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The Prague Spring



Socialism with a human face

first impressions





warsaw pact invasion




first impressions


© Prague-1968-protest by Reijo Nikkilä under CC Zero

The Polish freedom movement of 1968 lost its confrontation with police violence; the Prague Spring was crushed by the armies of five Warsaw Pact members. But in both countries, 1968 gave birth to a new political consciousness.



-Adam Michnik

© František Dostál Srpen 1968 4 by František Dostál under CC-BY-SA 4.0

2. Overview

Czechoslovakia had been a communist state under the influence of the Soviet Union since the end of the Second World War. In 1968 the mentality regarding the execution of communism, which was viewed with criticism by the population, led to the Prague Spring. “Socialism with a human face” was the main idea which was pursued in the attempt of a revolution. The Prague Spring was approximately four months long until an actual change was prevented by the soviet forces. It all started with Alexander Dubček, who became the new czechoslovakian leader in January 1968 and replaced Antonín Novotný, who was a conservative communist. Dubček introduced many reformations in April which led to the name “Prague Spring”. The USSR did not support these reformations. In the end of August soviet troops ended the attempted revolution through the placement of, in total, 300,000 armed men. The Czechoslovaks reacted with peaceful protests, some people for instance offered flowers to the soldiers and one student activist burned himself to death. This tactic is now known as “Passive Resistance”.

Streets of Prague on May 1st 1968, Labour Day

3. Protagonists

Alexander Dubcheck

Gustav husak

Alexander Dubcek

Alexander Dubček was born on November 27, 1921 in Uhrovec in western Slovakia. Around 1925 he moved with his family to Moscow, as his father, a communist, responded to the call of the "International Workers' Aid" and participated in the construction of the Soviet Union. In 1938, however, they returned to Czechoslovakia and Dubcek initially worked as a machinist in Trencin. In 1939 he joined the illegal Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) and in 1944 he took an active part in the Slovak national uprising in which his brother was killed. In 1955 Dubček went to study at the Moscow Party College of the CPSU, and in 1958 he returned to Czechoslovakia. In Bratislava he became Party Secretary and was also elected to the Central Committee of the KPS. On October 31, 1967, at a CC meeting of the KSC, Dubček demanded the resignation of the incumbent party leader Antonín Novotny, whose authoritarian and rigid system was increasingly encountering rejection among the population, and on January 5, 1968, Dubček was elected the new first secretary of the CC of the KSC.

party offices

Photo of Czechoslovakian politician Alexander Dubček in 1968, CCZero

From 1949 onwards he held various party offices: in 1949 he became a party functionary, and in 1953 party secretary in Banská Bystrica.

His commitment to socialism with a human face made Dubček the world-famous symbolic figure of the Prague Spring, but on the night of 20-21 August Warsaw Pact troops occupied the country and violently ended this reform movement. Dubček remained in the Prague Central Committee building until he was arrested, after which he was taken to Moscow and signed the "Moscow Protocol", the instrument of surrender of the reform process and the introduction of Soviet-style political conditions.

Socialism with a human face

Nicolae Ceauşescu (right) visiting Czechoslovakia in 1968; here, with Alexander Dubček and Ludvik Svoboda, CCZero

4. Socialism with a human face

In 1968, the Czech people tried to take their lives into their own hands and reform the communist system to create a "socialism with a human face". The socialist model of government was thus to be maintained, but to guarantee the Czech people a better supply of goods, services and freedom. In January 1968, the former Stalinist leader Novotný was replaced by Alexander Dubček. Dubček was a confirmed communist, but believed that communism did not have to be as restrictive as it had been. He agreed to introduce reforms that would give "socialism a human face". The reforms were introduced in April 1968 and led to a greater sense of hope among the population.

The following reforms were included

the legalisation of political opposition groups

more freedom of speech

the reintroduction of capitalist elements in the
Czech economy

a reduction in the activities of the secret police.

After this crushing, Dubček had to resign as party leader of the KPČ on 17 April 1969 and took over the presidency of the National Assembly, the parliament of the ČSSR, until September 1969. In June 1970 he was expelled from the party and from then until 1986 he had to earn his living as a procurement inspector for the Bratislava Forestry Administration. In the course of the reform policy from 1989 onwards, Dubček was rehabilitated and elected Speaker of the Czechoslovak Parliament on 28 December 1989. Between 1990 and 1991 he was awarded honorary doctorates by various universities, including the universities of Madrid, Washington and Bratislava. In September 1992, he suffered a serious car accident near the town of Humpolec, from the consequences of which he eventually died on November 7, 1992.

