Dictionary of East European History since 1945

By Joseph Held | Go to book overview
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II, with the help and supervision of the Soviet KGB, retained most of its power even after Stalin's death. Although show-trials were not repeated, the ever vigilant security organs with their tens of thousands of agents, stool pigeons, and other undercover operators simply prevented the emergence of a significant political opposition. Presidents Klement Gottwald and Antonyn Novotny, as well as most of their henchmen, were personally involved in the Stalinist and post-Stalinist terror, and they were not inclined to permit inquiries into their activities.

The fact that Czechoslovakia remained a multi-ethnic state after the expulsion of the ethnic Germans also contributed to the survival of Stalinism. Hungarians, the largest ethnic minority in Slovakia, were often used as scapegoats for the failures of the system. The emergence of opposition was made doubly difficult by the persistence of different degrees of development in the Czech and Slovak lands. All these factors, as well as the Czech national character, long accustomed to passive resistance to oppressors, symbolized by the fictional character, Good Soldier Schweik, contributed to the longevity of Stalinism.


Gilberg Trond, "The Political Order," in Stephen Fischer-Galati, ed. Eastern Europe in the 1980s ( Boulder, CO, 1981); Jowitt Ken, "The Leninist Legacy," in Ivo Banac, ed. Eastern Europe in Revolution ( New York, 1992); Judt Tony R., "'Metamorphosis: The Democratic Revolution in Czechoslovakia," in Ivo Banac, ed. Eastern Europe in Revolution ( Ithaca, NY, 1992).

Prague Spring, 1968. During the spring of 1968, a series of public discussions began in Czechoslovakia which soon developed into an avalanche of expressions of outrage over two decades of communist oppression. Alexander Dubcek (see Dubcek, Alexander), the secretary general of the Communist party, realized that the party would have to respond to the public mood. He dismissed many of the hard-liners from leading positions in state and party. Ministries were now headed by his supporters. In the ministry of the interior, huge numbers of documents were discovered, implicating the Czechoslovak and Soviet secret police forces in manufactured show-trials and other repressive measures. Dubcek arranged for a presidential pardon for all the unjustly accused in early May. On June 25, a law cleared all victims of the terror of their alleged crimes. Censorship, already discontinued in March, was formally abolished in June. All these were responses not only to public pressure in politics, but also to the economic crisis that had persisted in the country from the mid-1960s. It was obvious to most observers that the crisis had originated in the mindless application of Stalinist methods of development. Radislaw Selucky, a well-known economist, aptly labeled the system as "the cult of the plan."

The atmosphere in Prague and Bratislava resembled the euphoria Hungarians felt in October 1956 when their revolution seemed about to succeed. Smiling people greeted each other on the streets as if a great burden had been lifted from their shoulders. What was remarkable was that, at least at this time, public opinion did not turn


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