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Facts about the Prague Spring

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 when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to halt 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.
  • 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 Republic and Slovak Republic.
  • This was the only formal change that survived the end of Prague Spring, though the relative success of the nonviolent resistance undoubtedly prefigured and facilitated the peaceful transition to liberal democracy with the collapse of Soviet hegemony in 1989.
  • A spirited non-violent resistance was mounted throughout the country, involving attempted fraternization, painting over and turning street signs, defiance of various curfews, etc.
  • Czechoslovakia remained controlled until 1989, when the velvet revolution ended pro-Soviet rule peacefully, undoubtedly drawing upon the successes of the non-violent resistance twenty years earlier.
  • The process of de-Stalinization in Czechoslovakia had begun under Antonín Novotný in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but had progressed slower than in most other states of the Eastern Bloc.
  • Goldstucker tested the boundaries of Dubček’s devotion to freedom of the press when he appeared on a television interview as the new head of the union.
  • Despite the official government statement that allowed for freedom of the press, this was the first trial of whether or not Dubček was serious about reforms.
  • On the 20th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s “Victorious February”, Dubček delivered a speech explaining the need for change following the triumph of socialism.
  • In April, Dubček launched an “Action Programme” of liberalizations, which included increasing freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of movement, with economic emphasis on consumer goods and the possibility of a multiparty government.
  • Radical elements became more vocal: anti-Soviet polemics appeared in the press, the Social Democrats began to form a separate party, and new unaffiliated political clubs were created.
  • The Soviet Union’s policy of compelling the socialist governments of its satellite states to subordinate their national interests to those of the “Eastern Bloc” became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.
  • Although, on the night of the invasion the Czechoslovak Presidium declared that Warsaw Pact troops had crossed the border without the knowledge of the ČSSR government, the Soviet Press printed an unsigned request – allegedly by Czechoslovak party and state leaders – for “immediate assistance, including assistance with armed forces”.
  • Finally, on 2 April 1969, the government adopted measures “to secure peace and order” through even stricter censorship, forcing the people of Czechoslovakia to wait until the thawing of Eastern Europe for the return of a free media.