The Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia 1968

[ 1968 ]

Soviet leader Brezhnev hesitated to intervene militarily in Czechoslovakia. Dubcek's Action Program proposed a "new model of socialism" -- "democratic" and "national." Significantly, however, Dubcek did not challenge Czechoslovak commitment to the Warsaw Pact. In the early spring of 1968, the Soviet leadership adopted a wait-and-see attitude. By midsummer, however, two camps had formed: advocates and opponents of military intervention.

The pro-interventionist coalition viewed the situation in Czechoslovakia as "counterrevolutionary" and favored the defeat of Dubcek and his supporters. This coalition was headed by the Ukrainian party leader Pyotr Shelest and included communist bureaucrats from Belorussia and from the non-Russian national republics of the western part of the Soviet Union (the Baltic republics). The coalition members feared the awakening of nationalism within their respective republics and the influence of the Ukrainian minority in Czechoslovakia on Ukrainians in the Soviet Union. Bureaucrats responsible for political stability in Soviet cities and for the ideological supervision of the intellectual community also favored a military solution. Within the Warsaw Pact, only the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and Poland were strongly interventionist. Walter Ulbricht and Wladyslaw Gomulka--party leaders of East Germany and Poland, respectively--viewed liberalism as threatening to their own positions.

The Soviet Union agreed to bilateral talks with Czechoslovakia to be held in July at Cierna nad Tisou, Slovakia. At the meeting, Dubcek defended the program of the reformist wing of the KSC while pledging commitment to the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. The KSC leadership, however, was divided. Vigorous reformers--Josef Smrkovsky, Oldrich Cernik, and Frantisek Kriegel--supported Dubcek. Conservatives--Vasil Bil'ak, Drahomir Kolder, and Oldrich Svestka--adopted an anti-reformist stance. Brezhnev decided on compromise. The KSC delegates reaffirmed their loyalty to the Warsaw Pact and promised to curb "antisocialist" tendencies, prevent the revival of the Czechoslovaka Social Democratic Party, and control the press more effectively. The Soviets agreed to withdraw their troops (stationed in Czechoslovakia since the June maneuvers) and permit the September 9 party congress.

On August 3, representatives from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia met in Bratislava and signed the Bratislava Declaration. The declaration affirmed unshakable fidelity to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism and declared an implacable struggle against "bourgeois" ideology and all "antisocialist" forces. The Soviet Union expressed its intention to intervene in a Warsaw Pact country if a "bourgeois" system--a pluralist system of several political parties--was ever established. After the Bratislava conference, Soviet troops left Czechoslovak territory but remained along Czechoslovak borders. Dubcek made no attempt to mobilize the Czechoslovak army to resist an invasion.

The KSC party congress remained scheduled for September 9. In the week following the Bratislava conference, it became an open secret in Prague that most of Dubcek's opponents would be removed from the Central Committee. The Prague municipal party organization prepared and circulated a blacklist. The antireformist coalition could hope to stay in power only with Soviet assistance.

KSC anti-reformists, therefore, made efforts to convince the Soviets that the danger of political instability and "counterrevolution" did indeed exist. They used the Kaspar Report, prepared by the Central Committee's Information Department, headed by Jan Kaspar, to achieve this end. The report provided an extensive review of the general political situation in Czechoslovakia as it might relate to the forthcoming party congress. It predicted that a stable Central Committee and a firm leadership could not necessarily be expected as the outcome of the congress. The report was received by the party Presidium on August 12. Two Presidium members, Kolder and Alois Indra, were instructed to evaluate the report for the August 20 meeting of the Presidium.

Kolder and Indra viewed the Kaspar Report with alarm and, some observers think, communicated their conclusions to the Soviet ambassador, Stepan V. Chervonenko. These actions are thought to have precipitated the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. As the KSC Presidium convened on August 20, the anti-reformists planned to make a bid for power, pointing to the imminent danger of counterrevolution. Kolder and Indra presented a resolution declaring a state of emergency and calling for "fraternal assistance." The resolution was never voted on: Warsaw Pact troops entered Czechoslovakia that same day.

