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1990 1991 1992 1993 1994

1995 1996 1997 1998 1999

1970s 1980s - 1990s - 2000s 2010s
20th century

The 1990s or Nineties was the decade between and including January 1, 1990 to December 31, 1999. During this time, the widespread adoption of personal computers, the Internet, and the increased economic productivity led to the equity market booms around the world, and caused an influx of wealth to the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia.

This decade started with the fall of the Soviet Union and the fighting of the Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait, as well as the cementation of free market capitalism in many countries worldwide, both developed and developing. During this decade, the gender roles for women changed dramatically in many industrialized countries as women assumed leadership and gained power in politics, business, and other aspects of life.

Throughout the decade multiple attempts to solve the conflict between Israeli and Palestinian territories were initiated including a near settlement in the mid-1990s with the Oslo Accords when Israel allowed the creation of the autonomous Palestinian National Authority. Also, the 165 years of British control over Hong Kong ended with the transfer of jurisdiction to the People's Republic of China. In Europe, the decade was dominated by the Yugoslav wars, which resulted in the dissolution of Yugoslavia as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia declared their independence.



Many countries, institutions, companies, and organizations were prosperous during the 1990s. High-income countries such as the United States, South Korea, and those in Western Europe experienced steady economic growth for much of the decade. However, in the former Soviet Union GDP decreased as their economies restructured to produce goods they needed and some capital flight occurred.

Oil and gas were discovered in many countries in the former Soviet bloc, leading to economic growth and wider adoption of trade between nations. These trends were also fueled by inexpensive fossil energy, with low petroleum prices caused by a glut of oil. Political stability and decreased militarization due to the winding down of the Cold War led to economic development and higher standards of living for many citizens.

  • Personal incomes doubled from the recession in 1990, and there was higher productivity overall. After the 1996 Welfare Reform Act there was a reduction of poverty,[1] and the Wall Street stock exchange stayed over the 10,500 mark from 1999 to 2001.
  • After the 1992 booming of the US stock market, Alan Greenspan coined the phrase "irrational exuberance".
  • GATT update and creation of the World Trade Organization and other global economic institutions, but opposition by anti-globalization activists showed up in nearly every GATT summit, like the demonstrations in Seattle in December 1999.
  • With the creation of the E.U. there is freedom of movement between member states, such as the 1992 and 1995 free trade agreements. The EU agreed to have a single currency, and the Euro began circulation in March 1999 in 12 member states.
  • The Philippines saw great economic development after the People Power Revolution. The economy gains 5% from its deficit until the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
  • The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which phases out trade barriers between the United States, Mexico, and Canada is signed into law by U.S. President Bill Clinton.
  • From 1990 until 1998 inclusive, the economy of Russia and some former USSR states was in a severe depression. Eastern European economies struggled after the fall of communism, but Poland, Hungary, Estonia, and Lithuania saw healthy economic growth rates in the late 1990s.
  • Except for the United Kingdom and Ireland, much of Europe had serious economic problems, such as the massive 1995 general strikes in France during its worst recession since World War II. The French economy mildly rebounds at the end of the decade.
  • The sluggish economies of Brazil, by a new emphasis on free markets for all their citizens, and Mexico, under economist president Ernesto Zedillo elected in 1994, were in their best shape by the late 1990s.
  • Financial crisis hits East and Southeast Asia in 1997 and 1998 after a long period of phenomenal economic development. Japan was heavily affected, as was Indonesia when the 30-year rule of President Suharto ended in his resignation after widespread protests in May 1998. See Four Asian Tigers.

World-changing events

Significant events that occurred during or after 1990 which would influence the course of history and character of the decade, include:

Significant events that marked the passing of the decade include:

International Issues

Politically, the 1990s was an era of spreading democracy.[2] The former countries of the Warsaw Pact moved from totalitarian regimes to democratically-elected governments.[3] The same happened in other non-communist countries, such as Taiwan, Chile, South Africa, and Indonesia. Capitalism made great changes to the economies of communist countries like China and Vietnam, and even Cuba.

The improvement in relations between the countries of NATO and the former members of the Warsaw Pact ended the Cold War both in Europe and other parts of the world. Yugoslavia violently broke up along republic and ethnic lines during the 1990s. In 1993, the Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, and PLO leader Yasser Arafat shook hands in agreement for peace, at the conclusion of peace talks sponsored by US president Bill Clinton. The outcome of these talks, known as the Oslo Accords, was an agreement by Israel to allow Palestinian self-government.

