NEWSPAPERS, television, and radio are overflowing with reports of quick and drastic changes throughout the world. Here's a quick summary of some of the people and issues: 1.The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: New kids leaving the bloc
Mikhail Gorbachev's style and way of thinking are very different from those of any previous Soviet leader. While he still defends communism, he says that the old way of doing things has failed. He is moving his country toward a more democratic system. In fact, now he is asking the Soviet legislature - the Supreme Soviet - to give him powers resembling those of the United States President. Mr. Gorbachev has a policy of glasnost, or openness, in dealing with the problems facing the Soviet Union, but his ideas may have brought more change than even he bargained for.
Countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania were part of what was known as the East bloc. Located very close to the Soviet Union, these countries used to live in fear of Soviet military strength. But seeing Gorbachev encouraging change in the Soviet Union, citizens in Eastern Europe are also demanding change. Communist parties and politicians are losing their clout, free elections have been scheduled, and new leaders are coming to power.
Even areas within the Soviet Union - which is made up of 15 republics, similar to states in the US - are calling for change. This poses a much tougher problem for Gorbachev. For example: Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania want to be independent countries, which they once were. Because they were made part of the Soviet Union by force, the US has never officially viewed them as part of the Soviet Union.
2.Germany: after the Wall
Mapmakers are digging out their erasers, because the line dividing East and West Germany might soon be gone.
Ever since it was built in 1961, the Berlin Wall has been both a physical and symbolic barrier between East and West. But on Nov. 9, 1989, not only the Berlin Wall, but all East German borders opened, allowing Germans to freely come and go for the first time in nearly 30 years. The problem is, a lot more people are going than coming.
Many of those leaving East Germany for a better life in the West are young, skilled workers who are needed at home. Leaders Helmut Kohl in West Germany and Hans Modrow in East Germany agree that the solution is reunification - putting the two countries back together. They have been separated since 1949. But other countries are worried. Poland fears that a united Germany will lay claim to the one-third of Poland that was once German. Other European neighbors worry about Germany's history of starting both world wars.
3.South Africa: Is apartheid falling apart?
Even though the majority of South Africans are black (88 percent), the government is controlled by a white minority. This country has been governed under a system of apartheid (pronounced ``a-PART-hate''), or racial segregation and economic discrimination against nonwhites, since 1948.
But there are signs that the system may be dismantled. Frederik de Klerk, the president of South Africa, released black leader Nelson Mandela from prison on Feb. 11. Twenty-seven years ago, Mr. Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for planning the violent overthrow of the white South African government. He started the military branch of the African National Congress (ANC), an anti-apartheid group founded in 1912.
The ANC seeks a one-man, one-vote democracy for all of South Africa. Mr. De Klerk opposes this right now, saying it will lead to black domination of the country's whites.
4.The United States: Cleaning up our act
One of the top concerns of US citizens today is the environment. Oil spills along American coastlines have drawn attention to the need to protect the land and oceans. On Feb. 7, a tanker spilled 394,000 gallons of oil off the coast of southern California. And almost one year after their spill in Alaska, Exxon is facing criminal charges as a result. Programs promoting environmental protection - recycling (even at McDonald's restaurants), clean air, and expansion of our national parks - are popping up throughout the US. 5.Nicaragua: The vote is mightier than the gun
What could be so special about an election that more than 2,000 foreigners came to watch? It was the first free election in Nicaragua in more than 10 years, and all the visitors, including former US President Carter, were there to make sure no cheating took place.
Since 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, led by Daniel Ortega Saavedra, has controlled Nicaragua. In the past, the US provided money and arms to the contras (pronounced ``COHN-trahs''), a rebel group that fought the Sandinistas. What fighting couldn't accomplish, a free election appears to have done: The Sandinistas lost. Nicaragua's new president is Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, a newspaper publisher.
But even though they lost the election, the Sandinistas may not step down quietly. They still control much of the government and the military.
6.South America: Targeting drug producers
President Bush's war on drugs is being fought in two places. In the US, he is attacking those using and selling drugs. In South America, he is targeting drug producers. Many people are familiar with Colombia's infamous drug barons who make fortunes from drug production and distribution, or ``trafficking.'' But in other countries, such as Bolivia and Peru, farmers grow the plants from which cocaine and crack are made in order to make a living.
The leaders of these countries say farmers cannot just be cut off from their source of income. The farmers must be given another way to make a living, and leaders are asking President Bush to help.