Visual History of the World




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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.




SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
see also: Andorra, Malta, Monaco, San Marino


Although Italy suffered considerable destruction during World War II, the former ally of the German Reich was rapidly reconstructed with the help of American financial aid. The Italian economic miracle of the 1950s, saw a boom in its film industry, tourism, and industrial production. The Italian political system is "stably unstable." A serious problem in the country was, and continues to be, organized crime and corruption, which in individual cases reaches all the way into state institutions and the economy. The economic policy system collapsed in the 1990s, though this did not result in structural changes.


The Peculiarities of the Italian Economy

Since the late 1960s, the signs of an economic crisis in Italy had been multiplying, as industrial production stagnated. Organized crime played a role in this development.


Despite the successes of the postwar period, the Italian 1 economy showed distinct symptoms of a crisis from the late 1960s on.

1 Fiat factory in Turin, ca 1965

Inflation was high and the lira was weak. The national debt in 1997 reached a high point of 120 percent of the gross national product, of which 42 percent was earned by state enterprises. This high percentage of state enterprises contributed to the origin of the crisis: Companies that came into difficulties could seek state support or sell company shares to the state. Once they regained economic health, these shares could be repurchased. In this way, unproductive sectors came under the responsibility of the government and restoring these companies to profitability was done at public expense.

Italy suffers a strong north-south disparity. The Northern Italian regions of Lombardy, 2, 3 Piedmont, and Veneto, along with Latium in the central region, are industrialized to a high degree and have well-developed service sectors.

4 Northern Italy is among the wealthiest regions of Europe.

2 Castello Fenis in the Aosta valley in Piedmont, 2001

3 Turin in Piedmont with the cupola its architectural symbol, the Mole Antonelliana, 2001

4 The fashion capital Milan:
Models pose n a shop window, 2002

The south of the country, the "Mezzogiorno," is primarily 6 agrarian.

Its population density is irregular, with heavy concentrations side by side with deserted areas. Structural aid from the state and the European Union has been unable to alleviate the economic weakness of this region. This seemingly insurmountable division of the country impairs social and political stability. Separatism is an oft-expressed political demand in the north; in the south, large sections of the population migrate north—or leave the country—because of high unemployment.

Furthermore, Southern Italy remains a region plagued by 5 organized crime, or the Mafia.

The struggle against this is becoming increasingly difficult as much of the Mafia's capital has flowed into the legal economy and it has many and diverse international ties at its disposal.

6 Picking of world-renowned Italian olives in the agrarian south, Sicily, 2004

5 The Napolitan Mafia boss "Lucky" Luciano
at home, 1958



The Mafia

Originally a secret society of major Sicilian landowners and their field guards, the Mafia today is a synonym for organized crime that has long since extended far beyond Sicily throughout Europe and into the United States. The main sources of income are drug trafficking, arms smuggling, prostitution, human trafficking, and the extortion of protection money.

In addition, the Mafia engages in subsidy fraud and corruption in the allocation of public commissions in the building trade, for example, through blackmail of influential figures. Their code of conduct is characterized by the obligation of secrecy (omerta) and revenge (vendetta). The secret cooperation of state officials and the mafiosi has, over the course of time, made the Mafia a political player in Southern Italy.

A special unit of the police in
the fight against the Mafia,
on a mission, Naples, 2004




The Italian "Revolution" of the 1990s

The Italian political system collapsed at the beginning of the 1990s. It was not reformed despite an unprecedented wave of trials against corrupt industrialists, public officials, and politicians.


The structural problems of 11 Italy's political system escalated in the 1990s.

11 The Italian tricolor in Rome

After the breakdown of the Eastern Bloc in 1989 the exclusion of the Communist party from government was no longer justifiable when it had widespread support. The intertwining of political parties with the economy and state also came under increasing criticism. Though the collapse of the lira at the beginning of the 1990s promoted Northern Italian exports, it wiped out huge amounts of savings. The call for separatism in the northern regions became louder; the Lega Nord party demanded the division of the country in order to detach itself from the backward South.

A few committed public prosecutors took action against organized crime, and the Mafia defended itself with 12 terror attacks.

12 Mafia-assassination of Judge Borsellmo
in Palermo, Sicily, in which five died and 17
were injured, 19 June 1992

The Mafia's connection to the judiciary and politicians came into the open.

Even previously respectable politicians such as Christian Democrat Giulio Andreotti and Socialist 7 Bettino Craxi were charged.

After the corruption of the parties in the allocation of public commissions became public, first the Christian Democrats, followed by almost every other party, disbanded. Whole government departments were brought to a standstill through the arrest of public officials. By 1994, 6,059 persons had been investigated, half of whom went to jail.

This operation, called "Mani pulite" (Clean hands), was conducted by the Milan public prosecutor, 8 Antonio di Pietro.

Even new parties such as Lega Nord and Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia had to explain themselves to the Italian courts.

New Christian Democratic parties emerged from the former Democrazia Cristiana party. The terms Socialist, Republican, Social Democrat, and Liberal became meaningless.

The Communist party reestablished itself as the 9 Partito Democmtico della Sinistra (Democratic Party of the Left).

10 Forza Italia and Lega Nord gained in popularity, as did the successor of the Neo-Fascists, the Allianza Nazionale.

After the elections of 1994, more than 70 percent of the members of parliament were new. Despite this, neither chamber could agree upon a reform committee. The proposal to introduce the majority electoral system to concentrate political power was rejected in a referendum in 2000 after minor parties and the Forza Italia spoke against it. Therefore reforms to the political system did not take place.

7 Bettino Craxi, president 1983-1987
8 Di Pietro, former investigator of corruption
9 Massimo D'Alema, leader of the PDS party

10 Silvio Berlusconi campaigning,



Silvio Berlusconi

Since he was first elected prime minister, as chairman of the right-wing Forza Italia party, which he founded in 1994, media tycoon and current president of Italy Silvio Berlusconi has been the dominant figure in Italian politics.

The powerful politician has had to defend himself several times in front of a court and is strongly criticized for his heavy influence on the media both domestically and internationally.

The Italian media tycoon and
prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, 2000


see also: United Nations member states -
see also: Andorra, Malta, Monaco, San Marino



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