Czechoslovakia 1968-69

  • Created by: TessBlyth
  • Created on: 23-04-19 20:20

Opposition to Soviet Control

In 1948, Stalin had supported a coup in Czechoslovakia which removed non-communists from power and established a pro-Soviet communist government under the leadership of the head of the Czech communist party, Klemend Gottwald.

Life under Communist rule was difficult for the Czech people. The country was ruled by the Soviet Union, which used the secret police to maintain control. The Czech economy was run for the benefit of the Soviet Union and there were few consumer goods for the people. There was no freedom of speech and radio, newspapers and television was censored. On Stalin's orders, the Czech government carried out purges between 1949 and 1954, and the victims included not only democratic politicians, but also military leaders, Catholics, Jews, people with wartime connections to the West and even high-rank communists. Protests against the low standard of living and lack of freedom grew, with student demonstrations in 1966 showing how unpopular the government was.

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The Prague Spring

In 1968, Alexander Dubcek was elected as the head of the Czech government. The Soviet leadership approved of Dubcek and trusted him to make the government of Czechoslovakia less unpopular while keeping the country completely loyal to the Soviet Union.

Dubcek was committed to the Warsaw Pact and a devoted communist but believed that it should not make life miserable. A communist government should offer 'socialism with a human face'. He thought citizens should be able to enjoy life, express their views and speak out against communist decisions they did not agree with without fear of being punished by the government.

The reforms Dubcek introduced in April became known as 'the Prague Spring' and included:

  • Relaxed censorship and criticism of the government allowed.
  • Trade unions were given wider powers and government control of industry reduced.
  • More power was given to Czech regional governments.
  • Trade with the West increased.
  • Czech people were given wider freedom to travel abroad.

Dubcek's reforms were not popular in Moscow and the new Soviet leader, Brezhnev, disapproved of many of his proposals. He thought that other Warsaw Pact countries would want similar reforms - something that would threaten his control and reduce communist influence.

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The Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

Brezhnev remained in contact, urging Dubcek not to endanger communism in Czechoslovakia by going too far with his reforms. He also ordered Warsaw Pact troops to carry out manoeuvres in Czechoslovakia to threaten Dubcek. When Dubcek invited Ceausescu and Tito to Prague for talks, Brezhnev decided to take action.

On 20 August 1968, 500,000 Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia and ended the 'Prague Spring'. They claimed that they had been invited in to help restore law and order by the Czech government. There was little opposition to the invasion. Brezhnev had ordered the Czech government to remain in its barracks, just in case there was retalliation. The Czech people could do little against such a powerful force but there were individual acts of bravery. 

Dubcek was arrested, sent to Moscow and ordered to reverse his reforms. Then in 1969, he was dismissed from office and replaced by Gustav Husak. Husak was a hardliner loyal to Moscow and introduced a clampdown in which over thousands of Czechs were arrested. For the next 20 years, the country was firmly under Soviet-approved communist rule.

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Consequences of the Soviet invasion

  • On 26 September, the Soviet paper, Pravda, set out what became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine. This stated that the actions of any individual communist country affected all communist countries. So, if one country's actions threaten other countries, it was the duty of the others to prevent them. 
  • Yugoslavia and Romania condemned the Soviet Union, straining relations between their governments and Moscow. 
  • The communist parties of Italy and France cut off links to Moscow.
  • The governments of East Germany and Poland welcomed Brezhnev's actions.
  • The suppression of the Prague Spring led to greater Soviet control of the Warsaw Pact members reinforced by the Brezhnev Doctrine.
  • The USA and other Western countries were outraged and held protests against the USSR.
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