Gottwald's death and the process of moving away from Stalinism in Czechoslovakia were not
as dynamic as in other Eastern Bloc countries. Real changes took place only during the so-
called second destalinsation in 1962, and criticisms of the policy of Gottwald's successor -
Antonín Novotný - were voiced also within the party.
In January 1968, Alexander Dubček became the First Secretary of the Communist Party, who
wanted to introduce "socialism with a human face" in Czechoslovakia. The period called the
Prague Spring begun. Liberal changes were introduced: censorship was abolished, those
responsible for breaking the law were removed, predecessors were criticised for their errors,
and victims of Stalinism were rehabilitated. A reform of the economy was prepared to
introduce certain elements of the free market (price liberalisation, the orientation of the
economy towards consumer goods, greater independence of enterprises). It was also planned
to carry out federalisation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
On 27th June, the journals published the "Two thousand words" declaration to support the
reform movement within the Czechoslovakian Communist Party and indicated the need for
changes in the state, not only in the party itself. It was signed by 40,000 people. The hard-line
activists considered it to be revisionist and dangerous to the system. It also disturbed the
governments of other communist countries. The more so as the slogans of the Prague Spring
became more and more popular in other Eastern Bloc countries.
Leaders of other communist countries tried to dissuade Dubček from introducing changes. He
was accused of supporting counter-revolution. They were also preparing to use force and to
stifle the transition.
On the night of 20-21 August 1968, the “Danube operation” began: an invasion of
Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact troops. Aware of the inability to defend themselves, the
authorities in Prague asked the citizens for peace. In the absence of organised armed
resistance, citizens acted spontaneously, mainly using passive resistance (e.g. by refusing to
provide information, changing or removing direction-indicators and street nameplates).
Nevertheless, more than 100 people died, more than 300 were seriously injured and 500 were
slightly injured. These events were widely publicised in other countries. In Warsaw, on
September 8, 1968, during the harvest festival, in front of 100 thousand people, including
party leaders and diplomats, self-immolation in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia
was carried out by Ryszard Siwiec.
Importantly, the intervention was condemned by the highest state and party authorities in
Czechoslovakia, and the Soviets failed to install a new government fully loyal to the Kremlin.
Dubček and other important politicians were arrested and deported to the USSR. The arrested
politicians and later a delegation from Czechoslovakia started negotiations in Moscow.
As a result, the Czechoslovak government began to withdraw from the reforms of the Prague
Spring. It was also agreed to station the Soviet Army troops. However, the normalisation of
the internal situation had not progressed as expected.
The protests lasted until mid-1969. On
January 16, 1969, a 20-year-old student, Jan Palach, committed an act of self-immolation in
an act of protest. His death caused great demonstrations in the country. He was followed by a
similar act by Jan Zaji and Evžen Plocek.
In April 1969, Dubček was replaced as First
Secretary by Gustáv Husák, and a few months later, street demonstrations during violent
street clashes were brutally suppressed, five people were killed, and dozens injured. More
than 1 500 demonstrators were sentenced.
More than 100 000 people left the country.
Czechoslovak society turned its back on social action. However, the aversion to communists
and to Russia, which will be known 20 years later during the Velvet Revolution, considerably
In order to justify the invasion, after the events of the Prague Spring the Soviet Communists
adopted the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine ("Limited sovereignty"): "The Socialist Community
as a whole has the right to intervene on the territory of every Member State of the Socialist
bloc in a situation where internal or external forces, hostile to socialism, try to disrupt the
development of the country and restore the capitalist system". Obviously, the doctrine was to
guard the interests of the most important player - the USSR.