Czechoslovakia In 1968 Rebel Against Soviet Domination? Essay, Research Paper
The causes for such a massive and all-captivating
rebellion, which occurred both in Hungary (1956) and in Czechoslovakia
(1968), originated most from deep-rooted antagonism towards Soviet domination
in the Eastern Europe in the post-war era. A continuous political and cultural
suppression by Soviet dictatorial policies, obviously linked with economic
constraints, coalesced to provoke robust insurrections. Short-term reasons
are of no less importance in the analysis of these events. In the case
of Hungary, Khrushchev?s speech on the 20th Part Congress – which discredited
Stalinist rule and encouraged a policy of diversion – played a significant
role in the development of Hungarian resistance. While observing events
in Czechoslovakia, the role of Dubcek?s government should be emphasized,
since it was their new program, which raised a significant enthusiasm in
Czechs, to aim for a neutral course.
One of the main reasons for the initiation
of a certain alienation process in Hungary was the brink of an economic
catastrophe, to which Hungary was brought by its ex-premier Matyas Rakosi
in the mid-1950?s. Since Hungarian economic developments mirrored those
of the Soviet Union, Rakosi also made a strong emphasis on the build-up
of Hungarian heavy industry at the expense of the rest of the economy.
Likewise, Rakosi?s successor, Imre Nagy, was to pursue Malenkov?s ?new
course?, which aimed to divert the country?s resources to light industry
and seize the imposed collectivization of agriculture.
The economic relaxation led to a corresponding
intellectual relaxation. Intellectuals began to discuss not only the nature
of the changes in Hungarian communism, but also the value of a Communist
system; society commenced debating on the possibility of achieving democracy
in a Communist state.
Nagy?s plans were cut short by the fall
of his Soviet Protector, Malenkov, in February 1955. Rakosi seized the
opportunity to regain leadership over both the state and the party, re-instituting
a Stalinist hard line. Nagy gave in without a fight, perhaps because he
expected Rakosi would fail in his attempt to re-impose ideological conformity.
His intuition has not deceived him; hatred of Rakosi?s brutal and repressive
regime which executed at least 2000 people and put 200,000 other in prisons
and concentration camps was enormous. Masses were enraged by the falling
living standards, while hated party leaders were comfortably off. However,
Nagy could hardly have expected the shake-up in the Soviet block that was
to result from Khrushchev?s denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Party Congress
in February 1956. While Rakosi tried to re-establish his authority, Khrushchev
was exonerating Bela Kun, a discredited former Rakosi rival and a National
Communist. Buoyed up by Khrushchev?s action, Hungarian intellectuals
demanded an investigation of Rakosi?s past, and three months later, inspired
by Gomulka?s successful stand in Poland, openly opposed Rakosi in the columns
of the party newspaper Szabad Nep. The Soviet Union opposed Rakosi?s plan
to silence his opposition by arresting Nagy and other intellectuals, both
because the plan might fail and because it certainly would not endear the
Communist party to the Hungarian population.
The Soviet leaders decided time was ripe
for a change in the leadership in the Hungarian Communist Party (CPH).
Nevertheless, they denunciated Nagy as a potential premier and instead
appointed Erno Gero, whose governing methods, according to Tito, were in
no particular way different from Rakosi?s. Had the Soviet leaders supported
Nagy at this point, when he still had a chance to put himself at the head
of the reforming forces, they might have prevented the more radical revolution
that was to follow.
Although the Hungarian uprising had failed
due to the military predominance of the Soviet Union, the longing for liberalization
and independence refused to be suppressed. In Czechoslovakia in the 1960?s
the internal reforms went furthest from any other satellite state in the
Eastern block, which posed the most direct challenge to the Soviets. The
Czechoslovakian opposition escalated gradually for several reasons. First
of all, the Czechs were industrially and culturally the most advanced of
the Eastern bloc peoples, who strongly objected to the over-centralized
Soviet control of their economy. It seemed senseless, for example, that
they should have to put up with poor quality iron-ore from Siberia when
they could have been using high-grade from Sweden.
From 1918 until 1938, Czechoslovakia had
been a liberal, west-orientated state, valuing democratic principles, such
as freedom of speech, freedom of movement and so forth. Soviet acquisition
of Czech territory has not only brought Russian domination in the country?s
political affairs, but also the ideological uncertainty. Social-political
repression – media/press censorship, restrictions on personal liberty,
economic imposition of Soviet delegated economic measures – were resented
by Czech intellectuals and masses in general. Violent and brutal methods
of the police, which were often used to disperse various protest marches
and demonstrations, only mounted tenacious opposition in the Czech population.
Henceforth, matters came to a head in January
1968 when the Czech leader, Antonin Novotny, a pro-Moscow communist, was
forced to resign and Alexander Dubcek became the First Secretary of the
communist party. Dubcek and his supporters had a completely new program,
primarily the communist power would no longer dictate policy or dominate
the political and social life of the state. Industry would be de-centralized,
which meant that factories would be run by works councils instead of being
controlled from the capital by party officials. Independent cooperatives
were to be set up to govern farm work, rather than them being collectivized.
There were to be wider powers for trade unions, expansion of trade with
the West and freedom to travel abroad. A significant accent was made on
the encouragement of freedom of speech and freedom for the press. The government
longed for criticism; Dubcek believed that although the country would remain
communist, the government should earn the right to be in power by responding
to people?s wishes. He called it ?socialism with a human face?.
Despite the fact that Dubcek?s government
was most careful to assure the Russians that Czechoslovakia would stay
in the Warsaw Pact and remain a reliable ally, Russians became immensely
disturbed as the new program was carried into operation. They were well
conscious that such a immense liberalization in Czechoslovakia would lead
to an all-round cooperation with the Western block, and thus with the United
States. Russians could not give card blance to Czechoslovakia, and therefore
in August 1968 a massive invasion of Czechoslovakia took place by Russian,
Polish, Bulgarian, Hungarian and East German troops. The hapless Czechs,
stunned and infuriated, were forced to restore Communist party control,
remove Dubcek, re-impose censorship, and curb democratization. Reprisals
followed and the new leadership imposed severe dictatorial controls.
From the afore-analyzed events we can make
a conclusion that rebellions which occurred in Hungary and in Czechoslovakia
were bound to take place sooner or later. Masses were tormented through
the extensive control of the Soviet Union. They longed for better
standards of living, for freedom of various life aspects, such as speech,
movement, choice. People were suppressed from communication with the rest
of the world, suppressed form cultural and industrial progress. This degradation
could not be endured for a long period of time, which was justified later
on in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.