Prague Spring

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Prague Spring
Part of Cold War and invasion of Czechoslovakia
10 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia - Flickr - The Central Intelligence Agency.jpg
Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning Soviet tank in Prague.
Date5 January – 21 August 1968 (7 months, 2 weeks and 2 days)
Location Czechoslovakia
ParticipantsPeople and Government of Czechoslovakia
Warsaw Pact
Outcome Normalization in Czechoslovakia

The Prague Spring (Czech : Pražské jaro, Slovak : Pražská jar) was a period of political liberalization and mass protest in Czechoslovakia as a Communist state after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ), and continued until 21 August 1968, when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to suppress the reforms.

Czech, historically also Bohemian, is a West Slavic language of the Czech–Slovak group. Spoken by over 10 million people, it serves as the official language of the Czech Republic. Czech is closely related to Slovak, to the point of mutual intelligibility to a very high degree. Like other Slavic languages, Czech is a fusional language with a rich system of morphology and relatively flexible word order. Its vocabulary has been extensively influenced by Latin and German.

Slovak language language spoken in Slovakia

Slovak or less frequently Slovakian is a West Slavic language. It is called slovenský jazyk or slovenčina in the language itself.

Liberalization is any process whereby a state lifts restrictions on some private individual activities. Liberalization occurs when something which used to be banned is no longer banned, or when government regulations are relaxed. Economic liberalization is the reduction of state involvement in the economy.


The Prague Spring reforms were a strong attempt by Dubček to grant additional rights to the citizens of Czechoslovakia in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and democratization. The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel. After national discussion of dividing the country into a federation of three republics, Bohemia, Moravia-Silesia and Slovakia, Dubček oversaw the decision to split into two, the Czech Socialist Republic and Slovak Socialist Republic. [1] This dual federation was the only formal change that survived the invasion.

Prague Capital of Czechia

Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, the 14th largest city in the European Union and the historical capital of Bohemia. Situated in the northwest of Czechia on the Vltava river, Prague is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of 2.6 million. The city has a temperate climate, with warm summers and chilly winters.

Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. Rights are of essential importance in such disciplines as law and ethics, especially theories of justice and deontology.

Democratization is the transition to a more democratic political regime, including substantive political changes moving in a democratic direction. It may be the transition from an authoritarian regime to a full democracy, a transition from an authoritarian political system to a semi-democracy or transition from a semi-authoritarian political system to a democratic political system.

The reforms, especially the decentralization of administrative authority, were not received well by the Soviets, who, after failed negotiations, sent half a million Warsaw Pact troops and tanks to occupy the country. The New York Times cited reports of 650,000 men equipped with the most modern and sophisticated weapons in the Soviet military catalogue. [2] A large wave of emigration swept the nation. Resistance was mounted throughout the country, involving attempted fraternization, sabotage of street signs, defiance of curfews, etc. While the Soviet military had predicted that it would take four days to subdue the country, the resistance held out for eight months until it was finally circumvented by diplomatic maneuvers (see below). It became a high-profile example of civilian-based defense; there were sporadic acts of violence and several protest suicides by self-immolation (the most famous being that of Jan Palach), but no military resistance. Czechoslovakia remained controlled by the Soviet Union until 1989, when the Velvet Revolution peacefully ended the communist regime; the last Soviet troops left the country in 1991.

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 18th in the world by circulation and 3rd in the U.S.

Fraternization is "turning people into brothers" by conducting social relations with people who are actually unrelated and/or of a different class as if they were siblings, family members, personal friends, or lovers. To fraternize also means to become allies with someone, especially the enemy.

Civilian-based defense, according to Professor Gene Sharp, a scholar of non-violent struggle, is a “policy [in which] the whole population and the society’s institutions become the fighting forces. Their weaponry consists of a vast variety of forms of psychological, economic, social, and political resistance and counter-attack. This policy aims to deter attacks and to defend against them by preparations to make a society unrulable by would-be-tyrants and aggressors. The trained population and the society’s institutions would be prepared to deny the attackers their objectives and to make consolidation of political control impossible. These aims would be achieved by applying massive and selective noncooperation and defiance. In addition, where possible, the defending country would aim to create maximum international problems for the attackers and to subvert the reliability of their troops and functionaries.” Civilian-based defense and the complementary method of Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping carried out by third parties in collaboration with civil-society groups in the affected country are the two institutions developed in the field of nonviolence since Gandhi and King that offer an alternative to military defense.

