The Prague Spring 1968
A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteedOrder Now
The Czech leader, Novotny, a hard line communist and Soviet ‘puppet’, he was very unpopular. The Czech economy was in a mess, and seemed to be run purely for the benefit of the USSR. Dubcek, a reforming communist, replaced Novotny. Brezhnev, leader of the USSR, supported this move. Dubcek promised the people socialism with a human face, and launched a series of reforms known as the Prague Spring. The reforms aimed to improve standard of living, allow for greater freedom and democracy, and introduce trade with West Germany. Dubcek tried to reassure Brezhnev that his changes wouldn’t threaten the USSR and that Czechoslovakia wouldn’t leave the Warsaw Pact.
Dubcek promised the people ‘socialism with a human face’, and launched a series of reforms known as the Prague Spring. The reforms aimed to improve standard of living, allow for a greater freedom and democracy, and introduce trade with West Germany. Dubcek tried to reassure Brezhnev that his changes wouldn’t threaten the USSR and that Czechoslovakia wouldn’t leave the Warsaw Pact.
Brezhnev was unconvinced. He was worried that Czechoslovakia, which had the strongest industry in the Soviet Bloc, would leave the Warsaw Pact – allowing NATO to move in. The reforms, and increased contact with the West, might spread across the satellite states. The Soviet Bloc and the WP might collapse, and the USSR would no longer have its buffer zone. The other Warsaw Pact countries also objected to the reforms. In August 1968, 500,000 troops from the WP countries invaded Czechoslovakia. There was only a little violent protest. The Czechs remembered what had happened to the rebels in Hungary in 1956. So the Czechs responded to the invasion with sit ins, demos etc. However, Russian tanks were attacked with petrol bombs, and one student, Jan Palach, set himself on fire as a protest against Soviet occupation.
A new leader replaced Dubcek, called Husak. He reverted Czechoslovakia to strict communist rule. The invasion temporarily led to worsened East-West relations. It showed the West that the USSR would not permit reform or opposition in the satellite states, but the West weren’t prepared to intervene and so risk the outbreak of war. Besides, the USA was too busy in Vietnam. The invasion of Czechoslovakia led to the Brezhnev Doctrine. This stressed that a threat to one communist country was a threat to all, and force would be used wherever necessary to keep the satellite states firmly under Soviet control. However, the Warsaw Pact did suffer. Romania refused to send troops to invade Czechoslovakia, and took an increasingly independent stance against the USSR. Albania did the same and left the WP.
The Soviet Union had shown by its crushing of the Hungarians in 1956 that it would not permit any of its satellites to break free from communism or the Warsaw Pact. In 1968, Czechoslovakia decided it would see how far it could go in becoming free from Soviet control. In 1968 the Czech Communist Party chose Alexander Dubcek as the new leader in place of the Stalinist, Novotny. Dubcek was a communist but he wanted a freer, less repressive kind of communism. He called his policies ‘Socialism with a human face.’
* Allowing Czechs to travel to the West
* Ending press censorship so that non-communist papers could be published * The election of a new parliament in which communists would share power with non-communist parties * Freeing of political (anti-communist) prisoners
The spring and summer of 1968 saw the Czech media criticizing the communist government and questioning the need for communism altogether. The Soviet Union could not ignore what was going on. Czechoslovakia had a border with the Soviet Union: it was in a key strategic position. Brezhnev told Dubcek to slow down the pace of change but to the Soviets it seemed Dubcek was losing control. On August 20, 1968 Soviet tanks and troops, supported by troops from most other Warsaw Pact countries, invaded Czechoslovakia. Only Romania refused to help the invasion. The Czechs realized that resistance was pointless. Dubcek was arrested – but unlike Nagy in Hungary, was not executed. In January 1969, a 21-year-old Czech student, Jan Palac, burnt himself to death in Prague’s main square as a protest and became a national hero.
The crushing of the Prague Spring did not seriously damage East-West relations. Czechoslovakia, like Hungary before it, belonged to the Soviet zone and could not be helped. Brezhnev developed the Soviet version of the Truman Doctrine. The Brezhnev Doctrine declared that: * Communist countries had the right to defend fellow communist states from western attempts to make them capitalist. * Loyal communist states had to remain in the Warsaw Pact and * Maintain a one-party system with only the Communist Party allowed. * The Brezhnev Doctrine was a warning to other communist states. Poland would be the next to test it.