The Soviet Union lasted from 1922 (following the Russian Revolution) until its collapse in 1991. Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms gave the republics more control in the 1980s, but this came after decades of totalitarian control. The U.S.S.R. had been suffering from a weak economy and political oppression since Joseph Stalin assumed power before him in 1924.
Gorbachev’s glasnost (“openness”) initiative prompted the release of political prisoners and lifted the heavy hand of the Totalitarian regime. His perestroika (“restructuring”) policy relaxed central economic control, too.
But, as Gorbachev noted in his 1991 resignation speech, “…the old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working,” and most member states of the U.S.S.R. declared their independence to salvage what remained.
Yugoslavia existed from the end of World War I in 1918 until just after the Cold War concluded, in 1992. It was a federation of six nations that retained their linguistic, ethnic, and cultural identities n a deep level. Two additional provinces were created to join them.
The glue holding them all together was a moderately successful economy and the federal government, led by President-for-life Josip Broz Tito.
Tito’s death in 1980 weakened the state too much to stabilize the numerous rebellions that occurred, inspired in no small part by Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika policies. Now we have these nations in the global community:
Source: U.S. Office of the Historian
East and West Germany
To be fair, “Germany” as we know it today used to be over 300 principalities before 1871. This is more of a reunification than a dissolution of states.
Then the Cold War split it into East and West Germany along the dividing line between the Eastern and Western blocs following the Second World War, encapsulating the Cold War in a single location.
It was the very same economic stagnation in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe that caused East Germany to crumble (and East Germany was firmly under Soviet influence).
It became clear that Germany would not remain divided once East Germans began fleeing into the West as soon as the opportunity arose. When Hungary took down its fence in 1989, thousands of East Germans flew the coop. The Berlin Wall collapsed with the Soviet Union soon afterward, and the rest is history. Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica
Tibet existed under the Republic of China (Taiwan) from 1912-1950 with plenty of autonomy, but it didn’t last for long.
After months of failed negotiations and a tense build-up of armed forces along their borders, The People’s Republic of China (mainland China) invaded Tibet to claim the territory for its own.
Originally given the European name Ceilão by the Portuguese in 1505, it came under British control in 1802 when it was renamed Ceylon. Ceylon gained independence from Britain in 1948, not unlike other colonies (for example, Canada). It changed its name to Sri Lanka in 1972.
However, the Tamil population pushed for an independent state shortly afterward, and both sides escalated the conflict into a civil war that lasted until 2009. Anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 people are estimated to have died. Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Local Histories
The Kingdom of Siam
Thailand was a monarchy for seven centuries, from 1238 to 1939. It came under the fascist military rule of Field Marshal Luang Phibunsongkhram in 1939, and sided with Japan (the Axis) in World War II.
Frankly, Siam didn’t have the military strength to refuse when Japan demanded free passage, anyway. But when the tide turned in favor of the Axis powers, Siam made peace with the Allies while carefully trying not to snub Japan.
It was in the aftermath of war that the Kingdom of Siam became Thailand in 1949, under the second military regime of Phibun.
The nominal change coincided with a national focus on secondary education, a bigger military presence, and an anti-Communist position on the global stage. You can bet the Western bloc was pleased! Sources: History Today, Nations Online
The United Arab Republic
Although it didn’t last for long, the United Arab Republic’s formation in 1958 represented a celebration of Arab culture, as well as its contributions to the world. That, and pushing Communist influence to the sidelines.
Egypt and Syria united politically to achieve that goal. But all successful relationships need balance, and the UAR did not develop the kind of balance that Syria wanted.
Syrian leaders didn’t get to exercise the influence they believed they would, and were forced to buy into Egypt’s single party (and military) political structure while earning lower salaries than they had previously.
The idea of a united Arab nation lost momentum when the oil-rich countries did not join. Syria seceded in 1961, just three years after forming the UAR. Source: International Relations
Like much of the Eastern Bloc, Czechoslovakia reformed into separate nations (the Czech Republic and Slovakia) as the U.S.S.R. relaxed its political and economic grip on the world.
The country had remained united despite seven years of Nazi occupation and decades of Soviet influence after forming in 1918, the end of the First World War.
While Communism saw enough success to keep the Czech population employed, the Slovak population’s unemployment rate was four times higher, even in the late 1980s.
The Velvet Revolution of 1989 (peaceful protests against political oppression) prompted the Communist party to step down, but the three years of democracy following the Revolution simply didn’t work for both populations.
Those are just eight countries that no longer exist. Have suggestions? You know where to find us!
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