After the invasion, Czechoslovakia entered a period known as "normalization": subsequent leaders attempted to restore the political and economic values that had prevailed before Dubček gained control of the KSČ. Gustáv Husák, who replaced Dubček as First Secretary and also became President, reversed almost all of the reforms. The Prague Spring inspired music and literature including the work of Václav Havel, Karel Husa, Karel Kryl and Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being .

In the history of Czechoslovakia, normalization is a name commonly given to the period following the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 and up to the glasnost era of liberalization that began in the Soviet Union and its neighboring nations in 1987. It was characterized by the restoration of the conditions prevailing before the Prague Spring reform period led by First Secretary Alexander Dubček of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) earlier in 1968 and the subsequent preservation of the new status quo. Some historians date the period from the signing of the Moscow Protocol by Dubček and the other jailed Czechoslovak leaders on August 26, 1968, while others date it from the replacement of Dubček by Gustáv Husák on April 17, 1969, followed by the official normalization policies referred to as Husakism.

Gustáv Husák Czechoslovak politician, 9th President of Czechoslovakia

Gustáv Husák was a Slovak politician, president of Czechoslovakia and a long-term First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (1969–1987). His rule is known as the period of the so-called "Normalization" after the Prague Spring.

Václav Havel Playwright, essayist, poet, former dissident and 1st President of the Czech Republic

Václav Havel was a Czech statesman, writer and former dissident, who served as the last President of Czechoslovakia from 1989 until the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1992 and then as the first President of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. As a writer of Czech literature, he is known for his plays, essays, and memoirs.


The process of de-Stalinization in Czechoslovakia had begun under Antonín Novotný in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but had progressed more slowly than in most other states of the Eastern Bloc. [3] Following the lead of Nikita Khrushchev, Novotný proclaimed the completion of socialism, and the new constitution [4] accordingly adopted the name Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The pace of change, however, was sluggish; the rehabilitation of Stalinist-era victims, such as those convicted in the Slánský trials, may have been considered as early as 1963, but did not take place until 1967. [5]

De-Stalinization consisted of a series of political reforms in the Soviet Union after the death of long-time dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953, and the ascension of Nikita Khrushchev to power.

Czechoslovakia 1918–1992 country in Central Europe, predecessor of the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Czechoslovakia, or Czecho-Slovakia, was a sovereign state in Central Europe that existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until its peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993.

Antonín Novotný Czech politician, president of Czechoslovakia

Antonín Josef Novotný was First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia from 1953 to 1968, and also held the post of President of Czechoslovakia from 1957 to 1968. An ardent hardliner, Novotný was forced to yield the reins of power to Alexander Dubček during the short-lived reform movement of 1968.

In the early 1960s, Czechoslovakia underwent an economic downturn. [6] The Soviet model of industrialization applied poorly to Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was already quite industrialized before World War II and the Soviet model mainly took into account less developed economies. Novotný's attempt at restructuring the economy, the 1965 New Economic Model, spurred increased demand for political reform as well. [7]

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

1967 Writers' Congress

As the strict regime eased its rules, the Union of Czechoslovak Writers cautiously began to air discontent, and in the union's gazette, Literární noviny  [ cs ], members suggested that literature should be independent of Party doctrine. [8]

In June 1967, a small fraction of the Czech writer's union sympathized with radical socialists, specifically Ludvík Vaculík, Milan Kundera, Jan Procházka, Antonín Jaroslav Liehm, Pavel Kohout and Ivan Klíma. [8]

A few months later, at a party meeting, it was decided that administrative actions against the writers who openly expressed support of reformation would be taken. Since only a small part of the union held these beliefs, the remaining members were relied upon to discipline their colleagues. [8] Control over Literární noviny and several other publishing houses was transferred to the Ministry of Culture, [8] and even members of the party who later became major reformers — including Dubček — endorsed these moves. [8]

Dubček's rise to power

Alexander Dubcek Dubcek.jpg
Alexander Dubček

As President Antonín Novotný was losing support, Alexander Dubček, First Secretary of the regional Communist Party of Slovakia, and economist Ota Šik challenged him at a meeting of the Central Committee. Novotný then invited the secretary-general of the Communist Party of Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, to Prague that December, seeking support; [9] but Brezhnev was surprised at the extent of the opposition to Novotný and thus supported his removal as Czechoslovakia's leader. Dubček replaced Novotný as First Secretary on 5 January 1968. [10] On 22 March 1968, Novotný resigned his presidency and was replaced by Ludvík Svoboda, who later gave consent to the reforms. [11]

Early signs of change were few. When the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) Presidium member Josef Smrkovský was interviewed in a Rudé Právo article, entitled "What Lies Ahead", he insisted that Dubček's appointment at the January Plenum would further the goals of socialism and maintain the working class nature of the Communist Party. [12]