KSC conservatives had misinformed Moscow regarding the strength of the reform movement. The KSC Presidium met during the night of August 20-21; it rejected the option of armed resistance but condemned the invasion. Two-thirds of the KSC Central Committee opposed the Soviet intervention. A KSC party congress, convened secretly on August 22, passed a resolution affirming its loyalty to Dubcek's Action Program and denouncing the Soviet aggression. President Svoboda repeatedly resisted Soviet pressure to form a new government under Indra. The Czechoslovak population was virtually unanimous in its repudiation of the Soviet action. In compliance with Svoboda's caution against acts that might provoke violence, they avoided mass demonstrations and strikes but observed a symbolic one-hour general work stoppage on August 23. Popular opposition was expressed in numerous spontaneous acts of nonviolent resistance. In Prague and other cities throughout the republic, Czechs and Slovaks greeted Warsaw Pact soldiers with arguments and reproaches. Every form of assistance, including the provision of food and water, was denied the invaders. Signs, placards, and graffiti drawn on walls and pavements denounced the invaders, the Soviet leaders, and suspected collaborators. Pictures of Dubcek and Svoboda appeared everywhere.

The generalized resistance caused the Soviet Union to abandon its original plan to oust Dubcek. The KSC leader, who had been arrested on the night of August 20, was taken to Moscow for negotiations. The outcome was the Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty, which provided for the strengthening of the KSC, strict party control of the media, and the suppression of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party. It was agreed that Dubcek would remain in office and that a program of moderate reform would continue.


In 1968 relations with the eastern European satellites had flared up again when leaders of the Czechoslovakian Communist party under Alexander Dubcek initiated reforms promoting democratization and free speech. A wave of popular demonstrations added momentum to liberalization during this "Prague Spring" until, on August 20, the U.S.S.R. led neighbouring Warsaw Pact armies in a military invasion of Czechoslovakia. Dubcek was ousted and the reforms undone. The ostensible justification for this latest Soviet repression of freedom in its empire came to be known as the Brezhnev Doctrine: "Each of our parties is responsible not only to its working class and its people, but also to the international working class, the world Communist movement." The U.S.S.R. asserted its right to intervene in any Communist state to prevent the success of "counterrevolutionary" elements. Needless to say, the Chinese were fearful that the Brezhnev Doctrine might be applied to them. In 1969 they accused the U.S.S.R. of "social imperialism" and provoked hundreds of armed clashes on the borders of Sinkiang and Manchuria. Soviet forces arrayed against China, already raised from 12 weak divisions in 1961 to 25 full ones, now grew to 55 divisions backed by 120 SS-11 nuclear missiles. In August 1969 a Soviet diplomat had carefully inquired about the likely American reaction to a Soviet nuclear strike against China. In sum, the need to repair the Soviet image in the wake of the Prague Spring and the fear of dangerous relations with Peking and Washington at the same time, as well as the chronic Soviet need for agricultural imports and access to superior Western technology, were all powerful incentives for seeking détente.

<table class='table table-bordered col-lg-12 col-md-12 col-sm-12 col-xs-12 margin20 row-30' border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="100%" style="font-family: 'Times New Roman'; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);"><tbody><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">State</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Entry</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Exit</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Combat Forces</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Population</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Losses</font></td></tr><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Czechoslovakia</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1968</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1968</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">500000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">14000000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1000</font></td></tr><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">USSR</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1968</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1968</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">8000000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">235000000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1000</font></td></tr></tbody></table>

Belligerents Initiation Date Termination Date
Czechoslovakia and Russia (USSR) 1968 1968 View
Weapon Name Weapon Class Weapon Class Type
BTR-60 Vehicle Armoured Fighting Vehicle

Related Conflicts

No Releted Conflicts