Decolonisation and Political Movements in the 20th Century

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

He led the Indian National Congress against the rule of the British. His political principles included non-violence and passive resistance.

Ho Chi Ming (1890-1969)

After the invasion of Vietnam by Japan, he founded a guerrilla movement to fight against occupation. Later on, he stood up against France and became president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1954.

Achmed Sukarno (1901-1970)

He proclaimed the independence of Indonesia from the Netherlands in 1945 and led the war against the metropole until it recognized independence in 1949.

Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961)

He fought for independence from Belgium and became the first prime minister of the Congo.

Break-up of communist bloc

The European people’s republics took advantage of the internal problems of the Soviet Union and initiated a reform process which did away with the communist system and established democracy. This wave of change, known as the Autumn of Nations, was peaceful and affected all the Central and Eastern European countries.

Decolonisation: Asia

The independence of the Philippines was a peaceful process because the United States voluntarily granted this status to the country in 1946. However, the process was mixed on the Hindustan peninsula, where the British Indian Empire was partitioned in 1947 to form the Indian Union and Pakistan, from which Bangladesh separated in 1971. On the other hand, independence was achieved through war in the Dutch colony of Indonesia and in French Indo-China, from which Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia emerged.

Bandung Conference/UN

Decolonization gained a new push due to the Bandung Conference and the activities of the United Nations. Bandung Conference (Indonesia) in 1955 gathered 29 recently decolonized Asian and African countries under the initiative of Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Meanwhile, the UN condemned colonialism in 1960.

Economic ‘miracle Japan’

Japan was occupied by the United States between 1945 and 1951. A new constitution was approved in 1947, which established a parliamentary monarchy and the power of the emperor became merely symbolic. The economy, which had been severely damaged by the war, grew rapidly under US support until it became the second world economic power in the 1960s.

Break-up Soviet: reforms of Gorbachev

When Brezhnev died in 1982, the Soviet Union was in a deep political and economic crisis. Mikhail Gorbachev, the new head of the Soviet Communist Party since 1985, set out to solve the crisis by undertaking various reforms. As part of his foreign policy, he resumed disarmament talks with the United States and withdrew from the conflicts in Africa and Afghanistan. His domestic policy consisted of implementing the perestroika, a set of political and economic reforms which meant tentative democratization and a certain liberalization of the economy, and setting up glasnost – literally, spirit of transparency – which was intended to grant freedom of expression and opinion to the media. The reforms implemented by Gorbachev brought about opposition from two sides: the radical reformers, like Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Federation since 1990, who considered them insufficient, and the hardliners, who considered them a threat that would destroy the communist system.