Literární listy

However, right after Dubček assumed power, the scholar Eduard Goldstücker became chairman of the Union of Czechoslovak Writers and thus editor-in-chief of the previously hard-line communist weekly Literární noviny, [13] [14] which under Novotny had been filled with party loyalists. [14] Goldstücker tested the boundaries of Dubček's devotion to freedom of the press when he appeared on a television interview as the new head of the union. On 4 February, in front of the entire nation, he openly criticized Novotny, exposing all of Novotny's previously unreported policies and explaining how they were preventing progress in Czechoslovakia. [15]

Despite the official government statement that allowed for freedom of the press, this was the first trial of whether Dubček was serious about reforms. Goldstücker suffered no repercussions, and Dubček instead began to build a sense of trust among the media, the government, and the citizens. [14] It was under Goldstücker that the journal's name was changed to Literární listy, and on 29 February 1968, the Writers' Union published the first copy of the censor-free Literární listy. [13] By August 1968, Literární listy had a circulation of 300,000, making it the most published periodical in Europe. [16]

Socialism with a human face

Main protagonists of Prague Spring in 1968 (L-R) Oldrich Cernik, Alexander Dubcek, Ludvik Svoboda and Josef Smrkovsky Main protagonists of Prague spring in 1968.jpg
Main protagonists of Prague Spring in 1968 (L-R) Oldřich Černík, Alexander Dubček, Ludvík Svoboda and Josef Smrkovský

On the 20th anniversary of Czechoslovakia's "Victorious February", Dubček delivered a speech explaining the need for change following the triumph of socialism. He emphasized the need to "enforce the leading role of the party more effectively" [17] and acknowledged that, despite Klement Gottwald's urgings for better relations with society, the Party had too often made heavy-handed rulings on trivial issues. Dubček declared the party's mission was "to build an advanced socialist society on sound economic foundations ... a socialism that corresponds to the historical democratic traditions of Czechoslovakia, in accordance with the experience of other communist parties ..." [17]

One of the most important steps towards the reform was the reduction and later abolition of the censorship on 4 March 1968. It was for the first time in Czech history the censorship was abolished and it was also probably the only reform fully implemented, although only for a short period. From the instrument of Party's propaganda media quickly became the instrument of criticism of the regime. [18] [19]

In April, Dubček launched an "Action Programme" of liberalizations, which included increasing freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of movement, with economic emphasis on consumer goods and the possibility of a multiparty government. The programme was based on the view that "Socialism cannot mean only liberation of the working people from the domination of exploiting class relations, but must make more provisions for a fuller life of the personality than any bourgeois democracy." [20] It would limit the power of the secret police [21] and provide for the federalization of the ČSSR into two equal nations. [22] The programme also covered foreign policy, including both the maintenance of good relations with Western countries and cooperation with the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations. [23] It spoke of a ten-year transition through which democratic elections would be made possible and a new form of democratic socialism would replace the status quo. [24]

Those who drafted the Action Programme were careful not to criticize the actions of the post-war Communist regime, only to point out policies that they felt had outlived their usefulness. [25] For instance, the immediate post-war situation had required "centralist and directive-administrative methods" [25] to fight against the "remnants of the bourgeoisie." [25] Since the "antagonistic classes" [25] were said to have been defeated with the achievement of socialism, these methods were no longer necessary. Reform was needed for the Czechoslovak economy to join the "scientific-technical revolution in the world", [25] rather than relying on Stalinist-era heavy industry, labour power, and raw materials. [25] Furthermore, since internal class conflict had been overcome, workers could now be duly rewarded for their qualifications and technical skills without contravening Marxism-Leninism. The Programme suggested it was now necessary to ensure important positions were "filled by capable, educated socialist expert cadres" in order to compete with capitalism. [25]

Although it was stipulated that reform must proceed under KSČ direction, popular pressure mounted to implement reforms immediately. [26] Radical elements became more vocal: anti-Soviet polemics appeared in the press on 26 June 1968, [24] the Social Democrats began to form a separate party, and new unaffiliated political clubs were created. Party conservatives urged repressive measures, but Dubček counselled moderation and re-emphasized KSČ leadership. [27] At the Presidium of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in April, Dubček announced a political programme of "socialism with a human face". [28] In May, he announced that the Fourteenth Party Congress would convene in an early session on 9 September. The congress would incorporate the Action Programme into the party statutes, draft a federalization law, and elect a new Central Committee. [29]