Dubcek portrait in 1991, CC-BY-SA-4.0

Gustáv Husák was born on the 10th of January in 1913 in Dúbravka, which is a part of Bratislava today. He entered a communist youth organisation when he was 16 years old. In 1938 he did his PhD in law. He also participated in the Slovak National Uprising, which was an uprising against the pro-nazi government of Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. At this time he was the vice chairman of the slovakian communists. In February 1951 he was arrested for bourgeois nationalism and in 1954 he received a life sentence for this crime. Six years later, in 1960, he was released from prison and in 1963 he was fully rehabilitated. During the Prague Spring he even worked together with Dubček who became his political opponent later. In April of 1969 he became the head of the communist party in Czechoslovakia which led to the return to the submission to the Soviet Union of the country. A few years later, in 1975, he became president of the state. After twelve years he lost his position as chief of the communist party. He eventually died on the 18th of November in 1991.

Gustav Husak

© Dr Gustáv Husák by Divadlo Aréna under CC
-BY-SA 3.0

Warsaw Pact


5. Warsaw pact invasion

Warsaw pact invasion refers to the military interference of the Prague Spring by the forces of the Warsaw Pact. The Warsaw pact was the counterpart to the NATO. But what led to this military interference of peaceful protestes?

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) founded after WW2, main purpose is to protect members against communism.

a defensive alliance between the eastern european states founded on 14th may of 1955 by the Soviet Union, represents the eastern bloc.

Members: Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania






Logo of the Organization of the Warsaw Pact, 14 May 1955, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Antonin Novotny, 22. March 1968, CC-BY-SA-3.0-NL

After Stalin´s death in 1953 De-Stalinazation began in other SU states, but in CSSR head of the communist party, Antonin Novotny, didn't just continue to uphold the stalinistic rules but also implemented new ones on his side that meant further censoring of the press and free speech. Also he was against every kind of reform, even from his own party (for example in economics).

Economic crisis because of Novotny´s unprofitable economy policies

First students demanded liberalisation. Their protests were ended with violence by Novotny. This led to the SU fearing a reversed domino effect. The idea of the domino effect was first introduced by USA president J.F. Kennedy, who feared that if one state became communist other neighbouring states would follow, just like a domino.
So a reversed domino effect would mean the step by step liberalisation of the communist bloc and thus the end of SU´s existence. Rather, the SU wanted to use the situation for profit by crushing the arising liberalisation movements in CSSR and so setting a deterrent example for the SU members to prevent further uprisings.

A new model of socialism was introduced by head of communist party in CSSR, Alexander Dubcek, who was supported by both reformers and the KSC.

New government formed under Dubcek.



29.7 - 1.8 1968



Prague streets on 21. August, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Official abrogation of censorship

Meeting in Warsaw held by communist representatives. A warning is sent to CZ leadership.

SU tried to negotiate with Dubcek by sending soviet military officials, who threatened the CSSR with military invasions if the Prague Spring was not to be inhibited immediately to not further dissatisfy the SU leadership. These negotiations led to no change or compromise, so Dubcek continued the liberalisation of CSSR

USA in the years before helped other states to liberate themselves from communism. The CSSR hoped for that help from the USA, but did not receive any physical assistance, because the Vietnam War occupied most of the States´ resources.

Decision is made to invade the CSSR by the Kremlin.

"The invasion will take place even if it leads to a third world war."

- Andrei Grechko

ca. 1 a. m.

August 21. 1968

- "the day freedom died"

3 a. m.

8 a. m.

December 1981. Session of the Council of Ministers of the Warsaw Treaty Member States, 1 December 1981, 00:00,PD CIA

State radio announces invasion, advises to keep distance to advancing armies and stay peaceful

Soviet airbone troops arrest Dubcek, Frantisek, Oldrich Cernik and Josef Smrkovský (major personalities of the government) and force them to go to Moscow.

Tanks fired at buildings because troops and crowd met.



23.8 - 25.8




Jan Palach portrait in school ID-card,
1968, CCZero

©Martin Luther King jr Memorial Berlin/Schulz-Linhart

Leadership of CZ signs Moscow Protocol, meaning a renouncement of the reform program presented by Dubcheck and an agreement to allow SU troops to remain in CZ.

Return of Dubcek, Svoboda and Cernik to Prague from Moscow.

Reintroducement of censorship in CZ.

