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Prague Spring

From Academic Kids

This article refers to a period of history of Czechoslovakia in 1968. For the music festival of the same name, see Prague Spring International Music Festival.

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Prague_spring_caf.JPG
Czechs in a caf watch Soviet tanks roll past

The Prague Spring (Czech, Pražsk jaro) was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia starting January 5 1968, and running until August 20 of that year when the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies (except for Romania) invaded the country.

The Czechs and Slovaks showed increasing signs of independence under the leadership of Alexander Dubček. Dubček's reforms of the political process inside Czechoslovakia, which he referred to as "Socialism with a human face", did not represent a complete overthrow of the old regime, as was the case in Hungary in 1956. However, it was still seen by the Soviet leadership as a threat to their hegemony over other states of Eastern Bloc and to the very safety of the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia was in the middle of the defensive line of the Warsaw bloc and its possible defection to the enemy was unacceptable during the cold war. Furthermore, the role of Czechoslovakia in allowing Hitler to conquer Europe by refusing Soviet military help 30 years before and surrendering to Nazi Germany without resistance was still fresh in everyone's memory.

Unlike the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe the communist take-over in Czechoslovakia in 1948 - while as brutal as elsewhere - was a genuine popular movement and reform in the country did not lead to the convulsions seen in Hungary. However, a sizable minority in the ruling party - especially at higher leadership levels - were opposed to any lessening of the party's grip on society and they actively plotted with the leadership of the Soviet Union to overthrow the reformers.

The policy of the USSR to enforce Soviet-style governments among its satellite states, through military force if needed, became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine, named after Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who was first to publicly declare it, although it was in use since Stalin's times. This doctrine remained in force until it was replaced by the "Sinatra Doctrine" under Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s.

The period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia came to an end when 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks invaded the country, on the night from 20 to 21 August (hence the difference in the date of invasion in various sources). The invasion came on the eve of the congress of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia which was expected to entrench the reformers and decisively defeat the neo-Stalinist rump. In fact the Czechoslovak communists did meet, in a factory, and endorsed the reform programme, but by then the facts-on-the-ground rendered the congress pointless.

Only vocal criticism from the democratic countries followed - the reality of nuclear standoff in the Cold War meant the western countries were in no position to challenge Soviet military force in Central Europe.

The occupation was followed by large wave of emigration (estimated about 100,000), typically of highly qualified people.

The events of the Prague Spring deepened the disillusion of many Western leftists with Leninist theory and contributed to the growth of Eurocommunist ideas in the western communist parties - eventually leading to the eventual dissolution or break-up of many of these parties.

A decade later, the Prague Spring lent its name to an analogous period of Chinese political liberalization known as the Beijing Spring.

See also:

de:Prager Frhling es:Primavera de Praga fr:Printemps de Prague he:האביב של פראג ja:プラハの春 nl:Praagse Lente pl:Praska Wiosna pt:Primavera de Praga ru:Пражская весна fi:Prahan kevt zh:布拉格之春

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