The State against Society: Political Crises and Their Aftermath in East Central Europe

By Grzegorz Ekiert | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
The Political Crisis, Demobilization, and Regime Reequilibration
in Czechoslovakia

A FEW YEARS after the Soviet intervention, many students of Czechoslovak politics compared the situation in Czechoslovakia to that of Hungary after the defeat of the revolution. They wondered why the Husak regime never attempted even a partial reconciliation with Czechoslovak society or used its undivided and unchallenged power to introduce at least partial economic or political reforms that resembled policies of the Kadar regime. Scholars explained the persistent repressiveness, dogmatic character and policies of the Husak regime by pointing to three factors. First, they emphasized the role of geopolitical constraints, arguing that the Soviet Union under Brezhnev's highly conservative leadership was unwilling to tolerate any experiments with the practices or theory of state socialism. The continued Soviet pressure forced Czechoslovakia's leaders to implement ever tougher measures to completely eradicate the bacillus of revisionism that threatened not only Czechoslovakia's neighbors but also the Soviet Union itself. Second, they pointed to the character of the postinvasion political elite in Czechoslovakia. The purge of the reform-oriented faction left the party and the state in the hands of dogmatic or even archconservative forces, which step by step pushed more pragmatically oriented realists like Husak or Strougal toward ideologically driven and orthodox policies. 1 Moreover, the core of the demobilization policies was directed against the very notion of reform and every policy proposal designed to modify and liberalize any aspect of economic and political life had a sacrilegious character that contradicted the basic foundations of the postinvasion regime and threatened legitimation claims of Czechoslovakia's ruling elite. Finally, they argued that lingering popular pressure and the potential danger of a reformist revival within the party and society at large did not allow the leaders, who were afraid of the population and uncertain of their basis of support, to break with the ideologically driven routine and repressive strategies and practices of domination.

In comparison to Czechoslovakia, the Kadar regime, as it has been argued, had a much less difficult external and internal political situation. It dealt with Khrushchev, who was more reform oriented and prone to political and economic experimentation. It did not have to confront any dogmatic majority within the party, and was founded not on the principle of reversing reforms but on the basis of promises and claims that were in many respects similar to those that animated the Czechoslovak reform movement.

-198-

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