Dubček's reforms guaranteed freedom of the press, and political commentary was allowed for the first time in mainstream media. [30] At the time of the Prague Spring, Czechoslovak exports were declining in competitiveness, and Dubček's reforms planned to solve these troubles by mixing planned and market economies. Within the party, there were varying opinions on how this should proceed; certain economists wished for a more mixed economy while others wanted the economy to remain mostly planned. Dubček continued to stress the importance of economic reform proceeding under Communist Party rule. [31]

On 27 June Ludvík Vaculík, a leading author and journalist, published a manifesto titled The Two Thousand Words . It expressed concern about conservative elements within the KSČ and so-called "foreign" forces. Vaculík called on the people to take the initiative in implementing the reform programme. [32] Dubček, the party Presidium, the National Front, and the cabinet denounced this manifesto. [33]

Publications and media

Prague, 1968-08, «Periscope ƒilm»

Dubček's relaxation of censorship ushered in a brief period of freedom of speech and the press. [34] The first tangible manifestation of this new policy of openness was the production of the previously hard-line communist weekly Literarni noviny, renamed Literarni listy. [13] [14]

Freedom of the press also opened the door for the first honest look at Czechoslovakia's past by Czechoslovakia's people. Many of the investigations centered on the country's history under communism, especially in the instance of the Joseph Stalin-period. [13] In another television appearance, Goldstücker presented both doctored and undoctored photographs of former communist leaders who had been purged, imprisoned, or executed and thus erased from communist history. [14] The Writers' Union also formed a committee in April 1968, headed by the poet Jaroslav Seifert, to investigate the persecution of writers after the Communist takeover in February 1948 and rehabilitate the literary figures into the Union, bookstores and libraries, and the literary world. [35] [36] Discussions on the current state of communism and abstract ideas such as freedom and identity were also becoming more common; soon, non-party publications began appearing, such as the trade union daily Prace (Labour). This was also helped by the Journalists' Union, which by March 1968 had already persuaded the Central Publication Board, the government censor, to allow editors to receive uncensored subscriptions to foreign papers, allowing for a more international dialogue around the news. [37]

The press, the radio, and the television also contributed to these discussions by hosting meetings where students and young workers could ask questions of writers such as Goldstücker, Pavel Kohout, and Jan Prochazka and political victims such as Josef Smrkovský, Zdenek Hejzlar, and Gustav Husak. [15] Television also broadcast meetings between former political prisoners and the communist leaders from the secret police or prisons where they were held. [14] Most importantly, this new freedom of the press and the introduction of television into the lives of everyday Czechoslovak citizens moved the political dialogue from the intellectual to the popular sphere.

Soviet reaction

Leonid Brezhnev Brezhnev 1973.jpg
Leonid Brezhnev

Initial reaction within the Communist Bloc was mixed. Hungary's János Kádár was highly supportive of Dubček's appointment in January, but Leonid Brezhnev and others grew concerned about Dubček's reforms, which they feared might weaken the position of the Communist Bloc during the Cold War. [38] [39] [40]

At a meeting in Dresden, East Germany on 23 March, leaders of the "Warsaw Five" (USSR, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and East Germany) questioned a Czechoslovak delegation over the planned reforms, suggesting any talk of "democratization" was a veiled criticism of other policies. [41] Władysław Gomułka and János Kádár were less concerned with the reforms themselves than with the growing criticisms levelled by the Czechoslovak media, and worried the situation might be "similar to the prologue of the Hungarian counterrevolution". [41] Some of the language in April's KSČ Action Programme may have been chosen to assert that no counterrevolution was planned, but Kieran Williams suggests that Dubček was perhaps surprised at, but not resentful of, Soviet suggestions. [42]

The Soviet leadership tried to stop, or limit, the changes in the ČSSR through a series of negotiations. The Soviet Union agreed to bilateral talks with Czechoslovakia in July at Čierna nad Tisou, near the Slovak-Soviet border. At the meeting, from 29 July to 1 August, with attendance of Brezhnev, Alexei Kosygin, Nikolai Podgorny, Mikhail Suslov and others on the Soviet side and Dubček, Svoboda, Oldřich Černík, Smrkovský and others on the Czechoslovak side, Dubček defended the proposals of the reformist wing of the KSČ while pledging commitment to the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. [23] The KSČ leadership, however, was divided between vigorous reformers (Josef Smrkovský, Oldřich Černík, and František Kriegel) who supported Dubček, and conservatives (Vasil Biľak, Drahomír Kolder, and Oldřich Švestka) who adopted an anti-reformist stance. [43]

