Europe/Near East/North Africa
1925 to 1998
In the wake of World War I, the map of Europe was redrawn. Carved
from the vanquished Russian and Austro- Hungarian empires were
new entities: the Soviet Union, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland,
Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. The rise of nationalism
in the Near East and Africa led to intensified struggles for independence
from colonial overlords, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia were among
the first to win independent statehood.
Stunned by the rapid political and social transformations, many
people shared a feeling that the world was spinning out of control.
Others enthusiastically embraced the spirit of radical change
and explored new paths in the arts, sciences, and political thought.
The 1920s were an unstable but astonishingly creative period in
By the 1930s, however, a worldwide economic depression had intensified
discontent and insecurity. Fascist dictators gained power in Germany
and Italy by promising a return to order and tradition. In Germany,
Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party blamed Jews for modernity's ills and
embarked on an anti-Semitic campaign that included stripping Jews
of their civil rights. Hitler also adopted expansionist policies,
annexing Austria and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia
in 1938. Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 sparked the beginning
of World War II, whose tentacles soon reached into almost every
corner of the globe.
By the end of the war, in 1945, more than ten million people,
most of them civilians, had been killed, and much of Europe lay
in ruins. Hardest hit were the Jews. Nazi Germany's genocidal
campaign, which has come to be known as "the Holocaust,"
resulted in the murder of six million Jews, or one-third of all
Jewish people, and the irrevocable destruction of most centers
of European Jewish life.
In the wake of the war the great powers of Europe -- France, Germany,
and Great Britain -- were severely weakened, and the Soviet Union
and the United States became leading world powers, vying with
each other for global dominance. The Arab states of the Near East
were liberated from European colonial influence, and a new Jewish
state, Israel, came into existence.
The late 20th century has witnessed a further decline of imperial
power in the region as client states of the Soviet Union in Eastern
Europe broke away and rejected the Communist model. The Soviet
Union itself dissolved in 1991, leaving a power vacuum with repercussions
that were still being felt at the end of the century. Bloody ethnic
conflicts erupted in some of the former Eastern bloc countries,
but the general trend has been toward increasing political and
economic cooperation among the many countries of Europe through
the mechanisms of the European Community (EC).