The 1968 Invasion Of Czechoslovakia Essay, Research Paper
The 1968 Invasion of Czechoslovakia
It has been 30 years since Soviet troops marched and tanks rolled down Wenceslas Square in Czechoslovakia’s capital to crush a reform movement known as Prague Spring. Alexander Dubcek’s attempts to create “socialism with a human face” are often seen as historical and ideological forerunners to Mikhail Gorbachev’s reform policies of glasnost and perestroika in the 1980s in the USSR. The events of 1968 shattered many illusions about Socialism and the Soviet system – both in Czechoslovakia and in the West.
It was about 11 PM of August 20 when the Czechoslovak territory was invaded by the Soviet, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Polish military troops, altogether more than 500 thousand soldiers entered the country. At the same time, an extraordinary meeting of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSC) took place in Vysocany in Prague. Alexander Dubcek, Otakar Cerny, Bohumil Simon and other leading politicians were kidnapped and taken to Moscow for political talks . The remaining leaders of the Communist Party strongly condemned the decision to invade Czechoslovakia, which broke the sovereignty of the state, and they asked citizens to remain in peace and not to resist the military troops. By doing this, they avoided bloody battles with troops, which came to Czechoslovakia to save the socialism .
The events of 1968 remain alive in our remembrances even today. That is because we sensed their causes many years after 1968, and in many cases, for example in economy, we can sense it even today. The invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops in 1968 was an event that broke the sovereignty of Czechoslovakia and returned the country calling for more democracy under a strong hand of the USSR.
In 1968, there was a strong movement calling for separation of party and state. Therefore, there was a movement against Antonin Novotny, who was both First Secretary of the party and president of Czechoslovakia. Alexander Dubcek, one of the most popular politicians at that time, was the most convenient candidate for the post of First Secretary. In 1968, the Czechoslovak Party s Central Committee really voted that Novotny must give up his post as First Secretary of the party and elected Dubcek.
The key features of the economy in 1960 s were the unrealistic production targets, lack of correlation between production costs and prices, principle of full employment, that means no firing of workers (except for political reasons). All these factors cost huge economic stagnation. Leading economists began demanding freedom of speech to allow free discussion of economic problems and reforms. Dubcek was aware of these facts. He supported economic reform and political liberalization. In April 1968, Dubcek as the leader of the Czechoslovak Communist Party published its reform program, titled The Action Program. The program criticized mistakes and crimes of the past, for example, Stalinism in Czechoslovakia. It proposed a complete decentralization, managerial independence, flexible market mechanisms, and legalization of small private sector, especially in services. It also guaranteed personal freedom. People should be free to travel abroad. There was to be respect for the law and court proceedings. Dubcek believed in the need of uncensored media, so he allowed censorship to lapse. As a result, people began to speak more freely about the situation in the country. They started to criticize the past and supported reform both economic and financial. At this point, censorship disappeared from media. Many of the past mistakes and cruelties of the party were revealed. Dubcek s economic and financial reforms should improve the situation in the country and became his trademark as socialism with a human face . However, the leaders of the Soviet Union, Poland and East Germany could not understand that people of Czechoslovakia would freely support a reforming Communist Party. They criticized Dubcek for allowing censorship to lapse the country and attacked him for loosing control over the country. They became very nervous and very afraid that people in their countries would call for the same reforms and liberalization as it was in Czechoslovakia. Indeed, Polish students prepared demonstrations demanding the abolition of censorship and organized sit-ins at the universities. There were also some small demonstrations in East Germany. Moreover, Dubcek dismissed many Czech army officers appointed on Soviet recommendation earlier, and replaced them with officers he trusted. This happened all without asking for an agreement of Moscow. By doing this, the Soviets lost their agents in the Czechoslovak army.
Another unacceptable event was publishing of a manifesto titled Two Thousand Words. Writers, scholars, artists, athletes, and workers signed the document. It expressed the strongest condemnation of the past practices of the party. It stated that: In the past, the party had been a power organization attractive to egoists, avid to rule, to calculating cowards and to people with bad consciences. (Daintier, 1990) People signing this document demanded resignation of those politicians who opposed democratization and called for establishment of committees for defense of freedom of expression . (Dienstbier, 1990) Along the publishing of Two Thousand Words, it came to rebirth of the Social Democratic Party. However, Dubcek strongly disagreed with publishing of this document and refused any intention of establishing a multiparty system. He spoke of making the party more popular and responsible to people s wishes. After these events, the Soviet leadership became very worried by what was going on in Czechoslovakia. On May 1968, East German, Polish, Hungarian, and Bulgarian party leaders met with Soviet leaders in Moscow. Moscow was egged on by the nervous leaders of Poland and East Germany, so it became even more critical of Dubcek and his policies. The Soviet bloc leaders sent a very strong letter to the Czechoslovak Party Central Committee. They expressed their anxiety at the reactionaries offensive, supported by imperialism, which was endangering the interest of the entire Socialist system. They also said that they did not want to interfere, but could not allow hostile forces to create the threat the Czechoslovakia may break away from the Socialistic Commonwealth. In this letter, they came to a final conclusion that supports the military invasion. This is no longer your own affair. (Brezhnev, 1968)
Soon, many Soviet tourists came to Prague. Today, we know that they were soldiers. Also, the Warsaw Pact maneuvers in Czechoslovakia were a preparation for the invasion.
