On January 5, 1968, Alexander Dubcek was elected secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. This means that he became the country’s supreme leader. He started by introducing a number of reforms. These reforms included the introduction of a market socialist economy, a degree of freedom of expression and the press, the possibility of allowing other political parties and freedom of movement. Dubcek also suggested that the country should move from being a communist state to a social democratic one. To reassure the Soviet Union, he stressed that it was not appropriate to take the country out of the Warsaw Pact. It was not until August 21 that Soviet, Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian troops occupied Czechoslovakia. Alexander Dubcek and the rest of the reformists were deprived of their positions. This is what is called the Prague Spring.
The background to the reforms
The reason why Alexander Dubcek gained power in the Communist Party was that the country was in a deep economic crisis. A crisis that the previous leaders were unable or unwilling to clean up. Alexander Dubcek had graduated from the Communist Party and was known to be pro-reform.
Most people supported the reforms. Somewhat more lukewarm were others within the Communist Party and, of course, the leaders in Moscow. When the reforms were introduced, it led to a great reaction among most people. The artistic diversity grew rapidly, anti-Soviet attitudes came to the surface and people began to think of other political ideologies. The people believed that the communist regime was over.
Moscow halted the Prague Spring
The leaders in Moscow, led by Leonid Brezhnev, viewed developments with concern. They had a fresh memory of what had happened in Hungary 12 years earlier. To avoid a similar incident, 500,000 soldiers from other Warsaw Pact countries immigrated to Czechoslovakia. People tried to stop the Soviet soldiers’ tanks by standing in the way, but the resistance was useless.
On August 21, the Prague Spring stopped as abruptly as it had begun. The hope of a life outside the arms of communism was shattered. The reforms that had been introduced were withdrawn and Czechoslovakia gained one of the most Moscow-loyal governments in Eastern Europe.
Protests against the invasion continued for a long time. Perhaps the most famous mark is when a man named Jan Palach set himself on fire and burned to death in the streets of Prague in January 1969. Another well-known protest is something I wrote about in a previous blog when I wrote about the fantastic atletic Vera Caslavska and her protest against the Soviet invasion during the 1968 Olympics. Many of the greatest artists and intellectuals chose to leave the country. The new board also put an end to the opportunity to travel freely.
The mysterious death of Alexander Dubcek
In the months and years following the overthrow of Alexander Dubcek and his government, supporters of the reforms were arrested and removed from the party leadership. The power of the infamous secret police was strengthened. In exchange for a better economy, the new government in Czechoslovakia agreed to follow communist ideals.
Alexander Dubcek died in a car accident. Shortly after the car accident, he was to testify against former KGB agents. All Dubcek’s documents in the case disappeared from the accident car in an inexplicable manner.