CZ becomes a federal repulic

Student activist Jan Palach burns himself to death as resistance

The Brezhnev doctrine took place on the 12th of November in 1968. It was the soviet reaction to the events of the Prague Spring. What happened was that Leonid Brezhnev, who was the head of the soviet party and state, announced that the USSR would intervene in the Socialist bloc with military force if they noticed an endangerment of socialism. He had three main reasons that made him decide to announce that: First of all, the USSR was scared that Czechoslovakia would increase its trade with Western Germany and thus the western influence would rise. Furthermore, the Soviet Union wanted to keep Czechoslovakia in the Socialist bloc, because it had one of the strongest industries in the whole bloc. Finally the USSR feared the spread of liberal ideas to other countries from Eastern bloc and therefore that the whole bloc would break apart. After this declaration, Brezhnev chose Gustáv Husák to be the new head of the communist party in Czechoslovakia. A few years later Husák became the president of the state. The CSSR remained communist and so did the iron curtain. Because of the western bloc suffering great schock due to the events of the Prague Spring, the Cold War worsened.
In the end Czechoslovakia became independent from the Soviet Union through the so-called “Velvet Revolution” in 1989. So the Brezhnev doctrine could not completely prevent the emancipation of the country, but only delay it.

Brezhnev Doctrine

Leonid Brezhnev Portrait, 17 April 1967, CC-BY-SA 3.0


First off, it is time to test what you remember. For that, click the button below and follow the instructions.

After that you have the chance to prove your in depth understanding of the presented topic by completing the following tasks regarding a primary source. Click below.



The development of events in your country evokes deep anxiety in us. It is our deep conviction that the offensive of the reactionary forces, backed by imperialism, against your party and the foundations of the socialist system in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic threatens to push your country off the road of socialism and thus jeopardizes the interests of the entire socialist system… We cannot agree to have hostile forces push your country from the road of socialism and create a threat of severing Czechoslovakia from the socialist community. This is something more than your cause. It is the common cause of our countries, which have joined in the Warsaw Pact …
You are aware of the understanding with which the fraternal parties treated the decisions of the January plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, as they believed that your party, firmly controlling the levers of power, would direct the entire process in the interest of socialism and not let anti-Communist reaction exploit it to grind its own ax. We shared the conviction that you would protect and cherish the Leninist principle of democratic centralism…
Unfortunately, events have taken another course.
Capitalizing on the weakening of party leadership in the country and demagogically abusing the slogan of “democratization,” the forces of reaction triggered off a campaign against the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and its honest and devoted cadres, clearly seeking to abolish the party’s leading role, subvert the socialist system, and place Czechoslovakia in opposition to the other socialist countries…
Anti-socialist and revisionist forces have laid hands on the press, radio and television, making them a rostrum for attacking the Communist Party, disorienting the working class and all working folk, spewing forth uncurbed anti-socialist demagogy, and undermining friendly relations between the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and the other socialist countries…

Excerpt from the Warsaw Letter, July 18th 1968, released by TASS:

  1. Name three reasons why this letter was written.
  2. Contrast the ideals of the Soviet Union and many Czechoslovaks at this time (according to the Soviet Union)!
  3. Evaluate the sentiments the Soviet Union has towards the events which took place in the Soviet Union and give text passages as evidence!

  • Events evoke deep anxiety in the USSR

  • Soviet Union cannot agree to have hostile forces push Czechoslovakia from road of socialism and create a threat of severing country from socialist community

  • Opposition of socialism subverts socialist system

Soviet Union:

  • Socialist system

  • Democratic centralism

  • Fraternal socialist countries → one socialist community


  • Against socialist and communist party and foundations of socialist system

  • Campaign against socialist party of Czechoslovakia -> try to abolish leading position of party in country

  • Goal: “democratisation”

  • Revisionist forces

  • Introduce anarchy

  • Right-wing

  • “Deep anxiety”

  • “This is something more than your cause”

  • “undermining friendly relations between the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and the other socialist countries…”

  • “a serious danger to the party” → afraid?

  • “A situation has thus arisen which is absolutely unacceptable for a socialist country…” → really angry

  • “you can count on the solidarity and all-around assistance of the fraternal socialist countries.” → we are not alone

This is precisely why the reaction has been able publicly to address the entire country and to print in political platform under the title of “The 2,000 Words,” which contains an outright call for struggle against the Communist Party and constitutional authority, for strikes and disorders. This call represents a serious danger to the party, the national front, and the socialist state, and is an attempt to introduce anarchy… Far from being repudiated, this platform, being so extensively circulated at a responsible movement on the eve of the extraordinary Congress of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, has, on the contrary, found obvious advocates in the party rank and file and its leadership, who second the anti-socialist calls… A situation has thus arisen which is absolutely unacceptable for a socialist country…
Matters have gone so far that the joint staff exercises of our troops, with the participation of several units of the Soviet Army… are being used for groundless accusations of violations of the sovereignty of the CSSR…
Czechoslovakia can retain her independence and sovereignty only as a socialist country, as a member of the socialist community… It is our conviction that a situation has arisen in which the threat to the foundations of socialism in Czechoslovakia jeopardizes the common vital interests of other socialist countries…
That is why we believe that a decisive rebuff to the forces of anti-communism and decisive efforts to preserve the socialist system in Czechoslovakia are not only your task but ours, too.
The cause of defending the power of the working class and of all working people, as well as Czechoslovakia’s socialist gains, demands that a bold and decisive offensive should be launched against right-wing and anti-socialist forces; that all the defensive means set up by the socialist state should be mobilized; that a stop should be put to the activity of all political organizations that come out against socialism; that the party should take control of the mass-information media-press, radio, and television-and use them in the interests of the working class, of all working people, and of socialism; that the ranks of the party itself should be closed on the principled basis of Marxism-Leninism; that the principle of democratic centralism should be undeviatingly observed; and that a struggle should be undertaken against those whose activity helps the enemy…
We express the conviction that the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, conscious of its responsibility, will take the necessary steps to block the path of reaction. In this struggle, you can count on the solidarity and all-around assistance of the fraternal socialist countries.