Conflicts like the Balkan Wars, the Rwandan Genocide, the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, and the first Gulf War, as well as the continuation of terrorism, led some to hypothesize a Clash of Civilizations, but the decade was also a time of peace in terror-ridden Northern Ireland when the IRA agreed to a truce in 1994. This marked the beginning of the end of 25 years of violence between the two sectarian groups, Protestant and Catholic, and the start of political negotiations.


  • The Ethiopian Civil War ends in 1991, ending over twenty years of internal conflict. The end of the war coincides with the collapse of the communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam and the establishment of a coalition government of various factions.
  • End of apartheid in South Africa (1994) and election of ANC government of Nelson Mandela.
  • In Algeria a long period of violence in the north African country starts by the cancellation of the first ever held democratic elections by a group of high ranking army officers.
  • Eritrea gains independence from Ethiopia (1993).
  • Military actions by the United States in Somalia in 1993 and the Battle of Mogadishu.
  • Rwandan Genocide kills one million people, in 1994.
  • The Congo Wars break out in the 1990s. The First Congo War takes place in Zaire from 1996 to 1997, resulting in Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko being overthrown from power on May 16, 1997, ending 32 years of his rule. Zaire is renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Second Congo War starts in 1998 in central Africa and includes 5 different cultures and 7 different nations. It goes on until 2003.



  • Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in Burma wins a majority of seats in the first free elections in 30 years in 1990, yet the Burmese military junta refuses to relinquish power, beginning an ongoing peaceful struggle throughout the 1990s to the present by Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters to demand the end of military rule in Burma.
  • Persian Gulf War (resulting from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait) and United Nations embargo on Iraq in 1991.
  • North Yemen and South Yemen merge to form Yemen (1991).
  • Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Prime Minister Yasser Arafat agree to the Peace Process at the culmination of the Oslo Accords, negotiated by the United States President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1993.
  • In Japan, after three decades of economic growth put them in second place in the world's economies, the situation worsened after 1993. The recession went on into the early 2000s, bringing an end to the seemingly unlimited prosperity that the country had hitherto enjoyed.
  • The rise of free market economics in China under more socialist regulation had not slowed that country's economic prosperity in the 1990s, and its economic growth continues.
  • Less affluent nations such as India, Malaysia, and Vietnam also saw tremendous improvements in economic prosperity and quality of life during the 1990s. Restructuring following the end of the Cold War was beginning. However, there was also the continuation of terrorism in Third World regions that were once the "frontlines" for American and Soviet foreign politics, particularly in Asia.
  • The Palestinian National Authority is created in 1994 in accordance with the Oslo Accords, giving Palestinian Arab people official autonomy over the Gaza Strip and West Bank, though not official independence from Israel.
  • In 1994, a peace treaty is signed between Israel and Jordan.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated in 1995 by a radical Jewish militant who opposed the Oslo accords.
  • The Taliban seize control of Afghanistan in 1996.
  • South-East Asia economic crisis starting from 1997.
  • The Spratly Islands issue became one of the most controversial in Southeast Asia.
  • The Tibetan Freedom Concert brings 120,000 people together in the interest of increased human rights and autonomy for Tibet from China.
  • Great Britain hands sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China on July 1, 1997.
  • The government of the People's Republic of China led by Jiang Zemin announces major privatization of state-owned industries in September 1997.
  • Both India and Pakistan reveal their acquiring of nuclear weapons in two separate missile tests in both countries in 1998.
  • After the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Al-Qaeda militants, U.S. naval military forces launch cruise missile attacks against Al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan in 1998.
  • In May 1999, Pakistan sends troops covertly to occupy strategic peaks in Kashmir. A month later the Kargil War with India results in a political fiasco for Nawaz Sharif, followed by a military withdrawal to the Line of Control. The incident leads to a military coup in October in which the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is ousted by Army Chief Pervez Musharraf.
  • Portugal hands sovereignty of Macau to the People's Republic of China on December 20, 1999.
  • East Timor breaks away from Indonesian control in 1999, merely a year after the fall of Suharto from power, ending a twenty-four year guerrilla war with more than 200,000 casualties. The UN deploys a peace keeping force, spearheaded by the Australian and New Zealand armed forces. The United States deploys police officers to serve with the International Police element, to help train and equip an East Timorese police force.


