These images all focus on the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe in the late 1980s. The top right image is the logo of the Polish Solidarity union, which served as a catalyst in bringing down the Iron Curtain. Solidarity was not a part of the Communist Party, which was extremely unusual for a trade union in the Soviet sphere of influence. A huge portion of Poland’s population joined Solidarity, and it quickly became an opposition movement. In the early 1980s, the Polish government implemented martial law in an attempt to crack down on Solidarity’s popularity and criticism of the government. Eventually, the Polish government realized that Solidarity was too big to quash and was forced to negotiate. These negotiations led to elections that were partially free in 1989. In the 1989 elections, the Polish people voted resoundingly for Solidarity and against communism. After that, it was only a matter of time until the rest of Eastern Europe would follow Poland’s lead.
The middle left image shows Hungarian and Austrian officials bringing down part of the physical Iron Curtain. In the summer of 1989, the Austrians and Hungarians staged a “Pan-European Picnic” on their border, where they would temporarily take down the fencing separating East and West and let people cross back and forth freely during lunch. However, East Germans in Hungary also heard about the plans for the picnic and decided to take advantage of the opportunity. East Germans faced extremely heavy restrictions on travel to the West, but could travel much more freely behind the Iron Curtain, including to Hungary. On the day of the picnic, hundreds of East Germans arrived and crossed through the open border into Austria and the West.
The top left image shows East German soldiers standing on top of the Berlin Wall after the border between East and West Germany had been opened. After the Pan-European Picnic, thousands of East Germans were able to escape to Austria through Hungary. However, the East German government eventually caught on and banned travel to Hungary. After this, many traveled to Hungary (and then Austria) through Czechoslovakia or simply went to the West German embassy in Czechoslovakia. The East German government eventually decided to open the border between East and West Germany, but due to a miscommunication, border guards were completely uninformed. Masses of East Germans arrived at the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 wanting to leave, but faced resistance from the guards. Eventually, the guards gave in and opened the border, ending the physical separation of West and East Germany.
The bottom right image shows an Iron Curtain monument in Budapest, which serves as a reminder of the terrible times of the Iron Curtain. For people in Eastern Europe, the Iron Curtain isolated them, separated them from the West, oppressed them, and humiliated them. However, the people who lived behind it did not simply accept its presence. They fought to tear down the Iron Curtain, and they were ultimately successful. Europe is no longer divided between East and West, and many of the countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain have now joined the ultimate Western club – the European Union.