Brezhnev decided on compromise. The KSČ delegates reaffirmed their loyalty to the Warsaw Pact and promised to curb "anti-socialist" tendencies, prevent the revival of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, and control the press more effectively. The Soviets agreed to withdraw their armed forces (still in Czechoslovakia after manoeuvres that June) and permit the 9 September Party Congress. [43]

On 3 August representatives from the "Warsaw Five" and Czechoslovakia met in Bratislava and signed the Bratislava Declaration. The declaration affirmed unshakable fidelity to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism and declared an implacable struggle against "bourgeois" ideology and all "anti-socialist" forces. [44] The Soviet Union expressed its intention to intervene in a Warsaw Pact country if a "bourgeois" system—a pluralist system of several political parties representing different factions of the capitalist class—was ever established. After the Bratislava conference, the Soviet Army left Czechoslovak territory but remained along its borders. [45]


Prague Spring of 1968 poster by the Young Union KAS-Prager Fruhling 1968-Bild-12906-1.jpg
Prague Spring of 1968 poster by the Young Union

As these talks proved unsatisfactory, the Soviets began to consider a military alternative. The Soviet Union's policy of compelling the socialist governments of its satellite states to subordinate their national interests to those of the "Eastern Bloc" (through military force if needed) became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine. [46] On the night of 20–21 August 1968, Eastern Bloc armies from four Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary—invaded the ČSSR. [47] [48]

That night, 200,000 troops and 2,000 tanks entered the country. [49] They first occupied the Ruzyně International Airport, where air deployment of more troops was arranged. The Czechoslovak forces were confined to their barracks, which were surrounded until the threat of a counter-attack was assuaged. By the morning of 21 August Czechoslovakia was occupied. [48]

Neither Romania nor Albania took part in the invasion. [50] Soviet command refrained from drawing upon East German troops for fear of reviving memories of the Nazi invasion in 1938. [51] During the invasion by the Warsaw Pact armies, 72  Czechs and Slovaks were killed (19 of those in Slovakia), 266 severely wounded and another 436 slightly injured. [52] [53] Alexander Dubček called upon his people not to resist. [53] Nevertheless, there was scattered resistance in the streets. Road signs in towns were removed or painted over—except for those indicating the way to Moscow. [54] Many small villages renamed themselves "Dubcek" or "Svoboda"; thus, without navigational equipment, the invaders were often confused. [55]

On the night of the invasion the Czechoslovak Presidium declared that Warsaw Pact troops had crossed the border without the knowledge of the ČSSR government, but the Soviet Press printed an unsigned request – allegedly by Czechoslovak party and state leaders – for "immediate assistance, including assistance with armed forces". [56] At the 14th KSČ Party Congress (conducted secretly, immediately following the intervention), it was emphasized that no member of the leadership had invited the intervention. [57] More recent evidence suggests that conservative KSČ members (including Biľak, Švestka, Kolder, Indra, and Kapek) did send a request for intervention to the Soviets. [58] The invasion was followed by a previously unseen wave of emigration, which was stopped shortly thereafter. An estimated 70,000 fled immediately with an eventual total of some 300,000. [59]

The Soviets attributed the invasion to the "Brezhnev Doctrine", which stated that the U.S.S.R. had the right to intervene whenever a country in the Eastern Bloc appeared to be making a shift towards capitalism. [60] There is still some uncertainty, however, as to what provocation, if any, occurred to make the Warsaw Pact armies invade. Preceding the invasion was a rather calm period without any major events taking place in Czechoslovakia. [29]

Reactions to the invasion

Romanian Prime Secretary Nicolae Ceausescu gives a speech critical of the invasion, in front of a crowd in Bucharest, 21 August 1968 Adunare Piata Palatului August 1968.jpg
Romanian Prime Secretary Nicolae Ceauşescu gives a speech critical of the invasion, in front of a crowd in Bucharest, 21 August 1968

In Czechoslovakia, especially in the week immediately following the invasion, popular opposition was expressed in numerous spontaneous acts of nonviolent resistance. [61] Civilians purposely gave wrong directions to invading soldiers, while others identified and followed cars belonging to the secret police. [62] On 16 January 1969, student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague's Wenceslas Square to protest against the renewed suppression of free speech. [63]

The generalized resistance caused the Soviet Union to abandon its original plan to oust the First Secretary. Dubček, who had been arrested on the night of 20 August, was taken to Moscow for negotiations. There, he and several other leaders (including all the highest-ranked officials, President Svoboda, Prime Minister Černík and Chairman of the National Assembly Smrkovský) signed the Moscow Protocol, under heavy psychological pressure from Soviet politicians, and it was agreed that Dubček would remain in office and a programme of moderate reform would continue.

