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1980 1981 1982 1983 1984

1985 1986 1987 1988 1989

1960s 1970s - 1980s - 1990s 2000s
20th century

The 1980s refers to the years from 1980 to 1989. This decade is often referred to as "the Me decade" or "the Greed decade", reflecting the economic and social climate of the period. Referring to the well-publicized rise of a new middle class which grew even more in Asia in the coming decade. College graduates in their late 20s/30s were entering the workplace in prestigious office professions, holding more purchasing power with which they purchased trendy, luxurious goods.

The late 1980s was different than much of the decade. It saw the withdrawal of Soviet troops at the conclusion of the Soviet-Afghan War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The era was characterized by the blend of conservative family values alongside a period of increased telecommunications, a shift towards liberal market economies and the new openness of perestroika and glasnost in the USSR. This transitional period also saw massive democratic revolutions such as the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in China, the Czechoslovak velvet revolution, and the overthrow of the dictatorial regime in Romania and other communist Warsaw Pact states in Central and Eastern Europe. It came to be called as the purple passage of the autumn of nations. These changes continued to be felt in the 1990s and into the 21st century.

The 1980s are also well known (and often ridiculed) for the popular culture of the time such as the over-the-top fashion, big hair styles and the commercialization of music and film.

The 1980s was also an era of tremendous population growth around the world which, along with the 1970s and 1990s, was among the largest in human history. This growth occurred not only in developing regions but also developed western nations, where many newborns were the offspring of Baby Boomers.

International issues

  • Militance against communist governments in Europe and Asia, collapse of the Warsaw Pact precipitates the end of the Cold War.
  • International debt crisis in developing countries, reliance of these countries on aid from the International Monetary Fund.
  • Spread of neoliberal economics in developed world.



  • Ten thousand Cubans storm the Peruvian embassy in Havana seeking political asylum on April 6, 1980. On April 7 the Cuban government granted permission for the emigration of Cubans seeking refuge in the Peruvian embassy.
  • Peru faces the beginning of internal conflict by the communist Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement in 1980 that would continue until the end of the 1990s.
  • Famous former Beatles musician John Lennon is assassinated in 1980 in the United States.
  • Political unrest in the province of Quebec, which rooted from the many differences between the dominant francophone population versus the anglophone minority and the francophones rights in the dominantly English-speaking Canada, came to a head in 1980 when the provincial government called a public referendum on partial separation from the rest of Canada. The referendum ended with the "no" side winning majority (59.56% no, 40.44% yes).
  • Ronald Reagan elected U.S. President in 1980. In international affairs, Reagan pursued a hardline policy towards preventing the spread of communism, initiating a massive buildup of U.S. military power to challenge the Soviet Union. He further directly challenges the Iron Curtain by demanding that the Soviet Union dismantle the Berlin Wall.
  • Mexico suffers from a debt crisis starting in 1982.
  • The Falklands War occurred from 2 April 1982 – 14 July 1982 between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the disputed territory of the Falkland Islands. Britain emerged victorious and its stance in international affairs and its reputation as a great power increased substantially. Argentina on the other hand was left humiliated by the defeat and its dictator Leopoldo Galtieri was deposed three days after the end of the war.
  • Canada gains official independence from the United Kingdom with a new Constitution on April 17, 1982, authorized by the signature by Queen Elizabeth II. This Act severed all Political Dependencies of the United Kingdom in Canada.
  • The United States engages in significant direct conflict and indirect conflict in the decade via alliances with various groups in a number of Central and South American countries claiming that the U.S. was acting to oppose the spread of communism and end illicit drug trade. The U.S. government supports the government of Colombia's attempts to destroy its large illicit cocaine-trafficking industry. U.S. provides support for right-wing rebels in El Salvador which becomes controversial after the El Mozote massacre on December 11, 1981 in when U.S.-trained Salvadoran paramilitaries killed 1000 Salvadoran civilians. The United States, along with members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, invaded Grenada in 1983. The Iran-Contra affair erupts which involves U.S. interventionism in Nicaragua, resulting in members of the U.S. government being indicted in 1986. U.S. military action begins against Panama in December 1989 to overthrow its president, Manuel Noriega.
  • Air India Flight 182 is destroyed on June 23, 1985 by Sikh-Canadian militants. It is the largest mass murder involving Canadians in Canada's history.
  • The Space Shuttle Challenger breaks apart during takeoff off the coast of central Florida on January 28, 1986, killing all 7 crew members onboard.
  • Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier is overthrown by a popular uprising on February 6, 1986.
  • The 1986 World's Fair, Expo 86, was held in Vancouver.
  • Enactment of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement in 1989.
  • Military dictatorships give way to democracy in Argentina (1983), Uruguay (1984-5), Brazil (1985-8) and Chile (1988-9).
  • Independence is awarded to Antigua, Belize, (both 1981) and St. Kitts (1983).
  • Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989.


