Springtime for Prague
Sensing a rare opportunity, he quickly initiated a series of reforms to bring about a socialist democracy, lifting censorship and freeing artists and other political prisoners, and beginning the Prague Spring. In April of that year, Dubcek launched an “Action Programme” of liberalizations that included increased freedom of the press, a switch of emphasis from industrial to consumer goods, and the possibility of a more democratic multi-party government, essentially ending Soviet control over the nation. It also planned the federalization of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic into two equal nations, Czech and Slovak. That spring and summer, liberalizations escalated, including anti-Soviet opinions appearing in the press, something unheard of previously. In addition, new unaffiliated political clubs were being created, whereas in most Soviet-controlled countries non-Party affiliations were strictly banned.
The Fall of Spring
All this changed on the morning of August 21st, 1968, when the Warsaw Pact invasion, led by the Soviet Union with forces from five Pact countries (Romania abstained), brought about normalization, disguised as massive rolling green machines bearing artillery. Dissidents and artists who had been allowed more freedom than ever before were now being persecuted or arrested, including the famous Plastic People of the Universe. Riots broke out, protests and violence were common, but eventually this subsided and the censorship and regulation of a communist system returned.
During the summer of 1968, primarily Brezhnev and the USSR leadership, and to some extent the other leaders of the Warsaw Pact countries were concerned about Dubcek’s reforms, fearing that this idea of liberalization could spread to their countries and instigate rebellion (which did happen with the student riots in Gdansk in 1968), which would eventually oust the current leadership from power (and there’s nothing politicians fear more than losing their power – this hasn’t changed even today). They also feared weakening the position of the Communist Bloc during the height of the Cold War. Before the tanks rolled in in August, a series of negotiations were held between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in July at Cierna nad Tisou, near the Slovak-Soviet border. At the meeting, Dubcek defended the reformist program while pledging commitment to the Warsaw Pact and COMECON, and Brezhnev initially agreed to compromise. The Czechoslovak Party delegates pledged their loyalty to the Warsaw Pact and promised to curb “antisocialist” tendencies and control the press and dissidents more effectively, while the Soviets agreed to withdraw their troops.
On August 3, representatives from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia met in Bratislava and signed the Bratislava Declaration, which affirmed their fidelity to the Party’s ideologies and proletarian internationalism and declared an implacable struggle against “bourgeois” ideology and “antisocialist” enemies. Significantly, the Soviet Union declared its intention to intervene in a Warsaw Pact country if a “bourgeois” system (in theory anything but strict communist control) was ever established. After the Bratislava conference, Soviet troops left Czechoslovak territory but remained along Czechoslovak borders.
During the night of August 20th, between 5,000 to 7,000 tanks rolled in, accompanied by Warsaw Pact troops ranging from 200,000 to 600,000 in number. The tanks occupied the streets while the troops sought out the “antisocialist” elements, often with the use of police sticks and guns, leading to the death of 72 Czechs and Slovaks and hundreds of wounded. Dubcek himself, along with several of his colleagues, was arrested and taken to Moscow, where he miraculously escaped severe punishment in the end, and was even allowed to return to office. Protest (including a student who committed suicide by setting himself on fire) was accompanied by emigration, as hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks escaped to the West.
Even today debate ensues about the tragedy, as well and the necessity and legality of the invasion. The Soviets had claimed that they had been “invited” to intervene against the “antisocialist” elements threatening Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party. In reality, the invasion was a form of coup that had been in the works that whole summer, finally cumulating in the invasion. Meanwhile, resentment remains to this day towards the countries that supplied troops that invaded Czechoslovakia (though the five Pact countries had little choice in the matter). In April 1969, Gustav Husak replaced Dubcek as First Secretary, and the period of “normalization” began. Husak reversed Dubcek’s reforms, purged the party of the reformists and dismissed from public offices and jobs those of professional and intellectual elites who openly expressed disagreement with the political turnaround, a situation which would remain in place until the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
Prague Czech Republic – A Survivor’s Guide!
Prague – The Czech Republic’s ancient capital city, is a captivating place both to travel to and live in. Even before the Czech Republic’s accession to the European Union in 2004, Prague had proven itself as a popular tourist destination, and the number of tourists have only been increasing exponentially since 2004. Prague Life is the city’s leading English-language portal for Prague, with over two hundred pages of useful information about everything in the city, from cosy cafes, hip bars and fancy restaurants through to reviews and photos of the best Prague hotels and apartments if you need help in choosing or booking your accommodation. Thanks to our IT whizzkids we can even show you the exact location of all the above on our fantastic online Prague map!
As well as presenting you all of Prague’s hottest hangouts (and their whereabouts), we endeavour to keep our readers’ fingers firmly on the city’s pulse, with the latest breaking news, from Prague and the Czech Republic, from the latest in Czech politics to news from the world of culture, an up-to-the-minute calendar of events with listings of film festivals, exhibitions, parties and concerts, and the latest tricks that Mother Nature is pulling on our weather page. We also provide you the chance to talk to Prague residents and ask them tricky questions on our forum.
Of course tourists arriving in Prague Czech Republic for the first time will want to explore the many legendary attractions this capital has to offer, and we’ve prepared feature length articles on all the city’s major glories. From the beautiful ancient Old Town, with a range of museums and cultural institutions, to the glorious Prague Castleand Cathedral, and all the nooks and crannies in between that make Prague such a unique place, we’ve got you covered!
Here at Prague Life we’ve aimed to create a website that is easy-to-use, at times irreverent, but always accurate, and we always welcome your comments and suggestions. Just contact us and let us know how we can improve – or even just an encouraging word if you have found the site useful. Many already have, and we appreciate their comments.
That’s pretty much it from Prague, the Czech Republic’s dynamic capital – we hope this site helps you get as much pleasure from the city as we have! Don’t forget to print your downloadable PDF guide to Prague before you set off! Meanwhile check out the links on the left, top, and right hand side of the page for everything you could possibly need to know about Prague and life in the Czech Republic – and if you can’t find anything just give us a shout.
Best regards from the Prague Life team, from the heart of Prague Czech Republic!