The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview

PART ONE

'A SUN SUDDENLY RISEN'
A PRELUDE TO THE PRAGUE SPRING OF 1968

INTRODUCTION

The reader of this anthology may wonder why it is being published at this time—why, years after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the history of the failed Czechoslovak attempt in 1968 to transform "real socialism" into "socialism with a human face" would be of interest in today's world. Yet, as Eastern Europe struggles to emerge from the shadows of its communist past, the Prague Spring, as the reform effort in Czechoslovakia was called at the time, remains relevant and compelling. In a speech to the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly in 1990, then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recalled the aborted era of Czechoslovak reform as a "sun suddenly risen from long darkness." Representatives of other European states and the United States have shown renewed appreciation for that effort at socialist reform that was mown down by Soviet tanks. The idea of the Prague Spring was one of the foundations of our own dissident movement for the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. During the overthrow of the old regime, a key demand of our CIVIC FORUM (the organization for coordinating civic activities and also for negotiating with the government) and PUBLIC AGAINST VIOLENCE (performing the same function in Slovakia) was that the Soviet Union, and the CPCz leadership who aided and abetted the repression of reform, officially apologize for their role in 1968. For those reasons, the meaning of the Prague Spring and its main protagonist, Alexander Dubcek, has experienced a comeback rarely seen in politics.

Today, euphoria over the collapse of communism is replaced by a sober analysis of our nation's history. And this analysis highlights the question of the means and objectives of this attempt at reform—as well as the consequences of its defeat. The first part of the answer, at least in the opinion of the editors, lies in the history of Central and Southeastern Europe, the sub-continent upon which two world wars were fought. During the second and most destructive war in the history of mankind, this sub-continent was the target of Hitler's attempt at European hegemony and, became, directly and indirectly, a component of his Great German Reich. The drive of fascism wrought human and material devastation, horrific social upheaval, and the unparalleled terror of Nazi brutality, depriving entire nations of their ethnic origins and culminating with the Holocaust.

The abject evil of nazism provided the Soviet system with a beneficent image it would not otherwise have garnered. Josef Stalin exploited Eastern European sympathy for the performance of his victorious armies on the battlefield as well as their position on the river Elbe by transforming Central and Eastern Europe into the "borderland" of the Soviet Empire. In our nation, as well as the others in this region, Moscow asserted its hegemony not only through political influence but through the presence of Soviet troops. Throughout what would become the "Eastern Bloc" Stalin implanted a Soviet-model socioeconomic and political system based on what Lenin called the "dictatorship of the proletariat"—in reality a dictatorship of the communist parties, or rather the top party leaders who swore allegiance to the Kremlin. The communist party apparatus was based on a system of mass organizations degraded to the role of mere "transmission belts" in a stilted bureaucratic order. Under this order, the peoples of Eastern Europe had no voice to assert their needs and desires, let alone dictate the demands of a nation. Indeed, the Soviet-sponsored systems brought severe suppression of elementary democratic liberties and human rights including the outright repression of non-communists and opponents in the ranks of the communist parties.

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