Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
this essay last updated March 21, 2007
(Protected by the copyright laws of the United States. Exclusively for use by enrolled students in studying political science courses at Mary Baldwin College under the supervision of Prof. Bowen. Not for citation, quotation or any other use without written permission of the author)
For the better part of the twentieth century, Czechoslovakia was dominated by its neighbors: first by Austria (prior to the first World War), then by Germany (1938-45), then the USSR (throughout the Cold War, 1945-89). In the autumn of 1989, the Cold War came to an end in Central/Eastern Europe. The popular revolutions which then dislodged the Soviet-backed Communist governments, set in motion a great change, both locally and worldwide. Not only was a process of withdrawal by the Soviet Red Army begun, one which led to the final exit of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia and Hungary (1991) and which continues in Poland and Germany. It is now clear that the revolutionary example set by the peoples of Eastern Europe emboldened a kindred spirit among Russians, preparing the citizens of that nation's two great cities to rise up in August 1991 against the system of Soviet Communism to oppose the military-communist coup of that month. From that uprising, Russian democratization has proceeded.
What do these many changes ultimately tell us about relations among small and large nation states? What may these changes mean to the international system, and to the still oppressed peoples elsewhere? By unraveling the many aspects of these difficult questions through an historic appreciation of the Czechoslovakian case, we may better appreciate the importance of human rights as a fulcrum which moves world history, and our own uncertain future.
Concepts of comparative political science and of international relations often engage us at a high level of abstraction about this complex world. But the purpose of learning about Czechoslovakia, the August 1991 Russian Revolution, or indeed any political subject, is to simplify so to bring about more clear thinking and understanding about the essences within that complexity. This is what this interpretive essay attempts to do.
Accordingly, let us start here with some clear and basic definitions. Ordinarily, we view an international system as the pattern of relations conducted among the major actors of that system, especially their goals and the means that they use to achieve their goals. International systems exist and persist under specific conditions; these occasionally change, and when they do modification of the system occurs. But in any time period, study of the international system will involve counting the number of major actors, noting the patterns in their relations -- alliances, non-intercourse, whatever --, observing their stated and implicit goals, and carefully studying the techniques (or means) they use to achieve their goals. Lesser actors (e.g., states like Czechoslovakia), in this standard scheme of international relations analysis, figure primarily as objects of the policies of the major actors. They may usefully be studied as discrete entities in their own right, and comparative political scientists employ a whole host of models to examine their internal politics and domestic policies to this end. However, in neither the mainstream literature of the political science subfields of international relations and comparative politics are lesser states prominent. Especially, states long dominated by totalitarian political structures such as Czechoslovakia was, universally were conceived (within the major models of political science study) to lack independent capacities fundamentally to transform themselves --let alone to transform the world.
These assumptions evolved within a specific context, one which until recently appeared to many to be a permanent feature of modern human existence. For nearly half a century, we confidently spoke of the international system since 1945 as a "Bipolar System." It had two principal centers of power, the United States and the Soviet Union. Their power pervaded the entire system: their beliefs (or ideologies) shaped the hopes and fears of parties and peoples far beyond their borders; their actions molded the very elements of what it was to be human on both sides of a virtually impenetrable "Iron Curtain" that divided them. Alliances were the one formal pattern that most visibly maintained this ideologically divided world. Rigid and unbending, for forty years, America's N.A.T.O. allies stood firm against their apparently similarly united foes, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. This international division gave an element of stability to a long twilight struggle, the Cold War for influence over the hearts and minds of virtually the entire global population. Chastened in their selection of means by appreciation of the long shadow that would be cast by nuclear Armageddon, these rivals ranged from proxy wars, to espionage, to diplomatic oneupsmanship in using power to increase their influence within the international system.
Cracks in the apparent bipolarity of the world system challenged in each decade, but did not break, the essential features of it. The 1960s saw estrangement of major partners from each of the superpowers: China and France began to act more independently. The 1970s witnessed an apparent eclipse in US military efficacy (in Vietnam) and with it the challenge of new actors whose power resources primarily were economic: OPEC, Japan, Federal Germany. But, significant as each of these changes were to a degree, at the level of ultimate military power (i.e., nuclear arsenals) and basic alliances, the international system remained substantially bipolar through much of the 1980s. Indeed, a series of proxy wars in that decade again reinforced the perception of a zero-sum essence to the system, from Afghanistan, to Cambodia, to El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Increasing evidence throughout the late 1980s, however, began to point toward an impending end to this Cold War conflict. Soviet officials announced their intention to move beyond ideology as a guide to their foreign relations and withdrew from Afghanistan (February 1989). Two allies, Poland and Hungary, responded to the ideological openings that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev permitted earlier in the decade and began moves toward capitalist systems which their peoples long have demanded, if quietly. In May 1989, Hungary opened its border to Austria. By the fall of 1989, the Berlin Wall ceased to block Germans' travels, most dramatically illustrating the demise of the rigid Soviet bloc it long had symbolized. These patterns extended into the early 1990s. In October 1990, divided Germany --a 40 year objective of Soviet foreign policy-- was reunited. In August 1991, the Communist system of the USSR --and the multinational Soviet empire it once ruled-- collapsed in the wake of a failed coup that attempted to reassert orthodox communist forms. By Christmas 1991, the USSR had ceased to exist.