  • https://www.bpb.de/kurz-knapp/hintergrund-aktuell/279720/vor-50-jahren-breschnew-doktrin-von-der-eingeschraenkten-souveraenitaet-sozialistischer-bruderstaaten/
  • https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z9hnqhv/revision/5
  • https://deutsch.radio.cz/gustav-husak-erst-im-gefaengnis-dann-maechtigster-mann-der-cssr-8734392
  • https://www.memorialmuseums.org/laender/detail/23/Slovakia
  • ​​https://www.hdg.de/lemo/biografie/alexander-dubcek.html#jpto-top
  • https://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/end-of-the-prague-spring-western-spies-were-out-in-the-cold-a-573464.html
  • Adam Michnik Quotes. BrainyQuote.com, BrainyMedia Inc, 2022. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/adam_michnik_678764, accessed May 25, 2022.
  • https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/19/prague-1968-snapshots-day-freedom-died
  • https://blisty.cz/art/91264-a-personal-testimony-what-was-going-on-during-the-1968
  • prague-spring.html,Jan Čulík,20.8.2018
  • https://www.bpb.de/themen/kalter-krieg/prag-1968/274360/der-einmarsch-des-warschauer-pakts-im-ueberblick/
  • https://www.planet-wissen.de/kultur/mitteleuropa/geschichte_tschechiens/pwiepragerfruehling100.html#Einmarsch

Textual Sources

  • Slide 1: Wikimedia Commons: File:10 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia - Flickr - The Central Intelligence Agency.jpg. In: (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:10_Soviet_Invasion_of_Czechoslovakia_-_Flickr_-_The_Central_Intelligence_Agency.jpg) [last access 3rd of May 2022]
  • Slide 4: Wikimedia Commons: File: Prague 1968 protest.jpg. In:
(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prague-1968-protest.jpg) [last acess 25th May 2022]
  • Slide 6: Wikimedia Commons: File: Franti%C5%A1ek Dost%C3%A1l Srpen 1968 4.jpg. In: (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Franti%C5%A1ek_Dost%C3%A1l_Srpen_1968_4.jpg) [last acess 25th May 2022]
  • Slide 7: https://www.marxists.org/subject/czech/img/dubcek-1-maj-1968.jpg
  • Slide 12: Wikimedia Commons: File: Dubcek 1991 2.jpg. In: (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dubcek_1991_2.jpg) [last acess 25th May 2022]
  • Slide 15: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Warsaw_Pact_Logo.svg#metadata
  • Slide 15: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anton%C3%ADn_Novotn%C3%BD_1968.jpg, Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANeFo), 1945-1989, bekijk toegang, Bestanddeelnummer 921-1862
  • Slide 16: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alekseev_alexander_4.jpg
  • Slide 17: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2018/08/02/world/xxCzechoslovakia-invasion-slide-NQHF/xxCzechoslovakia-invasion-slide-NQHF-superJumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp
  • Slide 17: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:11_Warsaw_Pact_Meeting_-_Flickr_-_The_Central_Intelligence_Agency.jpg
  • Slide 18: Wikimedia Commons: File: Jan Palach foto z pr%C5%AFkazu.JPG. In: (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jan_Palach_foto_z_pr%C5%AFkazu.JPG) [last acess 25th May 2022]
  • Slide 19: Wikimedia Commons: File:Leonid Brezhnev Portrait (1).jpg. In: (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonid_Brezhnev_Portrait_(1).jpg) [last access 19th of May 2022]
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  • Slide 13: Wikimedia Commons: File:Gustáv Husák - oříznuto.JPG. In:(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gust%C3%A1v_Hus%C3%A1k_-_o%C5%99%C3%ADznuto.JPG) [last access 21st of May 2022]

Pictorial Sources