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Czechoslovakia: The 1968 Invasion
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Political Setting > The 1968 Invasion

THE 1968 INVASION


The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was a pivotal event in Czechoslovakia's political development. The August intervention by forces from the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Poland, Bulgaria, and Hungary marked the beginning of the end of the Prague Spring and the reformist policies introduced by the Dubcek regime. It also set the stage for the reemergence in Czechoslovakia of a pro-Soviet regime and a politically orthodox environment.

In January 1968, Alexander Dubcek, who since 1963 had been first secretary of the Communist Party of Slovakia (Komunisticka strana Slovenska -- KSS), was chosen to replace Antonin Novotny as first secretary of the KSC. Dubcek was not then the leader of the KSC reformers but rather was a compromise selection. The removal of Novotny triggered an outpouring of demands for further changes in all sectors of society. The drive for reform centered on four broad issues: the overall question of political structure and participation, justice and civil liberties, Czech-Slovak relations, and economic organization and planning. In April 1968 the KSC Central Committee issued its so-called Action Program, which outlined steps toward constructing a "Czechoslovak way to socialism." Within the framework of a socialist society ruled by the communist party, the program attempted to decentralize and democratize the system of authority by reducing the role of the KSC in national life and transferring greater responsibility to the elected bodies of government. Other goals of the reform were to introduce strong guarantees of civil liberties and justice by establishing a system of checks and balances and reducing the power of police organs; to construct a more equitable relationship between Czechs and Slovaks by granting greater autonomy to the latter; and to institute a decentralized planning apparatus with aspects of market socialism.

A number of public opinion polls taken at the time indicated that the reforms envisioned in the Action Program received an extraordinary measure of public support. It was for this reason that they aroused deep concern among the leadership of the Soviet Union and neighboring communist nations. Those leaders feared that the reformist policies in Czechoslovakia would result in the erosion of the authority of the communist party, which in turn would weaken Czechoslovakia's commitment to socialist unity and to the Warsaw Pact and Comecon alliances. They also worried that the implementation of reforms in Czechoslovakia would lead to calls for similar reforms in the Soviet Union and other East European nations.

During the night of August 20-21, the armies of five Warsaw Pact nations invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia. The KSC Presidium issued a statement over Prague radio condemning the invasion and appealing to the people to remain calm and the army not to resist. No armed resistance was forthcoming. Instead, outrage at the massive invasion was expressed nonviolently: road signs were altered and removed to slow the oncoming invaders; radio transmitters were repeatedly moved to elude takeover; and foreign soldiers were refused service in stores and restaurants and were engaged in heated arguments with Czechoslovak citizens from whom they vainly sought cooperation.

As the Warsaw Pact troops moved into Prague, Soviet security forces arrested Dubcek and other top party leaders and flew them to Moscow. Meanwhile, despite the presence of Warsaw Pact troops in Prague, the National Assembly met August 21-27, and delegates managed to convene the "Extraordinary" Congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Dubcek's supporters in the government refused to recognize the Soviet-imposed government and instead demanded to join Dubcek in directly negotiating with the Soviets. The talks resulted in the signing of the Moscow Protocol, an uneasy compromise allowing Dubcek to remain in power but also requiring the dismissal of some reformists, a tightening of press control, a commitment to no persecution of pro-Soviet communists, and increased Soviet control over KSC appointments. After signing the Moscow Protocol, Dubcek was allowed to return to Prague, where he resumed his duties as first secretary of the party. Dubcek's efforts to maintain political control and to salvage the reform program were stymied by the new conditions imposed by the Soviets. Furthermore, popular resistance to the Soviet invasion continued and was reflected in such episodes as the public suicide of a university student and the vandalizing of Prague's Aeroflot office. All of these factors kept tensions high and led to Dubcek's ouster in April 1969. He was replaced by the more orthodox, Soviet-backed Gustav Husak.

Data as of August 1987




Last Updated: August 1987


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Czechoslovakia was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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