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Czechoslovakia: The Velvet Revolution and Beyond

By Robin H. E. Shepherd | Go to book overview

Introduction

The events in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in eastern Europe in late 1989 were genuinely revolutionary in character. This is so in the sense that the positions of the powerless and the powerful changed such that those who were in jail, threatened with jail or freshly freed from jail took control of the apparatus of state power and those that had held it were reduced to the status of political outcasts. It is also true in the wider sense that the economy and the social base which it engendered were destined for change at the most fundamental level. Finally, it shared in common with other genuine revolutions the deviant characteristic of not in fact being able to entirely remove members of the old elite from the establishment. The former communists who did survive, however, could wield authority as individuals but not as representatives of a power structure which the revolution had demolished.

What followed the revolutions in eastern Europe was bound to be affected by what had gone before. This is, of course, a truism. But it does at least focus our attention on the particularly unusual conditions under which Czechoslovak and other Soviet bloc citizens lived. It simultaneously brings us to the core issue under discussion in this book: How far has the legacy of communism been shaken off and how much remains to be done?

The uniqueness of the system of rule practised by communist regimes was its totalitarian character. The model totalitarian state was developed by Lenin and perfected and completed by Stalin in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Its main features have generally been subdivided into the following six categories: a single monopoly party

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