  • The Iran-Iraq war takes place from 1980 to 1988. Iraq is accused of using illegal chemical weapons to kill Iranian forces and against its own dissident Kurdish populations.
  • Serious conflicts erupt in Lebanon in the 1980s. The 1982 Lebanon War occurs when Israel attacks Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) forces inside Lebanon, in which Israel faces war with Lebanese and Syrian armed forces inside Lebanon. The controversial Siege of Beirut by Israeli military forces resulted in enormous damage to the infrastructure and significant civilian casualties in Lebanon's capital and was internationally condemned, even by the United States, a traditional close ally of Israel.[1]. The1983 Beirut barracks bombing kills U.S. marines in Lebanon.
  • The Bhopal disaster occurs in 1984 when a toxic gas leak occurred in Bhopal, India.
  • Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated on October 31, 1984.
  • The Red Army of the Soviet Union begins to suffer serious casualties and defeats in the ongoing Soviet-Afghan war by 1985 resulting in new Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev beginning to design a strategy for the eventual departure of Red Army forces from Afghanistan.
  • The First Intifada (First Uprising) in the Gaza Strip and West Bank begins in 1987 when Palestinian Arabs begin large-scale protests against the Israeli military presence in the Gaza Strip and West Bank which the Palestinians claim as their own. The Intifada soon became violent as the Israeli army and Palestinian militants fought for control over the disputed territories. The First Intifada would continue until peace negotiations began between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Israeli government in 1993.
  • Soviet-Afghan war ends on February 15, 1989, ending almost ten years of warfare between the two countries and is the last war that the Soviet Union's Red Army participated in.
  • Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 occurs in the People's Republic of China in 1989, in which pro-democracy protestors demand political reform. The protest is repressed by government forces.


  • The Solidarity movement begins in Poland in 1980, involving workers demanding political liberalization and democracy in Poland. Attempts by the communist government to crush the Solidarity movement fail and negotiations between the movement and the government take place. Solidarity would be instrumental in encouraging people in other communist states to demand political reform.
  • In 1981 there was a assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square.
  • In 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev becomes leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, and initiates major reforms to the Soviet Union's government through increasing the rights of expressing political dissent, allowing some democratic elections (though maintaining Communist dominance). Gorbachev pursues negotiation with the United States to decrease tensions and eventually end the Cold War.
  • The Rome and Vienna airport attacks take place on December 27, 1985 against people going on the Israeli El Al airline. The attack was done by militants loyal to Abu Nidal, backed by the government of Libya.
  • The European Community's enlargement continued with the accession of Greece in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986.
  • Significant political reforms occurred in a number of communist countries in eastern Europe as the populations of these countries grew increasingly hostile and politically active in opposing communist governments. These reforms included attempts to increase individual liberties and market liberalization, and promises of democratic renewal. One exception was Romania where the communist government of Nicolae Ceauşescu violently fought against protestors until the government was overthrown. By 1989, a number of former Warsaw Pact countries had abandoned communism and adopted multi-party democracy.
  • In Yugoslavia, following the death of communist leader Joseph Broz Tito, the trend of political reform of the communist system occurred along with a trend towards ethnic nationalism and inter-ethnic hostility, especially in Serbia, beginning with the 1986 Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts followed by the agenda of Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milošević who aggressively pushed for increased political influence of Serbs in the late 1980s, condemning non-Serb Yugoslav politicians who challenged his agenda as being enemies of Serbs.
  • At the end of the decade, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 would be followed in 1990 by the German reunification.
  • Continuing civil strife in Northern Ireland and the adoption of Hunger strikes by Irish Republican Army prisoners seeking the reintroduction political status.



Non-natural disasters

In 1984 the Bhopal disaster resulted from a toxic MIC gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, killing 3,000 immediately and ultimately claiming 15,000-20,000 lives.

On Sept. 1, 1983, the Soviet shootdown of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 carrying 269 people including a sitting U.S. congressman, Larry McDonald

Japan Air Lines Flight 123 carrying 524 people crashed on August 12 1985 while on a flight from Tokyo to Osaka killing 520 of the people on board. This is the worst plane crash involving only one plane.

In 1986 the Chernobyl disaster, a large-scale nuclear meltdown in the Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union, spread a large amount of radioactive material across Europe, killing 47 people, dooming countless others to future radiation-related cancer, and causing the displacement of 300,000 people.

In 1986, the Challenger disaster, the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrates after launch, killing all of the crew onboard. This is the first disaster involving the destruction of a NASA space shuttle. A faulty o-ring was the cause of the accident.

In 1989 the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Alaska. Although not among the largest oil spills, its remote and sensitive location made it one of the most devastating ecological disasters ever.

World Leaders

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