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

By Grzegorz Ekiert | Go to book overview

PART II
The Political Crisis and Its Aftermath
in Czechoslovakia, 1968–1976

In the mid 1960s, at the time when Hungarian communists were successfully concluding the process of reequilibration of their regime and were relaxing their demobilization policies and political practices, another major political crisis was slowly unfolding in neighboring Czechoslovakia. The consequences of the Stalinist reconstruction of the economic, social, and political order in Czechoslovakia after the communist coup in 1948 produced a political and economic crisis similar in nature to the one swept the other countries of the region in the 1950s. According to Harold Skilling, the political tensions and struggles emerging in the 1960s were the end result of the “profound crisis of the whole society under Novotny … the product of the imposition of an alien system, Stalinism, on a country with vastly different circumstances and traditions, and of the impulse for substantial change in that system given by Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalinism and his call for the elimination of its worst evils.” 1 Throughout the 1960s, Czechoslovakia experienced growing economic difficulties and political pressures, and reformist groups within the party slowly gathered strength. The country's leadership, which had remained unchanged since Stalin's death, found itself in a situation that required decisive measures to avoid economic stagnation and avert a potential political crisis. The intellectual ferment that culminated in the reform movement emerged gradually within the party-state institutions as a response to the persistence of Stalinism and Czechoslovakia's political and economic ills. Thus, the country's political crisis was a case of delayed de-Stalinization. In Antonin Liehm's words, “The Czechoslovak attempt to reform ‘real socialism’ was an attempt at a constructive answer to the collapse of the Stalinist system in its entirety.” 2

In contrast to dramatic transitions from Stalinist rule in Hungary and Poland in the mid 1950s, the de-Stalinization process in Czechoslovakia was

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