Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
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The Art of Asia
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Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
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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.



The Soviet Union and its Successor

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
Russian Federation,
Ukraine,Belarus, Moldova,
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia,
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan


After the Second World War, all of Eastern Europe came under the influence of Stalin's totalitarian system, which led the Soviet Union into the Cold War. The system was relaxed to a degree under his successors, who were increasingly bound to a "collective leadership." The party's claim to autocratic rule was not seriously questioned until Gorbachev. In the turbulent years of 1989-1991, the structure of the Eastern bloc crumbled, and then the Soviet Union itself collapsed, disintegrating into a federation of autonomous states. While the Central European countries sought bonds with Western Europe, autocratic presidential regimes established themselves in most of the former Soviet republics.


The Baltic States and the Caucasus

Since gaining independence the Baltic States turned toward the West, establishing democratic structures and joining the European Union. Since 2003 Georgia has moved toward democracy.


Strong independence movements emerged in the Baltic States as early as 1987, recalling the countries' traditions of independence after 1918.

In 1990, Lithuania and Latvia were the first Soviet republics to declare their 2, 3 independence; violent coup attempts in both states by Moscow loyalists were averted. In all three Baltic Soviet republics, the people voted for independence in referendums, and independence became a reality for them in the wake of the coup attempt against Gorbachev in August 1991.

The Baltic nations' transition to stable democratic conditions after the Western model was made easier through membership in the United Nations (1991) and the Council of Europe (1993-1995), as well as economic assistance and cooperation treaties with the West.

The 1 withdrawal of Soviet troops and border treaties with neighboring countries were completed by 1994.

2 Demonstrators wave the Lithuanian flag in front of the parliament building in Vilnius, January 9, 1991

3 A young man waving the Latvian flag during a demonstration demanding independence from the Soviet Union, Riga, January 14, 1991

1 Soviet troops withdrawing from Lithuania, March 3, 1992

Latvia was the first Baltic country to apply for 4 membership in the European Union, on October 27,1995, and 8 Estonia and Lithuania soon followed.

After strengthening their economies and parliamentary systems, the three were among the ten new EU members on May 1, 2004.

In the Caucasus, bloody fighting began as early as 1989 over the 5 Nagorno-Karabakh region, whose predominantly Armenian population declared its independence from Azerbaijan in 1991.

4 Young Lithuanians celebrating their country's accession to the European Union at a concert on the Cathedral Square in Vilnius, April 30, 2004

8 Tourists in the old town of Tallinn, capital of Estonia, 2001

5 Soviet forces on the border between Armenia
and Azerbaijan, January 22, 1990

In 1993 Armenia invaded Azerbaijan in support of the enclave; the two CIS members finally agreed to a cease-fire the next year. In Azerbaijan, the former Communists, led by Heydar Aliyev, returned to power in 1993. Nagorno-Karabakh elected its own president in 1997, although he is not recognized by the Azerbaijani government and the situation remains tense. Armenia and Azerbaijan both became members of the Council of Europe in January 2001.

Ethnic tensions also rose to the surface in Georgia during 1989, when Georgians and South Osse-tians clashed; the same year, Soviet troops crushed pro-independence demonstrations in Tblisi.

The national opposition, led by 7 Zviad Gamsakhurdia, won the first multiparty elections in 1990 and declared Georgia independent in 1991.

President Gamsakhurdia was deposed in January 1992 after heavy fighting and the former Soviet foreign minister, 6 Eduard Shevardnadze, was elected as his successor. Shevardnadze stabilized the economy with the earnings from oil exports and contracts with the West, but he also consolidated his own personal power through a presidential constitution. His regime was characterized by repression and corruption. The peaceful demonstrations of the people following manipulated parliamentary elections on November 22, 2003, forced Shevardnadze to resign. New elections held in January 2004 were won by the main opposition candidate and leader of the United National Movement, Mikhail Saakashvili, who then became president.

7 Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first post-Soviet Georgian president

6 Eduard Shevardnadze, president
of Georgia, addressing the national
parliament, April 30, 2000



The Central Asian States

The former Soviet republics of Central Asia formed authoritarian presidential regimes that combined modest economic reform with old political elites.


Like their Caucasus counterparts, the former Soviet republics of Central Asia experienced political turbulence after independence. They all share a resurgent and often politicized Islamic base, whose radical adherents gained access to weapons and propaganda material through the uncontrolled borders of Afghanistan. The regimes of these states exercised a virtual monopoly over political life in the state .

In Turkmenistan, Communist party head 9 Saparmurat Niyasov was elected president and head of government in 1990 by the Communist Assembly, and he increased his authority with a new constitution in 1992.

That year, he was re-elected to the presidency unopposed. In 1999, Niyasov appointed himself president for life.

Tajikistan became independent in 1991, and 12 Emomali Rahmonov assumed power as head of state a year later.

He declared war on Islamists and called on CIS troops to help against armed rebels in 1993-1994. After Afghan-supported rebels gained control of a part of the country in 1996, Rahmonov concluded peace talks with them and even allowed them to participate in the government in 1998.

A strong personality cult supports the power of the president of Kazakhstan, an independent state since 1990, and observers were unsurprised by his manipulated re-election in 1999 with 97 percent of the vote.

Similarly improbable election victories and autocratic tendencies have characterized the regimes of the other Central Asian states.

11 Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's president since 1990, keeps his country relatively stable through economic ties with the West, cordial political relations with Russia and China, and the exploitation of the country's 15 oil and mineral reserves.

15 Oil production in Kazakhstan: drilling
platform in the Caspian Sea, 2005

In 2000, he assumed some lifelong powers.

President 10 Islam Karimov has held power in Uzbekistan since 1990, ruling over the 14 predominantly Muslim population with an iron hand.

14 Uzbek Muslims praying in a mosque in
the capital city Tashkent, 2001

Uzbekistan provided bases for the American-led coalition during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Kyrgyzstan, the smallest of the republics with perhaps 5 million citizens, was run by President 13 Askar Akayev from 1990 to 200s and encouraged the development of a market economy.

In 1998 Kyrgyzstan became the first former Soviet republic to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). After heavy fighting between government troops and Islamist rebels in 1999, Akayev began a severe crackdown against dissidents. In March 2005 he was forced to flee the country amid violent anti-government protests. Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev then became acting president ahead of fresh elections due in July.

9 Saparmurad Niyasov, president of the Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan, 1997
12 Emomali Rahmonov, the Tajik president, 1993
11 Nursultan Nazarbayev
10 Islam Karimov, the authoritarian president of Uzbekistan since 1990
13 Askar Akayev, president of the Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan


see also: United Nations member states -
Russian Federation,
Ukraine,Belarus, Moldova,
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia,
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan



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