At the end of the Second World War, Europeans once again found themselves immersed in feelings of dread, anxiety, and uncertainty. Much of this anxiety, however, faded from view during the 1950s. As the two great superpowersthe United States and the Soviet Unioncarved out their respective spheres of influence, European economic and cultural life entered a period of recovery, regeneration, and renewal. Both superpowers had the bomb, and peace was maintained by the constant threat of nuclear annihilation.
On the social front. increased prosperity brought about the rise of the technocrat: a member of the managerial class who combined the skills of the technician with those of the bureaucrat. Meanwhile, a wave of new gadgets entered the household, and together with the advanced techniques of advertising and marketing, a consumer culture emerged. All seemed well, but this was the deceptive calm before the storm. The storm broke in the mid- to late 1960s. Student protests broke out on college campuses in the United States, Japan, and Europe. Some of these protests, like the one at the University of Paris in 1968, involved college students, ordinary citizens, and working-class elements. The Paris demonstration articulated concerns across class lines. The issues at stake were serious ones: American involvement in Vietnam, women's rights, civil rights for blacks, and nuclear weapons. Most important perhaps was the sense that modern life was full of alienation, hatred, and hypocrisy. The need for something real, something genuine, was palpable. The spirit of the student protest movement was short-lived. Meanwhile, the affluence of the 1950s gave way to the sluggish economies of the 1970s and 1980s. The governments of the United States under Ronald Reagan and Britain under Margaret Thatcher made profound shifts to the right as the promises of the 1960s and 1970s could not be kept.
In 1989, the unthinkable became reality. Within a few years of Mikhail Gorbachev's term in office, and armed with the slogans of glasnost and perestroika, the "people's republics" of Eastern Europe began to crumble and declare their independence from Moscow. What began as a trickle soon became a torrent, and on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and with it, the last of Europe's Stalinist dictators. Three years later, on December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned his post and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Eastern Europe was liberated in what was called the "velvet revolution." But as soon as the joys of that revolution faded from view, reality set in: inflation, unemployment, ethnic conflict, and protest. This scenario was played out across Europe but was nowhere more deadly than in Yugoslavia, whose federal structure collapsed in 2000.