In 1918 the Slovaks joined the closely related Czechs to form Czechoslovakia. Following the chaos of World War II, Czechoslovakia became a communist nation within Soviet-ruled Eastern Europe. Soviet influence collapsed in 1989 and Czechoslovakia once more became free. The Slovaks and the Czechs agreed to separate peacefully on 1 January 1993. Slovakia has experienced more difficulty than the Czech Republic in developing a modern market economy. Slovakia became a member of the European Union in May 2004 and joined NATO in April 2004.

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During the 1950s and 1960s Soviet citizens were urged to help settle the “New Lands” of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The influx of immigrants (mostly Russians, but including some deported minority nationalities) created an ethnic mixture and enabled non-Kazakhs to outnumber natives. Independence has caused many of these newcomers to emigrate. Current issues include resolving ethnic differences; speeding up market reforms; establishing stable relations with Russia, China, and other foreign powers; and developing and expanding the country’s abundant energy resources.

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Poland gained its independence in 1918 only to be overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. It became a Soviet satellite country following the war, but one that was comparatively tolerant and progressive. Labour turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of an independent trade union “Solidarity” that over time became a political force and by 1990 had won parliamentary elections and the presidency. Complete freedom came with the implosion of the USSR in 1991. A “shock therapy” programme during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe. Today, it is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe and a significant trading partner for the UK. It became a full member of the European Union in May 2004. Poland joined the NATO alliance in 1999.

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Hungary was part of the polyglot Austro-Hungarian Empire, which collapsed in World War I. It fell under communist rule following World War II. A revolt in 1956 and an announced withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact were met with massive military intervention by Moscow. In the more open Gorbachev years, Hungary led the movement to dissolve the Warsaw Pact and steadily shifted towards multiparty democracy and a market-oriented economy. Following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Hungary developed close political and economic ties with Western Europe. It became a member of NATO in 1999 and joined the European Union in May 2004.

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Having fought on the losing side in both World Wars, Bulgaria fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People’s Republic in 1946. Communist domination ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, and Bulgaria began the contentious process of moving toward political democracy and a market economy while combating inflation, unemployment, corruption, and crime. Bulgaria joined NATO in 2006 and has become a member of the European Union in 2007.

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Serbia and Montenegro have asserted the formation of a joint independent state, but this entity has not been formally recognized as a state by the US. The US view is that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) has dissolved and that none of the successor republics represents its continuation. In 1999, massive expulsions by Serbs of ethnic Albanians living in the autonomous republic of Kosovo provoked an international response, including the bombing of Serbia and the stationing of NATO and Russian peacekeepers in Kosovo. On 17 February 2008, Kosovo declared itself independent. The Montenegrin Assembly made a formal declaration of independence on 3 June 2006, thus bringing the union between Serbia and Montenegro to an end. Serbia is a potential candidate country for EU accession.

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Soviet occupation following World War II led to the formation of a communist Peoples Republic in 1947 and the abdication of the king. The decades-long rule of President Nicolae CEAUSESCU became increasingly draconian through the 1980s. He was overthrown and executed in late 1989. Former communists dominated the government until 1996 when they were swept from power. Romania joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union on 1 January 2007.

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Formerly ruled by Romania, Moldova was annexed to become part of the Soviet Union at the close of World War II. Although independent from the USSR since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Nistru (Dnister) River supporting the Slavic majority population (mostly Ukrainians and Russians) who have proclaimed a “Transnistria” republic.

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Richly endowed in natural resources, Ukraine has been fought over and subjugated for centuries; its 20th-century struggle for liberty is not yet complete. A short-lived independence from Russia (1917-1920) was followed by brutal Soviet rule that engineered two artificial famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which over 8 million died, and World War II, in which German and Soviet armies were responsible for some 7 million more deaths. Although independence was attained in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, true freedom remains elusive as many of the former Soviet elite remain entrenched, stalling efforts at economic reform, privatization, and civic liberties.

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On 9 September 1991, Macedonians overwhelmingly voted in favour of independence from Yugoslavia. This led to the adoption on 20 November 1991 of a new constitution, which proclaimed the ‘Republic of Macedonia’ as a sovereign and independent state. In March 1992 the peaceful withdrawal of the Yugoslav army from its territory was successfully negotiated. Macedonia was the only country to accede from the Yugoslav federation peacefully.

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