Prague Spring

Prague Spring
Part of the invasion of Czechoslovakia
and Protests of 1968
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)
LocationCzechoslovakia
ParticipantsPeople and Government of Czechoslovakia
Warsaw Pact
OutcomeNormalization 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.

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.

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 massive 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. 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 (Cz: normalizace) 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.

Background

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]

In the early 1960s, Czechoslovakia underwent an economic downturn.[6] The Soviet model of industrialization applied poorly to Czechoslovakia since the country 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]

1963 Liblice Conference

In May 1963, some Marxist intellectuals organized the Liblice Conference that discussed Franz Kafka's life, marking the beginning of the cultural democratization of Czechoslovakia which ultimately led to the 1968 Prague Spring, an era of political liberalization. This conference was unique because it symbolized Kafka’s rehabilitation in the Eastern Bloc after having been heavily criticized, led to a partial opening up of the regime and influenced the relaxation of censorship. It also had an international impact as a representative from all Eastern Bloc countries were invited to the Conference; only the Soviet Union did not send any representative. This conference had a revolutionary effect and paved the way for the reforms while making Kafka the symbol of the renaissance of Czechoslovakian artistic and intellectual freedom.[8]

1967 Writers' Congress

As the strict regime eased its rules, the Union of Czechoslovak Writers (Cz: Československých spisovatelů) cautiously began to air discontent, and in Literární noviny, the union's previously hard-line communist weekly. members suggested that literature should be independent of Party doctrine.[9]

In June 1967, a small fraction of the union sympathized with radical socialists, especially Ludvík Vaculík, Milan Kundera, Jan Procházka, Antonín Jaroslav Liehm, Pavel Kohout and Ivan Klíma.[9]

A few months later, at a meeting of Party leaders, it was decided that administrative actions against the writers who openly expressed support of reformation would be taken. Since only a small group of the union held these beliefs, the remaining members were relied upon to discipline their colleagues.[9] Control over Literární noviny and several other publishers was transferred to the Ministry of Culture,[9] and even some leaders of the Party who later became major reformers — including Dubček — endorsed these moves.[9]