The Prague Spring

During the period of January – August 1968, Czechoslovakia has been under the supremacy of the communist party for twenty years. Being under such extreme domination meant that there were restrictions in culture, travel, enterprise, and speech. Due to this, Czechoslovakia’s economy and living standards declined exponentially. The Communist rule became disliked by the people because of vast food shortages, high unemployment rates and a lack of political freedom.

In an attempt to limit absolute control, Alexander Dubcek was elected as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Czech government on the 5th of January 1968. This was to make the government more effective and popular whilst staying true to the ideologies of the Soviet Union. Dubcek was committed to the Warsaw Pact and communism. However, his intention was to liberate the regime and provide more freedom to his citizens. He believed that the government should offer socialism with a ‘human face’. The reforms Dubcek introduced from April became known as the ‘Prague Spring’. His amendments relaxed censorship and criticism of government actions were allowed. Trade unions were given wider powers, trade with the West increased and individual rights were given to travel abroad.

Dubcek’s reforms were met with great enthusiasm by the people, but they weren’t met with the same zeal by Moscow. Brezhnev believed the reforms threatened the security of the Soviet Union because they would lead to demands for change in other satellite states and possible demands to leave the Warsaw Pact. Brezhnev also felt that if Czechoslovakia increased trade with the West, Czechoslovakia may be closer to the USA than the USSR, creating a gap in the Iron Curtain. At this time, Romania was refusing to attend the Warsaw pact meetings and the Yugoslavian leader refused to accept control from Moscow.

Throughout the months after Dubcek became leader Brezhnev continuously urged him not to endanger the reputation of communism with his reforms. However, when Dubcek invited Tito and Ceausescu (the leaders of Yugoslavia and Romania) Brezhnev decided to act. On the 20th of August 1968, Brezhnev ordered 500,000 Warsaw pact troops to invade Czechoslovakia and end the Prague spring. Because of the mass military force exerted onto the people, there was little that the opposition could do though there were individual acts of bravery by the citizens. The invading forces claimed that they were invited to restore law and order.

This aggressive act of domination outraged USA and many other western governments as they made strong protests to the Soviet Union. There was also an attempt to pass a formal resolution in the United Nations, but this was vetoed by the Soviet Union. In response, USSR justified the invasion as a necessity to protect the unity of the communist movement. On the 26th of September Brezhnev released a doctrine through the Soviet paper, Prada. Brezhnev’s doctrine stated that the actions of any individual communist countries would affect all communist countries. This meant that if any country decided to go against the communist ideology, all the other countries would take steps to stop those actions. This meant that communist countries would be prevented from introducing reforms that would make the country more democratic. The invasion of Czechoslovakia acted as a deterrent to all other countries and served as an example of the consequences they could face. Soviet security was dependant on maintaining tight control over its buffer states.

The suppression of the Prague Spring led to greater control of the members of the Warsaw pact which was reinforced by Brezhnev’s Doctrine. Moreover, this showed that even though the USA was keen to criticise the Soviet Union, they were much less prepared to take action. This gave USSR the upper hand as they knew that the USA would not take direct action to oppose them because of the fact that the USA was involved in a costly war with North Vietnam at the time.

As a consequence of the events, the relationship between both countries soured immensely but there was no direct confrontation. The level of tensions increased as the USA did not agree with the steps the USSR had taken to maintain control of the communist’s sphere of influence.