11
Towards a Shared Freedom,
1968–89

PETR PITHART

Public opinion polls in the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic have revealed an unexpected fact (at least unexpected for the Czechs): the Slovaks considered the period of 'normalization' or 'consolidation', as the years 1968–89 were called by their proponents, to be the most successful and happiest period in their nation's history. What was so surprising for the Czechs was that it was precisely those twenty years which they looked upon as the least successful and most unhappy period, a period of general decline and dishonour.

This showed a striking change in attitudes on both sides. After all, the elections of May 1946 the last free general elections before the communist takeover in February 1948 had demonstrated that the European postwar shift to the left was much more striking in the Czech Lands (Bohemia and Moravia) than in Slovakia. In the Czech Lands, the Communist Party received over 40 per cent of the vote, and the Social Democrats 15 per cent: in Slovakia, the Communist Party, by then already merged with the Social Democrats, received only 30 per cent of the vote. This striking transformation will be the key to understanding what divided the two nations and their political representatives after November 1989.

One thing seems incontestable: the Czechs and Slovaks entered the post-communist period having had different, indeed even opposite, experiences of the years immediately preceding it. What was perhaps even more serious was that they were not aware of this fact. Communication between democratically oriented Czechs and Slovaks had been minimal in that period, as a result of deliberately placed obstacles.

What was remembered was the common experience of the August 1968 occupation and the weeks which followed. At that time, it had seemed that the two nations were not divided by anything. This is precisely the way things seemed again in the first days after 17 November 1989. Impressions

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The End of Czechoslovakia
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