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20. století

Prague Spring 1968

Period of political freedom in Czechoslovakia
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The Prague Spring was a period of opening and political reforms within Communist Czechoslovakia that was ended violently through the intervention of the Warsaw Pact troops.
After Stalin's death in 1953, and after the trend set by Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev in the USSR, tough regimes in the Eastern Block slightly eased their grip on society. This was quite clear in Czechoslovakia especialy from the early sixties. Because of an economic recession, President Antonín Novotný´s position got weaker and reformators started to slowly be accepted at higher levels of command inside the party. On January 5th 1968, Alexander Dubček became First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and a number of reforms were pushed forward once President Novotný had resigned.
Such reforms helped to consolidate the liberal trend, the press got more freedom and there was a gradual preparation of plans aiming at a multi-party governance. In April 1968, Dubček announced his political program, the so-called "Socialism with a Human Face" that led to the activation of anti-regime forces (anti-communist), which tried to join and form new political parties. In addition, the Social Democratic Party was reinstated.
The situation intensely alarmed Leonid Ilich Brezhnev, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, who in July invited Dubček and his colleagues for bilateral negotiations in the small town of Čierna nad Tisou. The negotiations ended with a compromise, later confirmed at a conference in Bratislava, that was supposed to limit the political opposition in Czechoslovakia.
The second round of negotiations was completed in August, but Dubček objected to the pressure put on by the Soviets as well as that coming from some of his conservative party colleagues. Thus, the negotiations ended unsuccessfully as far as the Soviets were concerned and Brezhnev began to consider military action.

However, this was also the result of mistakes Dubček made, he was the actual reformist leader of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and he suffered from serious psychological problems. Dubček enjoyed strong support from the leadership of the Communist Party of Hungary; nevertheless, in July, as a sign of protest, he decided not to attend an important conference in Warsaw, Poland. As a result he also set against himself many of his own allies at high places inside the Warsaw Pact.
Finally, in the night between August 20th and 21st 1968, the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries began invading Czechoslovakia, perhaps also because of Dubček´s lack of diplomatic skills. This invasion ended the Prague Spring (as was this era of liberation later called by the international press) as well as the faith of the Czechoslovak citizens in the Soviet Union. It is important to say that the invasion was called in by opponents of Dubček, who prior to the invasion stated that they would support it. That happened without exceptions. A tough period called Normalization followed. Dubček was expelled from the Communist Party and was sent to Slovakia working as a forestemployee. Nonetheless, Leonid Ilich Brezhnev for some time considered bringing him back because all of a sudden there were very few individuals within the Czechoslovak society supporting the invasion. However, in the end, Dubček was replaced by Gustav Husák, who was a loyal conservative and started to immediately enforce the politics of Normalization. This lasted for much of the seventies with various degrees of intensity.
In people´s consciousness, the Prague Spring came to symbolize resistance against totality and the possibility to mobilize the nation. After all, twenty-years later, a similar process occurred in the USSR under the wand of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, which subsequently led to the fall of the entire Eastern Block and the Soviet Union.


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