Protest banner in Russian reading "For your freedom and ours" Za vashu i nashu svobodu.jpg
Protest banner in Russian reading "For your freedom and ours"

On 25 August citizens of the Soviet Union who did not approve of the invasion protested in Red Square; seven protesters opened banners with anti-invasion slogans. The demonstrators were brutally beaten and arrested by security forces, and later punished by a secret tribunal; the protest was dubbed "anti-Soviet" and several people were detained in psychiatric hospitals. [64]

A more pronounced effect took place in Romania, where Nicolae Ceaușescu, General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, already a staunch opponent of Soviet influences and a self-declared Dubček supporter, gave a public speech in Bucharest on the day of the invasion, depicting Soviet policies in harsh terms. [50] Albania withdrew from the Warsaw Pact in opposition, calling the invasion an act of "social imperialism". In Finland, a country under some Soviet political influence, the occupation caused a major scandal. [65]

Like the Italian and French [66] Communist parties, the majority of the Communist Party of Finland denounced the occupation. Nonetheless, Finnish president Urho Kekkonen was the very first Western politician to officially visit Czechoslovakia after August 1968; he received the highest Czechoslovakian honours from the hands of President Ludvík Svoboda, on 4 October 1969. [65] The Portuguese communist secretary-general Álvaro Cunhal was one of few political leaders from western Europe to have supported the invasion for being counter-revolutionary. [67] along with the Luxembourg party [66] and conservative factions of the Greek party. [66]

Helsinki demonstration against the invasion of Czechoslovakia Helsinki demonstration against the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.jpg
Helsinki demonstration against the invasion of Czechoslovakia

Most countries offered only vocal criticism following the invasion. The night of the invasion, Canada, Denmark, France, Paraguay, the United Kingdom and the United States requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. [68] At the meeting, the Czechoslovak ambassador Jan Muzik denounced the invasion. Soviet ambassador Jacob Malik insisted the Warsaw Pact actions were "fraternal assistance" against "antisocial forces". [68]

One of the nations that most vehemently condemned the invasion was China, which objected furiously to the so-called "Brezhnev Doctrine" that declared the Soviet Union alone had the right to determine what nations were properly Communist and could invade those Communist nations whose communism did not meet the Kremlin's approval. [69] Mao Zedong saw the Brezhnev doctrine as the ideological basis for a Soviet invasion of China, and launched a massive propaganda campaign condemning the invasion of Czechoslovakia, despite his own earlier opposition to the Prague Spring. [69] Speaking at a banquet at the Romanian embassy in Beijing on 23 August 1968, the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai denounced the Soviet Union for "fascist politics, great power chauvinism, national egoism and social imperialism", going on to compare the invasion of Czechoslovakia to the American war in Vietnam and more pointedly to the policies of Adolf Hitler towards Czechoslovakia in 1938-39. [69] Zhou ended his speech with a barely veiled call for the people of Czechoslovakia to wage guerrilla war against the Red Army. [69]

The next day, several countries suggested a United Nations resolution condemning the intervention and calling for immediate withdrawal. Eventually, a UN vote was taken with ten members supporting the motion; Algeria, India, and Pakistan abstained; the USSR (with veto power) and Hungary opposed. Canadian delegates immediately introduced another motion asking for a UN representative to travel to Prague and work toward the release of the imprisoned Czechoslovak leaders. [68]

By 26 August a new Czechoslovak representative requested the whole issue be removed from the Security Council's agenda. Shirley Temple Black visited Prague in August 1968 to prepare for becoming the US Ambassador for a free Czechoslovakia. However, after the 21 August invasion she became part of a U.S. Embassy-organized convoy of vehicles that evacuated U.S. citizens from the country. [70] In August 1989, she returned to Prague as U.S. Ambassador, three months before the Velvet Revolution that ended 41 years of Communist rule. [71]


Memorial to the victims of the invasion, located in Liberec Radnice Liberec pamatnik 1968.jpg
Memorial to the victims of the invasion, located in Liberec

In April 1969, Dubček was replaced as first secretary by Gustáv Husák, and a period of "normalization" began. [72] Dubček was expelled from the KSČ and given a job as a forestry official. [22] [73]

