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.
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. This dual federation was the only formal change that survived the invasion.
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. 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.
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.
|Part of Cold War and invasion of Czechoslovakia|
Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning Soviet tank in Prague.
|Date||5 January – 21 August 1968 (7 months, 2 weeks and 2 days)|
|Participants||People and Government of Czechoslovakia|
|Outcome||Normalization in Czechoslovakia|
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. Following the lead of Nikita Khrushchev, Novotný proclaimed the completion of socialism, and the new constitution 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.
In the early 1960s, Czechoslovakia underwent an economic downturn. 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.
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, members suggested that literature should be independent of Party doctrine.
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.
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. Control over Literární noviny and several other publishing houses was transferred to the Ministry of Culture, and even members of the party who later became major reformers — including Dubček — endorsed these moves.
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; 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. On 22 March 1968, Novotný resigned his presidency and was replaced by Ludvík Svoboda, who later gave consent to the reforms.
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.
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, which under Novotny had been filled with party loyalists. 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.
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. 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. By August 1968, Literární listy had a circulation of 300,000, making it the most published periodical in Europe.
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" 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 ..."
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.
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." It would limit the power of the secret police and provide for the federalization of the ČSSR into two equal nations. 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. 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.
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. For instance, the immediate post-war situation had required "centralist and directive-administrative methods" to fight against the "remnants of the bourgeoisie." Since the "antagonistic classes" 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", rather than relying on Stalinist-era heavy industry, labour power, and raw materials. 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.
Although it was stipulated that reform must proceed under KSČ direction, popular pressure mounted to implement reforms immediately. Radical elements became more vocal: anti-Soviet polemics appeared in the press on 26 June 1968, 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. At the Presidium of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in April, Dubček announced a political programme of "socialism with a human face". 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.
Dubček's reforms guaranteed freedom of the press, and political commentary was allowed for the first time in mainstream media. 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.
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. Dubček, the party Presidium, the National Front, and the cabinet denounced this manifesto.
Dubček's relaxation of censorship ushered in a brief period of freedom of speech and the press. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. Television also broadcast meetings between former political prisoners and the communist leaders from the secret police or prisons where they were held. 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.
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.
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. 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". 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
That night, 200,000 troops and 2,000 tanks entered the country. 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.
Neither Romania nor Albania took part in the invasion. Soviet command refrained from drawing upon East German troops for fear of reviving memories of the Nazi invasion in 1938. 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. Alexander Dubček called upon his people not to resist. 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. Many small villages renamed themselves "Dubcek" or "Svoboda"; thus, without navigational equipment, the invaders were often confused.
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". 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. More recent evidence suggests that conservative KSČ members (including Biľak, Švestka, Kolder, Indra, and Kapek) did send a request for intervention to the Soviets. 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.
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. 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.
In Czechoslovakia, especially in the week immediately following the invasion, popular opposition was expressed in numerous spontaneous acts of nonviolent resistance. Civilians purposely gave wrong directions to invading soldiers, while others identified and followed cars belonging to the secret police. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Like the Italian and French 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. 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. along with the Luxembourg party and conservative factions of the Greek party.
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. 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".
One of the nations that most vehemently condemned the invasion was China, which objected furiously to the so-called "Brezhnev doctrine" declaring 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. 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. 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. Zhou ended his speech with a barely veiled call for the people of Czechoslovakia to wage guerrilla war against the Red Army.
The next day, several countries suggested a resolution condemning the intervention and calling for immediate withdrawal. Eventually, a 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.
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. In August 1989, she returned to Prague as U.S. Ambassador, three months before the Velvet Revolution that ended 41 years of Communist rule.
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. 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. Commentary on politics was forbidden in mainstream media, and political statements by anyone not considered to have "full political trust" were also banned. 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". When asked what the difference was between the Prague Spring and Gorbachev's own reforms, a Foreign Ministry spokesman replied, "Nineteen years."
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. He later led the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia, and spoke against the dissolution of Czechoslovakia before his death in November 1992.
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. 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. 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. 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."
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.
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. 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."
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.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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, and Karel Husa's Music for Prague 1968. 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. "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."
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. The Czech musical film, Rebelové from Filip Renč, also depicts the events, the invasion and subsequent wave of emigration.
