collapsed Soviet Union.

The collapse of communism brought democracy and Western civil rights to all of Europe. The decline and fall of the heavily armed Soviet Union, however, bore new dangers. The few that have prospered have become the new international super-rich, while the removal of basic social services previously provided by the state has left the poor, the sick, and the old in a much worse-condition. As central control waned, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear know-how came into the hands of smaller and often unstable states, increasing the potential for a nuclear war.

In addition, conventional weapons such as rifles and 5 land mines were sold without controls and in enormous amounts on the black market.

They were used in many brutal 10 civil wars, for example, in the former 9 Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990s and in Somalia in 1995.

5 Angolan woman maimed by a land mine is fitted with an artificial limb in a local hospital, 2003

10 Child soldier of the Union of Congolese Patriots

9 Civil war in former Yugoslavia in 1992: a sign
in Sarajevo tells people to beware of snipers

A new threat for the world community was created by the use of 11 terror as a political means by non-state interest groups working through globally organized networks.

After the 7 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001, by fundamentalist Islamists the United States and its allies called for a political, economical, and military "war on terror."

The sociopolitical consequences of this for democracy remain unforeseeable.

11 Reconstruction of a British bank in Istanbul, Turkey, after having been destroyed by a bomb attack, 2003

7 Debris in New York after the World Trade Center attacks,
September 11, 2001



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