On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall began to fall. This event was the most important symbol of the greatest political transformation in Europe since the Second World War. In one year the former länder of East Germany (the DDR) became part of the Federal Republic to unite Germany once again.

To some extent the spread of democracy paved the way for future GSM successes – but the development of GSM also paved the way for democracy. A perfect example was provided in Germany itself after the collapse of the Wall. An effective telephone network was urgently needed in the former East Germany and GSM offered a rapid solution.

The map of international relationships continued to change during 1991. The year began with the siege by Soviet troops of the TV Center in Vilnius and ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the resignation of its president, Mikhail Gorbachev. Bookended by these two events, an attempted coup in Russia by hard-line communists was defeated, leading to the immediate declaration of independence by Estonia and Latvia, soon followed by a series of other former Soviet states.

Another major event was the war in Iraq in January and February, when troops under UN command responded to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait the preceding year. In May, Indian President Rajiv Gandhi was murdered. South Africa officially ended its apartheid policy.

MEMBERSHIP OF THE EU

On June 12, 1991 the Swedish Riksdag approved plans for a bridge over Öresund, the strait separating Sweden and Denmark; in August, the Danish Folketing also voted yes, finally ending discussions that had been going on for more than a century. On June 14, the Riksdag voted in favor of an application for membership of the European Community; Finland, Norway and Austria reached the same decision shortly afterwards (although Norway later changed its stance after a referendum).

In Swedish politics, 1991 brought a breakthrough for a new party, Ny Demokrati [New Democracy], which was founded in February and won 25 seats in the general election in September. This meant the party controlled the balance of power in the Riksdag, paving the way for a non-socialist government under the leadership of Carl Bildt.

Swedish media history was made in November when TV4 became the first channel funded by advertising to be given permission to broadcast using the terrestrial network.

And 1991 was also the year when the world saw the introduction of three remarkable technical innovations. On May 17, Tim Berners-Lee launched the first version of the World Wide Web at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland. On July 1, the first two operators started GSM services. And on July 3, Linus Torvalds at Helsinki University demonstrated the open operating system called Linux. Within the space of six weeks, the world was given WWW, GSM and Linux, in that order.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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