Soviet leaders tried to persuade Dubcek to give up his reforms. They planned to replace him and his supporters with their own people, people such as Vasil Bilak and Alois Indra who were strongly against Dubcek and supported the Soviets ideas. But the plan to replace Dubcek failed and the last possible solution for the Soviets was the invasion. The Soviet Politburo took the final decision to invade Czechoslovakia on the night of August 16-17th. They knew that the Czechoslovak Party s Presidium was to meet on August 20th and the Slovak Party Congress was due to convene on August 23rd. They wanted to prevent the second event happen, for it would be the first Slovak step to legalize the party statute. Therefore, on the night of August 20-21st, the Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia. There were three main reasons given the prevention of a union between Czechoslovakia and West Germany, the saving of socialism in Czechoslovakia, and the third one was a claim that these forces had come in at the request of Czechoslovak party and state authorities. The first claim was, of course, nonsense. None of the politicians has ever thought about such a union. The second claim was false because Czechoslovakia was a socialist country. Dubcek s aim was to make this socialism more popular among people. The third one was immediately disproved by the declaration of the Czechoslovak Party Presidium condemning the invasion. The presidium also appealed to all citizens not to resist the armed forces moving in which was done to avert bloodbaths. Politicians supporting the invasion tried to establish a new party leadership but they failed to get a majority in the Central Committee. Soviet KGB officers arrested Dubcek and his key supporters Kriegel, Smrkovsky, Spacek, and few others. All this happened in the name of the workers and peasants government (Frost M., 1998). They were not allowed to meet together and were told that they would be brought to Moscow for talks. This event became later known as the Moscow Talks. The arrest took place in Prague in the morning right after the invasion. The Moscow Talks started on August 23rd and by this time, Dubcek was not allowed to wash or shave, presumably they tried to humiliate him. His opponents at the talks were Brezhnev and his closest colleagues. He took the opportunity to explain and defend his reform program, as well as a claim that it did not threaten either socialism or the Soviet alliance. He also said that the invasion was a tragedy. Brezhnev s reply to Dubcek is a key to understanding the Soviet leaders perception of the Czechoslovak leader and his supporters. At the Moscow Talks Brezhnev said: Since the end of the last war, Czechoslovakia has been a part of the Soviet security zone, and the Soviet Union has no intention of giving it up. What worries the Soviet Politburo most about Prague has been your tendency toward independence; you (Dubcek) did not send me any speeches in advance for review and you did not ask my permission for personnel changes. We cannot tolerate this, and, when you had not submitted to other forms of pressure we had invaded your country. (1968) Brezhnev made it clear that the Soviet leadership had seen their loss of total control over the Czechoslovak Party, government, and military forces, which might lead to country s exit from the Warsaw Pact. They perceived the democratization of the Czechoslovak Party, and in particular, the lack of media censorship leading to a bourgeois democracy . (Brezhnev, 1968) In their eyes, this was a deadly threat to the Soviet brand of socialism and to the Warsaw Pact.
To summarize, Dubcek s socialism with a human face which should bring politic and economic reform of the country and more freedom for media and, above all, for citizens of Czechoslovakia meant a threat for the Soviet Union. The invasion of Czechoslovakia was necessary because it was their duty to help against the imperialists (Brezhnev, 1968), and save our common borders from which the Soviets would never retreat. (Kosygin, 1968) The invasion ruined all the positive changes that were introduced by Dubcek and by his supporters who after being kidnapped were forced to sign the Moscow Protocol. They agreed to impose controls on the media and accept the presence of Warsaw Pact troops in Czechoslovakia until the threat to socialism in CSSR and the security of countries in the socialist community has passed . (Brezhnev, 1968) Dubcek was replaced as the head of the party by Gustav Husak who initiated a period of brutal repression. He was later expelled from the party, kept under the house arrest and finally employed by the Slovak Forestry service as a mechanic in charge of maintaining machinery.
Even though Dubcek s reform plans were thwarted and the ruined Prague Spring led to a deep economic, political and cultural crisis, not more than twenty years later, when communism was collapsing in Czechoslovakia, Dubcek appeared side-by-side with Vaclav Havel to say a definite good bye to the Soviet Union. Fortunately, Czechoslovakia succeeded this time.
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