Today in History: December 26-28
The Soviet Union dissolves, the Soviet-Afghan War begins, and more
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December 26, 1492: Christopher Columbus orders the construction of a fortress, Puerto de la Navidad (“the Port of Christmas”), on the northern coast of modern Haiti. The fort was the first Spanish settlement in the Americas and was built with lumber from the wreckage of Columbus’s flagship, the Santa María, which had run aground two days earlier. Although he professed no concerns about the settlement’s safety, on his second voyage Columbus returned to find the whole thing razed to the ground, along with a nearby village, and all the Spanish personnel dead. The fort’s location was eventually forgotten and, while archeologists seem to have a general sense of where it was located, the precise site remains unknown.
December 26, 1990: The Slovenian government announces the results of the country’s December 23 independence referendum, in which voters overwhelmingly opted to leave Yugoslavia. Commemorated as “Independence and Unity Day” in Slovenia.
December 26, 1991: The Soviet Union officially dissolves in a vote by the Supreme Soviet. The vote took place in compliance with the Belovezha Accords, signed earlier that month by the leaders of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, which declared the USSR kaput and created the “Commonwealth of Independent States” in its place. That agreement was then followed by the Alma-Ata Protocol, signed on December 21, in which the leaders of 11 of the USSR’s 15 republics (the Baltic states and Georgia were the holdouts) declared their membership in the new CIS. The breakup hastened and exacerbated the economic meltdown that attended the former Soviet states’ transition to “Shock Doctrine” capitalism.
December 27, 537: Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and Patriarch Menas of Constantinople inaugurate the newly-built Hagia Sophia as the imperial capital’s patriarchal cathedral. Believed to have been the largest building in the world when it was built, the Hagia Sophia is regarded as the pinnacle of Roman architecture. It was repurposed as a mosque by the Ottomans, then as a museum by the Republican Turkish government, and has now reverted to its previous status as a mosque—though the Turkish government insists it’s put safeguards in place to protect its Byzantine cultural heritage.
December 27, 1918: The Greater Poland Uprising begins in the city of Poznań. Polish nationalists took advantage of the abdication of German Kaiser Wilhelm II in November to stake a claim on formerly Polish territory that the Allies had planned to leave in German hands following World War I. Their uprising forced the parties to reconsider their postwar plans and greatly influenced the construction of the new Polish state that emerged under the Treaty of Versailles.
December 27, 1945: The International Monetary Fund is established in Washington, DC, as one of the two institutions (along with the World Bank) emerging from the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference to underpin a new postwar international financial system. Envisioned by economist John Maynard Keynes as a fund from which member states could draw money to help weather economic crises, thanks to the influence of US Treasury official Harry Dexter White the IMF was instead created as a global lending institution with the power to impose rigid austerity measures on client states, supposedly to ensure that they repaid their IMF loans on time. Views on its impact vary slightly between “has made a useful contribution to the world economy” and “has underpinned a destructive system of colonialism-by-other-means.”
December 27, 1979: The Soviet-Afghan War begins when Soviet soldiers seize control of government buildings in Kabul and execute Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin. The Soviets installed a government led by the less radical Parcham faction of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (as opposed to Amin’s Khalq faction), hoping to fend off a full-blown rebellion in an increasingly unstable Afghanistan, but the intervention had the opposite effect and united a hitherto fragmented opposition against the Soviets.
December 28, 1659: An army of the nascent Maratha Empire, under its founder Shivaji, defeats a substantially larger Adilshahi army at the Battle of Kolhapur. Shivaji had begun carving territory out of the Adilshahi Sultanate of Bijapur several years earlier, and his victory at Kolhapur continued the early growth of what would become India’s dominant political entity prior to the arrival of the British.
December 28, 1836: Mexican ambassador Miguel Santa María and Spanish representative José María Calatrava sign the “definitive treaty of peace and friendship between Mexico and Spain,” more simply known as the “Santa María–Calatrava Treaty,” in Madrid. Under the treaty’s terms, the Spanish government agreed to recognize the independence Mexico had won during its 1810-1821 revolution and to stop making attempts to reconquer its former colony.
December 28, 2006: Somali forces under the provisional “Transitional Federal Government” and their Ethiopian allies enter Mogadishu. The Somali capital had been under the control of the Islamic Courts Union since June, the ICU having been the first entity to fully consolidate the city since the collapse of the Somali Democratic Republic in 1991. The Ethiopian military invaded Somalia that same month to bolster the rival TFG (along with substantial US support), and by December the ICU was crumbling and on the run. It dissolved the following month, but a jihadist faction called al-Shabab survived and began an insurgency against the Somali government that has continued to the present day.
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