Husák reversed Dubček's reforms, purged the party of its liberal members, and dismissed from public office professional and intellectual elites who openly expressed disagreement with the political transformation. [74] Husák worked to reinstate the power of the police and strengthen ties with the rest of the Communist bloc. He also sought to re-centralize the economy, as a considerable amount of freedom had been granted to industries during the Prague Spring. [74] Commentary on politics was forbidden in mainstream media, and political statements by anyone not considered to have "full political trust" were also banned. [30] The only significant change that survived was the federalization of the country, which created the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic in 1969. In 1987, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged that his liberalizing policies of glasnost and perestroika owed a great deal to Dubček's "socialism with a human face". [75] When asked what the difference was between the Prague Spring and Gorbachev's own reforms, a Foreign Ministry spokesman replied, "Nineteen years." [76]

Dubček lent his support to the Velvet Revolution of December 1989. After the collapse of the Communist regime that month, Dubček became chairman of the federal assembly under the Havel administration. [77] He later led the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia, and spoke against the dissolution of Czechoslovakia before his death in November 1992. [78]

Normalization and censorship

The Warsaw Pact invasion included attacks on media establishments, such as Radio Prague and Czechoslovak Television, almost immediately after the initial tanks rolled into Prague on 21 August 1968. [79] While both the radio station and the television station managed to hold out for at least enough time for initial broadcasts of the invasion, what the Soviets did not attack by force they attacked by reenacting party censorship. In reaction to the invasion, on 28 August 1968, all Czechoslovak publishers agreed to halt production of newspapers for the day to allow for a "day of reflection" for the editorial staffs. [80] Writers and reporters agreed with Dubcek to support a limited reinstitution of the censorship office, as long as the institution was to only last three months. [81] Finally, by September 1968, the Czechoslovak Communist Party plenum was held to instate the new censorship law. In the words of the Moscow-approved resolution, "The press, radio, and television are first of all the instruments for carrying into life the policies of the Party and state." [82]

While this was not yet the end of the media's freedom after the Prague Spring, it was the beginning of the end. During November, the Presidium, under Husak, declared that the Czechoslovak press could not make any negative remarks about the Soviet invaders or they would risk violating the agreement they had come to at the end of August. When the weeklies Reporter and Politika responded harshly to this threat, even going so far as to not so subtly criticize the Presidium itself in Politika, the government banned Reporter for a month, suspended Politika indefinitely, and prohibited any political programs from appearing on the radio or television. [83]

The intellectuals were stuck at a bypass; they recognized the government's increasing normalization, but they were unsure whether to trust that the measures were only temporary or demand more. For example, still believing in Dubcek's promises for reform, Milan Kundera published the article "Cesky udel" (Our Czech Destiny) in Literarni listy on 19 December. [36] [84] He wrote: "People who today are falling into depression and defeatism, commenting that there are not enough guarantees, that everything could end badly, that we might again end up in a marasmus of censorship and trials, that this or that could happen, are simply weak people, who can live only in illusions of certainty." [85]

In March 1969, however, the new Soviet-backed Czechoslovakian government instituted full censorship, effectively ending the hopes that normalization would lead back to the freedoms enjoyed during the Prague Spring. A declaration was presented to the Presidium condemning the media as co-conspirators against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in their support of Dubcek's liberalization measures. Finally, on 2 April 1969, the government adopted measures "to secure peace and order" through even stricter censorship, forcing the people of Czechoslovakia to wait until the thawing of Eastern Europe for the return of a free media. [86]

Former students from Prague, including Constantine Menges, and Czech refugees from the crisis, who were able to escape or resettle in Western Countries continued to advocate for human rights, religious liberty, freedom of speech and political asylum for Czech political prisoners and dissidents. Many raised concerns about the Soviet Union and Red Army's continued military occupation of the Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of Communism in Moscow and Eastern Europe.

Cultural impact

The Prague Spring deepened the disillusionment of many Western leftists with Soviet views. It contributed to the growth of Eurocommunist ideas in Western communist parties, which sought greater distance from the Soviet Union, and eventually led to the dissolution of many of these groups. [87] A decade later, a period of Chinese political liberalization became known as the Beijing Spring. It also partly influenced the Croatian Spring in Communist Yugoslavia. [88] In a 1993 Czech survey, 60% of those surveyed had a personal memory linked to the Prague Spring while another 30% were familiar with the events in another form. [89] The demonstrations and regime changes taking place in North Africa and the Middle East from December 2010 have frequently been referred to as an "Arab Spring".