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. 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 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. 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."
The 1968 Red Square demonstration (Russian: Демонстра́ция 25 а́вгуста 1968 го́да) took place on 25 August 1968 at Red Square, Moscow, Soviet Union, to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, that occurred during the night of 20–21 August 1968, crushing the Prague Spring, a set of de-centralization reforms promoted by Alexander Dubček.
Many people over the world had protested against the suppression of the Prague spring with troops of Soviet Union and other countries of the Warsaw Pact. One such act of protest took place in Moscow, at the Red Square. The protest was held at the Lobnoye Mesto, to avoid any violation of public order that could have occurred during the demonstration. The protesters were sitting to avoid any inconvenience to ordinary citizens which might be caused by them standing, although this appears to have had little effect.Alexander Dubček
Alexander Dubček (Slovak pronunciation: [ˈalɛksandɛr ˈduptʃɛk]; 27 November 1921 – 7 November 1992) was a Slovak politician who served as the First secretary of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) (de facto leader of Czechoslovakia) from January 1968 to April 1969. He attempted to reform the communist government during the Prague Spring but was forced to resign following the Warsaw Pact invasion in August 1968.
During his leadership, under the slogan of "Socialism with a human face", Czechoslovakia lifted censorship on the media and liberalized Czechoslovak society, fuelling the so-called New Wave in Czechoslovak filmography. However, he was put under pressure by Stalinist voices inside the party as well as the Soviet leadership, who disliked the direction the country was taking and feared that Czechoslovakia could loosen ties with the Soviet Union and become more westernized. As a result, the country was invaded by the other Warsaw Pact countries on 20–21 August 1968, effectively ending the process known as the Prague Spring. Dubček resigned in April 1969 and was succeeded by Gustav Husák, who initiated normalization. Dubček was then expelled from the Communist Party in 1970.
Later, after the overthrow of the communist regime in 1989, he was Chairman of the federal Czechoslovak parliament. Also in 1989, the European Parliament awarded Dubček the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.Brezhnev Doctrine
The Brezhnev Doctrine was a Soviet foreign policy, first and most clearly outlined by Sergei Kovalev in a September 26, 1968 Pravda article entitled Sovereignty and the International Obligations of Socialist Countries. Leonid Brezhnev reiterated it in a speech at the Fifth Congress of the Polish United Workers' Party on November 13, 1968, which stated:
When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.
This doctrine was announced to retroactively justify the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 that ended the Prague Spring, along with earlier Soviet military interventions, such as the invasion of Hungary in 1956. These interventions were meant to put an end to liberalization efforts and uprisings that had the potential to compromise Soviet hegemony inside the Eastern Bloc, which was considered by the Soviet Union to be an essential defensive and strategic buffer in case hostilities with NATO were to break out.
In practice, the policy meant that only limited independence of the satellite states' communist parties was allowed and that no socialist country would be allowed to compromise the cohesiveness of the Eastern Bloc in any way. That is, no country could leave the Warsaw Pact or disturb a ruling communist party's monopoly on power. Implicit in this doctrine was that the leadership of the Soviet Union reserved, for itself, the power to define "socialism" and "capitalism". Following the announcement of the Brezhnev Doctrine, numerous treaties were signed between the Soviet Union and its satellite states to reassert these points and to further ensure inter-state cooperation. The principles of the doctrine were so broad that the Soviets even used it to justify their military intervention in the non-Warsaw Pact nation of Afghanistan in 1979. The Brezhnev Doctrine stayed in effect until it was ended with the Soviet reaction to the Polish crisis of 1980–1981. Mikhail Gorbachev refused to use military force when Poland held free elections in 1989 and Solidarity defeated the Polish United Workers' Party. It was superseded by the facetiously named Sinatra Doctrine in 1989, alluding to the Frank Sinatra song "My Way".Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Czech and Slovak: Komunistická strana Československa, KSČ) was a Communist and Marxist–Leninist political party in Czechoslovakia that existed between 1921 and 1992. It was a member of the Comintern. Between 1929 and 1953 it was led by Klement Gottwald. After its election victory in 1946 it seized power in the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d'état and established a one-party state allied with the Soviet Union. Nationalization of virtually all private enterprises followed.
