1968 - Dubček´s Czechoslovak (Prague) Spring

After the initial dogmatic and sectarian period, when the Stalinist ‘builders’ of communism dominated politics with the far-reaching economic, social and moral failures that entailed, the communist experiment in Czechoslovakia was given another chance in the late 1960s, when a movement for democratization and modernization emerged. The symbol and living legend of this movement, known as “socialism with a human face”, was reform politician Alexander Dubček. Under his leadership, the shift towards democratization awakened civil
society in Czechoslovakia, which Moscow watched with concern from the outset. Had Moscow shown any weakness or failure to act, it would have undermined
its interests as a superpower. Czechoslovakia had to be brought back ‘into the fold’, or a domino effect could affect the other Eastern bloc countries. Within a few months, the Soviet leadership had issued several statements, calling on Prague to deal quickly and effectively with the “counter-revolutionary situation”.

Alexander Dubček, father of Czechoslovakia’s reform communism and symbol of the Czechoslovak (Prague) Spring


August 1968 Invasion

At the beginning of August 1968, communist party leaders of the Eastern bloc states met in Bratislava to adopt a declaration stating that “supporting, protecting and consolidating socialist achievements is the common international duty of all socialist countries”. This declaration was referred to as Brezhnev’s doctrine of limited sovereignty. At the same meeting, the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was given a letter of invitation, signed by five conservative Czechoslovak communists, including Vasil Biľak on behalf of the Slovaks. Although rebellious Czechoslovakia would have been dealt with by force anyway, Alexander Dubček, father of Czechoslovakia’s reform communism and symbol of the Czechoslovak (Prague) Spring 1968 this “letter by the Five” gave the subsequent military invasion a semblance of legality and legitimacy.


The invasion of Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968, a man baring his chest on Šafárik Square in Bratislava, photograph by Ladislav Bielik. The picture went all round the world


The invasion by five Warsaw Pact armies – USSR, Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Bulgaria – followed during the night of 20 to 21 August 1968. The population encountered it with spontaneous resistance, watching in horror the overnight occupation of a sovereign country by three hundred thousand foreign troops, more than six thousand tanks and support vehicles, four thousand artillery pieces and one thousand aircraft. It was the largest show of armed aggression in Europe since the Second World War. It forcibly stopped the democratic process and set the stage for its reversal. The Czechoslovak communist regime entered into a period known as normalization, heralding the end of the communist experiment in Europe.


President Ludvík Svoboda signing the law on the Czechoslovak Federation in Bratislava Castle, 1968


In Slovakia, the process of democratization was strengthened by the past years of struggling for emancipation and Slovak national equality with the Czechs. Although this struggle for equality had been repressed, it fed into the legitimate requests for a federal constitutional arrangement. Ultimately, the Slovaks succeeded in their efforts. On 27 October 1968, the National Assembly of Czechoslovakia adopted the Czechoslovak Constitutional Act on the Czechoslovak Federation, which, among other things, stated “The Czech and Slovak peoples ...recognizing the inalienable right to self-determination including division... have agreed to establish the Czechoslovak federation”. On 30 October 1968, the Constitutional Act for the Czechoslovak Federation was ceremonially signed at Bratislava Castle. In 1987, the Slovak equivalent of the Czech-dominated Charter 77 movement was the samizdat publication of Bratislava/nahlas, a supplement on green issues by environmentalists, which was a clear statement about the position of members of the alternative cultural scene. In the eyes of the communist regime, a real antiregime action was the candlelight rally on Hviezdoslav Square, Bratislava, on 25 March 1988, which was held to draw the regime’s attention to its failure to observe human, civil and religious rights. The regime’s repressive and brutal retaliation against the peaceful gathering of five thousand citizens provoked a global response, causing embarrassment and an international scandal.


Candlelight rally in Bratislava, 1988

Last Update Date: 18.1.2018 Create Date: 27.12.2017