Significant events

  • A magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit the Philippines on July 16, 1990 and killed around 1000 people in Baguio City.
  • In 1990 the process of dismantlement of apartheid political system in South Africa begins with the release of bans on political parties supported by black South Africans as well as the release of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela from jail.
  • The Internet becomes available for public use in 1991.
  • The European Union forms in 1992 under the Maastricht Treaty.
  • The Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killed 168. Bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh claimed he bombed the building in retaliation for the 1993 Waco massacre.
  • In France, Princess Diana dies in a car accident in 1997. Debates of accident vs. assassination rage well into the 2000s.
  • Nelson Mandela is elected President of South Africa in 1994, becoming the first black-President in South African history ending a long-legacy of apartheid white-rule in the country.
  • The 1992 Los Angeles riots occurred, with 53 deaths and 5,500 property fires in a 100 sqmi riot zone. The riots were a result of the state court acquittal of three White and one Hispanic L.A. police officers by an all-white jury in a police brutality case involving motorist Rodney King, but in 1993, all four officers were convicted in a federal civil rights case.
  • The Siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 in the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina marks the most violent urban warfare in Europe since World War II at that time as Serb forces bombard and attack Bosniak controlled and populated areas of the city. War crimes occur including ethnic cleansing and destruction of civilian property.
  • The Omagh bombing in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland which kills 29 civilians and injures hundreds more.
  • The signing of the Oslo Accords by Israeli and Palestinian representatives in Oslo, Norway on August 20, 1993. By signing the accord, Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization recognizes Israel's right to statehood, while Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin allowed for the creation of an autonomous Palestinian National Authority consisting of the Gaza Strip and West Bank which was implemented in 1994. Israeli military forces withdraw from the Palestinian territories in compliance with the accord, which marked the end of the First Intifada (a period of violence between Palestinian Arab militants and Israeli armed forces from 1987 to 1993).
  • The Channel Tunnel across the English Channel opens in 1994, connecting France and England. As of 2007 it is the second-longest rail tunnel in the world, but with the undersea section of 37.9 km (23.55 miles) being the longest undersea tunnel in the world.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin is assassinated by a radical Zionist who opposed the Oslo Accords.
  • O.J. Simpson's trial, described in the U.S. media as the "trial of the century" and enormous U.S. media attention is focused on the trial. On October 3, 1995, Simpson was found "not guilty" of double-murder of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
  • The 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty is held in the predominantly francophone province of Quebec in Canada, a majority anglophone country. If accepted Quebec would become an independent country with an economic association with Canada. The proposal is narrowly rejected by Quebec's voters by 50.4% no, and 49.6% yes.
  • In the United Kingdom, the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep was confirmed by the Roslin Institute, and was reported by global media on February 26, 1997. Dolly would trigger a raging controversy on cloning and bioethical concerns regarding possible human cloning continue to this day.
  • US president Bill Clinton was caught in a media-frenzied sex scandal over his intern Monica Lewinsky, first announced on January 21, 1998. After the U.S. House of Representatives impeached Clinton on December 19, 1998 for perjury under oath, following an investigation by federal prosecutor Kenneth Starr, the Senate acquitted Clinton of the charges on February 12, 1999 and he finished his second term.
  • The Columbine High School massacre occurred on April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colorado when two student gunmen killed 12 students, a teacher and then committed suicide, making it the deadliest high school shooting in United States history.
  • The Euro is adopted by the European Union on January 1, 1999, which begins a process of phasing out national currencies of EU countries.
  • In 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched air raids against Yugoslavia (then composed of only Serbia and Montenegro) to pressure the Yugoslav government to end its military operations against ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo due to accusations of war crimes being committed by Yugoslav military forces working alongside nationalist Serb paramilitary groups. After weeks of bombing Yugoslavia submits to NATO's demands and NATO forces occupy Kosovo and form a UN administration over the territory. The NATO action is seen as highly controversial at the time due to repeated reports of NATO attacks on non-military facilities, including destruction of civilian property and civilian deaths. NATO is criticized for working alongside the Kosovo Liberation Army which was accused of committing atrocities against Serbs.
  • Y2K spread fear throughout the United States and eventually the world in the last half of the decade particularly 1999. Many feared that it would cause a massive computer crash on January 1, 2000. It became huge in popular culture and many people stocked up on supplies for fear of a disaster. One year later, January 1, 2001 was the beginning of the 3rd millennium, as well the 21st century and the official end of the 20th century.

World leaders


  1. The Urban Institute | Welfare Reform: Ten Years Later
  2. Sorin Antohi and Vladimir Tismăneanu, "Independence Reborn and the Demons of the Velvet Revolution" in Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath, Central European University Press. ISBN 963-9116-71-8. p.85.
  3. Sorin Antohi and Vladimir Tismăneanu, "Independence Reborn and the Demons of the Velvet Revolution" in Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath, Central European University Press. ISBN 963-9116-71-8. p.85.
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