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The Czechoslovakia Uprising

After the Second World War, unlike the other nations in the Soviet Block, Czechoslovakia began to stress heavy industry and consumer goods over agricultural and services. By the 1950’s, however, the concept of central planning had crippled the nation’s fledgling heavy industries with waste and corruption resulting in high labor turnover, low productivity, and poor product quality. The communist party, in addition to being burdened with a failing economy, was being toward apart by a conflict revolving around the extent to which the liberalization should be applied and an effort within the Slovak community for greater autonomy.

In 1968, with their political, economic and social problems reaching critical mass, the communist party of Czechoslovakia replaced Novotny as Party Leader with Alexander Dubcek. Dubcek pushed practical reforms across the board, not only for Czechoslovakia but for the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet answer to NATO) as well. Dubcek’s reforms would, as he put it, put “a human face” on socialism. He established “a humanistic socialist democracy which would guarantee, among other things, freedom of religion, press, assembly, speech, and travel” Dubcek also pushed to improve relations with every nation in the world, regardless of the social and political affiliations; as a result, Dubcek’s popularity with the people of Czechoslovakia grew immensely. His popularity, however, did not extend to the other nations of the Warsaw Pact.

On the night of August 20, 1968, troops from Russia, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany, and Poland occupied Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovakian government immediately declared that the “invasion was a violation of socialist principals, international law, and the United Nations Charter.” (1) During the occupation, those who initiated and supported the liberal reforms were forcibly removed to the Soviet Union in secrete and “were compelled to sign a treaty that provided for the “temporary stationing” of an unspecified number of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia.”1 On April 17th 1969, Dubcek was replaced as First Secretary by Gustav Husak and later was, along with many of his followers, stripped of party affiliation in a purge that slashed party membership by over a third.

Husak, as well as his successors, would deliver apology after apology for the 1968 invasion to quell opposition to the conservative regime; however, in the mean time, the economy of Czechoslovakia stagnated. Czechoslovakia would not see economic growth again until 1983, fifteen (15) after the invasion.

By Daniel L. Gordon
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum

Source and Footnote 1 — www.state.gov/www/background_notes/czech_9903_bgn.html

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