The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

As the great events of 1968 recede into history, it becomes more important than ever to recapture them in their full reality and significance. The year 1968 was a time of greatness of spirit which remained embedded in the consciousness of the two nations, but it was, too, a time of ignominy and humiliation which also persisted as an indelible element of Czech and Slovak historical memory. However, Czechs and Slovaks, and the outside world, have begun to forget what really happened in that tragic yet fascinating period of Czechoslovak and world history. Such forgetfulness exacts a serious toll. Without a historical memory a nation is lacking one of the salient features of its own identity and is incapable of understanding its place in world history. Moreover it may fail to see the relevance of these events to the more recent past—the Velvet Revolution of 1989–1990 and the collapse of communism—and may not realize some of the continuing implications for the post-communist present and future in the countries of Eastern Europe.

It is the task of historians to search out the background and meaning of such events and make their findings available to the Czech and Slovak people, as well as to the interested world public. Thanks to the fall of communism and the end of the cold war we are now unexpectedly in possession of voluminous new materials which shed important light on 1968. This is the result of the opening of the archives of the Eastern bloc and the publication of memoirs and interviews given by important figures of this period. This new evidence was discussed at a conference in Prague in 1994 which brought together, in a splendid act of intellectual cooperation, scholars of different political persuasions and from many countries, including all the former communist countries of Eastern Europe and the United States and Canada. This was a sequel of a long process of research by an unusual commission of Czech and Slovak historians established by the Czechoslovak government for the analysis of the events of the years 1967–1970. At the same time scholars in other former communist countries were able to explore the newly opened archives of their own countries.

The conference was co-sponsored by the National Security Archive and has now culminated in this extraordinary collection of documents compiled and edited by the Czech historians associated with the governmental commission. This is but part of the Archive's even broader program of multinational cooperation whereby documents from various national archives, hitherto sealed from scholarly research, are being made available on historic events in Eastern Europe, such as the Prague Spring and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

The volume constitutes an unparalleled resource of primary documentation on the events of 1968, which is of inestimable value for future researchers, and equally valuable for classroom use and for a broader attentive public. The documents give one the impression of sitting in on meetings of the Soviet Politburo or conferences of the bloc states, looking over the shoulder of Brezhnev as he wrote letters to Dubček, reading the top secret dispatches of Soviet ambassadors and generals, and listening in on telephone conversations between Brezhnev and Dubček at the height of the crisis in August.

The main virtue of the volume lies in its documentation of the discussions and decisions at the topmost leadership levels in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In many cases these documents confirm earlier portrayals of the course of development and tentative conclusions

-xvii-

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