In 1968, party leader Alexander Dubček proposed reforms that included a democratic process and this led to the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Under pressure from the Kremlin, all reforms were repealed, party leadership became taken over by its more authoritarian wing and a massive non-bloody purge of party members was conducted.
In 1989 the party leadership bowed to popular pressure during the Velvet revolution and agreed to call the first contested election since 1946. In 1990, the centre-based Civic Forum won the election and the Communist party stood down.
In November 1990, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia became a federation of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and the Communist Party of Slovakia.
The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was declared to be a criminal organisation in the Czech Republic by the 1993 Act on Illegality of the Communist Regime and on Resistance Against It.Czechoslovakia 1968
Czechoslovakia 1968 (also known as Czechoslovakia 1918-1968) is a 1969 short documentary film about the "Prague Spring", the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. The film was produced by the United States Information Agency (USIA) under the direction of Robert M. Fresco and Denis Sanders and features the graphic design of Norman Gollin.It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject and in 1997, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress having been identified as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".Eurocommunism
Eurocommunism was a revisionist trend in the 1970s and 1980s within various Western European communist parties, which said they had developed a theory and practice of social transformation more relevant for Western Europe. During the Cold War, they sought to undermine the influence of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was especially prominent in Italy, Spain and France.František Kriegel
František Kriegel (10 April 1908 — 3 December 1979) was a Czechoslovak politician, physician, and a member of the Communist Party reform wing of Prague Spring (1968). He was the only one of the political leaders who, during the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, declined to sign the Moscow Protocol.Gustáv Husák
Gustáv Husák (Slovak: [ˈɡustaːʊ̯ ˈɦusaːk]; 10 January 1913 – 18 November 1991) was a Slovak politician, president of Czechoslovakia and a long-term Secretary General of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (1969–1987). His rule is known as the period of the so-called "Normalization" after the Prague Spring.Jan Palach
Jan Palach (11 August 1948 – 19 January 1969; Czech pronunciation: [jan ˈpalax]) was a Czech student of history and political economy at Charles University in Prague. His self-immolation was a political protest against the end of the Prague Spring resulting from the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies.Ludvík Vaculík
Ludvík Vaculík [ˈludviːk ˈvatsuˌliːk] (23 July 1926 – 6 June 2015) was a Czech writer and journalist. He was born in Brumov, Moravian Wallachia. A prominent samizdat writer, he was best known as the author of the "Two Thousand Words" manifesto of June 1968.Oldřich Černík
Oldřich Černík (October 27, 1921 – October 19, 1994) was a Czechoslovak Communist political figure. He was the Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia from April 8, 1968 to January 28, 1970.
A party official and well-known technocrat, Černík was a strong supporter of the Prague Spring reforms of 1968. In August 1968 he was forced to go to the Soviet Union along with other politicians, and when he returned he asked the Czech people to cooperate with the Soviet Union but promised to continue reforms. After party leader Alexander Dubcek was replaced with Gustav Husak in 1969, Černík publicly distanced himself from his previous support of reform. It was not enough to prevent him from being forced out as prime minister in 1970; he was expelled from the party soon afterward. He attempted a political comeback in the early 1990s after the end of the communist regime. He died in Prague.Ota Šik
Ota Šik (11 September 1919 – 22 August 2004) was a Czech economist and politician. He was the man behind the New Economic Model (economy liberalization plan) and was one of the key figures in the Prague Spring.Pavel Litvinov
Pavel Mikhailovich Litvinov (Russian: Па́вел Миха́йлович Литви́нов, born 6 July 1940) is a Russian physicist, writer, human rights activist and former Soviet-era dissident.Prague Spring International Music Festival
The Prague Spring International Music Festival (Czech: Mezinárodní hudební festival Pražské jaro, commonly Czech: Pražské jaro, Prague Spring) is a permanent showcase for outstanding performing artists, symphony orchestras and chamber music ensembles of the world.