The event has been referenced in popular music, including the music of Karel Kryl, Luboš Fišer's Requiem, [90] and Karel Husa's Music for Prague 1968 . [91] The Israeli song "Prague", written by Shalom Hanoch and performed by Arik Einstein at the Israel Song Festival of 1969, was a lamentation on the fate of the city after the Soviet invasion and mentions Jan Palach's Self-immolation. [92] "They Can't Stop The Spring", a song by Irish journalist and songwriter John Waters, represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007. Waters has described it as "a kind of Celtic celebration of the Eastern European revolutions and their eventual outcome", quoting Dubček's alleged comment: "They may crush the flowers, but they can't stop the Spring." [93]

The Prague Spring is featured in several works of literature. Milan Kundera set his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being during the Prague Spring. It follows the repercussions of increased Soviet presence and the dictatorial police control of the population. [94] A film version was released in 1988. The Liberators , by Viktor Suvorov, is an eyewitness description of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, from the point of view of a Soviet tank commander. [95] Rock 'n' Roll , a play by award-winning Czech-born English playwright Tom Stoppard, references the Prague Spring, as well as the 1989 Velvet Revolution. [96] Heda Margolius Kovály also ends her memoir Under a Cruel Star with a first hand account of the Prague Spring and the subsequent invasion, and her reflections upon these events. [97]

In film there has been an adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and also the movie Pelíšky from director Jan Hřebejk and screenwriter Petr Jarchovský, which depicts the events of the Prague Spring and ends with the invasion by the Soviet Union and their allies. [98] The Czech musical film, Rebelové from Filip Renč, also depicts the events, the invasion and subsequent wave of emigration. [98]

The number 68 has become iconic in the former Czechoslovakia. Hockey player Jaromír Jágr, whose grandfather died in prison during the rebellion, wears the number because of the importance of the year in Czechoslovak history. [99] [100] A former publishing house based in Toronto, 68 Publishers, that published books by exiled Czech and Slovak authors, took its name from the event.

Anarchist Analysis

Anarchist Colin Ward argues that a significantly anarchist street culture developed during the Prague Spring as citizens became increasingly defiant of government authorities and began to occupy workplaces while creating mutual aid networks between telephone workers, truck drivers and university students. Furthermore, during the Soviet invasion, anarchists took to the streets and battled tanks and soldiers with rocks, molotov cocktails and improvised weapons. [101] Colin Ward describes it in detail:

In a broadcast on the anniversary of the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia a speaker looked back to the summer of 1968 in Prague as one in which, as she put it, "Everyone had become more gentle, more considerate. Crime and violence diminished. We all seemed to be making a special effort to make life tolerable, just because it had been so intolerable before".

Now that the Prague Spring and the Czechoslovak long hot summer have retreated into history, we tend to forget - though the Czechs will not forget - the change in the quality of ordinary life, while the historians, busy with the politicians floating on the surface of events, or this or that memorandum from a Central Committee or a Praesidium, tell us nothing about what it felt like for people in the streets. At the time John Berger wrote of the immense impression made on him by the transformation of values: "Workers in many places spontaneously offered to work for nothing on Saturdays in order to contribute to the national fund. Those for whom, a few months before, the highest ideal was a consumer society, offered money and gold to help save the national economy. (Economically a naive gesture but ideologically a significant one.) I saw crowds of workers in the streets of Prague, their faces lit by an evident sense of opportunity and achievement. Such an atmosphere was bound to be temporary. But it was an unforgettable indication of the previously unused potential of a people: of the speed with which demoralisation may be overcome." And Harry Schwartz of the New York Times reminds us that "Gay, spontaneous, informal and relaxed were the words foreign correspondents used to described the vast outpouring of merry Prague citizens." What was Dubcek doing at the time? "He was trying to set limits on the spontaneous revolution that had been set in motion and tried to curb it. No doubt he had hoped to honour the promises he had given at Dresden that he would impose order on what more and more conservative Communists were calling 'anarchy'". When the Soviet tanks rolled in to impose their order, the spontaneous order gave way to a spontaneous resistance. Of Prague, Kamil Winter declared, "I must confess to you that nothing was organised at all. Everything went on spontaneously ..." And of the second day of the invasion of Bratislava, Ladislav Mnacko wrote: "Nobody has given any order. Nobody was giving any orders at all. People knew of their own accord what needed to be done. Each and every one of them was their own government, with its orders and regulations, while the government itself was somewhere very far away, probably in Moscow. Everything the occupation forces tried to paralyse went on working and even worked better than in normal times; by the evening the people had even managed to deal with the bread situation."

In November, when the students staged a sit-in at the universities, "the sympathy of the population with the students was shown by the dozens of trucks sent in from the factories to bring about food free of charge," and "Prague's railway workers threatened to strike if the government took reprisal measures against the students. Workers of various state organisations supplied them with food. The buses of the urban transport workers were placed at the strikers disposal ... Postal workers established certain free telephone communications between university towns." [101]

See also

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