The first festival was held under the patronage of Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš, and its organizing committee was made up of important figures in Czech musical life. In that year, 1946, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, and was therefore given the highest accolade: to appear in all the orchestral concerts. The project was initiated by Rafael Kubelík, chief conductor of the orchestra at the time. Such musicians as Karel Ančerl, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Adrian Boult, Rudolf Firkušný, Jaroslav Krombholc, Rafael Kubelík, Moura Lympany, Yevgeny Mravinsky, Charles Münch, Ginette Neveu, Jarmila Novotná, Lev Oborin, David Oistrakh, Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi and Jan Panenka have won enthusiastic ovations on the Prague Spring Festival stage. Since 1952, the festival has opened on 12 May — the anniversary of the death of Bedřich Smetana — with his cycle of symphonic poems Má vlast (My Country), and it used to close (until 2003) with Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.The festival commemorates important musical anniversaries by including works by the composers concerned on its programmes, and presents Czech as well as world premieres of compositions by contemporary authors. Artists and orchestras of the highest quality are invited to perform here. Some of those who have appeared at the festival include Sviatoslav Richter, Lorin Maazel, Herbert von Karajan, Mstislav Rostropovich, Julian Lloyd Webber, Boris Pergamenschikow, Lucia Popp, Kim Borg, Sir Colin Davis, Maurice André, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Leonid Kogan, Paul Klecki, Gustav Leonhardt, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Giovanni Bellucci, Alfred Brendel, Heinrich Schiff, Leopold Stokowski, Arthur Honegger, Arthur Rubinstein and Gennady Rozhdestvensky.
Prague Spring's traditional venue is the Rudolfinum concert hall, a venerable Neo-renaissance building with an excellent auditorium, situated on the bank of the Vltava River. It is complemented by Prague's ornate Municipal House (Obecní dům), which has a larger seating capacity.The Prague Spring has a particular focus in supporting younger performers. The Prague Spring International Music Competition was established just one year after the festival itself, and is held each year in various instrumental sections. The list of past winners of competition includes Mstislav Rostropovich, Saša Večtomov, Natalia Gutman, James Galway and Maurice Bourgue.Rudolfinum
The Rudolfinum is a building in Prague, Czech Republic. It is designed in the neo-renaissance style and is situated on Jan Palach Square on the bank of the river Vltava. Since its opening in 1885 it has been associated with music and art. Currently the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Galerie Rudolfinum are based in the building. Its largest music auditorium, Dvořák Hall, is one of the main venues of the Prague Spring International Music Festival and is noted for its excellent acoustics.Socialism with a human face
Socialism with a human face (in Czech: socialismus s lidskou tváří, in Slovak: socializmus s ľudskou tvárou) was a political programme announced by Alexander Dubček and his colleagues agreed at Presidium of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia on April 1968 after he became the chairman of the Party in January 1968. The first author of this slogan was Radovan Richta. It was a process of mild democratization and political liberalization that sought to build an advance socialist society that valued democratic Czechoslovakian tradition. It would still enable the Communist Party to maintain real power. Instead, it initiated the Prague spring which, on the night of 20-21 August 1968, was crushed by the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Czech: Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí) is a 1984 novel by Milan Kundera, about two women, two men, a dog and their lives in the 1968 Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history. Although written in 1982, the novel was not published until two years later, in a French translation (as L'Insoutenable légèreté de l'être). The original Czech text was published the following year.Vadim Delaunay
Vadim Nikolaevich Delaunay (Russian: Вади́м Никола́евич Делоне́, IPA: [vɐˈdʲim nʲɪkɐˈlajɪvʲɪtɕ dʲɪlɐˈnʲɛ] (listen); 1947–1983) was a Soviet poet and dissident, who participated in the
1968 Red Square demonstration of protest against military suppression of the Prague Spring.Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia
The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, officially known as Operation Danube, was a joint invasion of Czechoslovakia by five Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Poland, Bulgaria, East Germany and Hungary – on the night of 20–21 August 1968. Approximately 250,000 Warsaw pact troops attacked Czechoslovakia that night, with Romania and Albania refusing to participate. East German forces, except for a small number of specialists, did not participate in the invasion because they were ordered from Moscow not to cross the Czechoslovak border just hours before the invasion. 137 Czechoslovakian civilians were killed and 500 seriously wounded during the occupation.The invasion successfully stopped Alexander Dubček's Prague Spring liberalisation reforms and strengthened the authority of the authoritarian wing within the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). The foreign policy of the Soviet Union during this era was known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.
Soviet Union portal
Annexed as, or
|Cold War events|
|Post-Cold War topics|