These changes fundamentally altered the makeup of the international system in ways none of the precursors in the 1960s and 1970s had: new actors had appeared: reunited Germany, Ukraine, Lithuania, etc.; fundamental goals of both major actors changed; elusive, but long sought goals (e.g., nuclear arms reductions) became attainable; the Warsaw Pact alliance dissolved (1991); the Russian successor state to the Soviet empire abandoned hostility toward the West. The world ceased to be a bipolar, ideological system of two armed camps.
The world of the 1990s is shaped by these revolutionary shifts in the once stable features of that Cold War international system. But will such a world be a safer or a more dangerous one? To answer carefully, we need to appreciate a longer view of the twentieth century than the Cold War lens provides. To understand our post Cold War age, we must appreciate that powerful motors exist within human communities, that passions as well as reasons can shape the choices national leaders make for their nation states, and that these choices can have deep impact on neighbors and the world system. The twin forces of grass roots demand for democracy and for national self determination in 1989-91 overcame the far greater apparent power of the USSR and prompted the key institutions of the Soviet "Superpower" simply to stand aside before the stronger wind. Ideas of democracy, and of passionate nationalism proved to be a basis for new forms of political power in Eastern Europe and Eurasia.
Across the region, the euphoric party of 1989-91 has ended, and with it has come the aftermath of many a party: the hangover. Expectations of rapid lifestyle improvements remain unfulfilled for many. Yet the complex new landscape of new states, newly autonomous old states, and new regional nuclear powers (e.g., Ukraine) has not settled into a stable system. One rotten fruit of the collapse of stability in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia has been plain for all to see: ethnic wars in Bosnia, Georgia, Moldova; international wars in Armenia-Azerbaijan, Serbia-Croatia, and Tajikistan-Afghanistan. Tensions that could lead to conflicts surround relations between Moscow and the Baltic states, Russia and Ukraine, Turkey and Armenia, Romania and Hungary. In the post Cold War era, predictability clearly has been the one most evident casualty. Even the players are changed. Rudimentarily, the Czech state of the mid-1990s now is a reflection of this modern world of change. It was known as Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, a small central European nation (i.e., 128,000 sq. km; 15.5 million population in 1985; [Europa: 857]). Since January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic (population 10.3 million, land area 78,000 sq. km) and Slovakia (population 5.3 million, land area 48,000 sq. km.) have been separate independent states (Goldman: 150).
In what sense, if any, does any of this matter to America? To answer that question we need recall that our status as the world's premier military power, and its leading economic actor, relies on our relations with others. The world is now, as it long has been, interdependent. The relationships that exist between the overall global system and unstable regions affect all actors in the world system, most especially the sole surviving "superpower." How will we be affected? Simple answers are elusive. To begin to see the implications of our unstable present, put simply, we must understand some of the complexity that is the history of modern international relations. To answer the applied question (i.e., "will this world be safer or more dangerous for America?"), will require us to address both the Cold War system and its predecessors. In the end, we will discover not an answer but further questions: "safer or more dangerous for whom?" and "safer at what cost?"
It is undeniable that the Cold War system --for all its near nuclear crises, limited wars, low intensity conflicts, and expense-- produced an international system in which no general war occurred for forty-six years. In a nuclear age, this was no small achievement, an achievement which mostly benefited the superpowers but which had its pluses for all others as well. But the "Long Peace" inevitably had to end. The human rights focus that has recurred throughout this set of readings can help us to appreciate precisely why the Cold War international system could not last forever, and how tenuous may be a future in which these rights remain widely unrealized. Especially in the smaller countries assigned by the fate of geography and the "rules" of bipolarity to lie in the spheres of influence of the superpowers, change derived its roots in the Jeffersonian soil from which our own political system arose.
The forces revealed by studying the Czech case are familiar ones to Americans. By using such focused case studies, more than just the human costs and benefits of the end of the Cold War can be weighed. For the Czech story is not one just about Czechs: it is a window onto the impact of the international system on all states. Appreciation of its history may make us not at ease with the ambiguities of the changed and uncertain world of the 1990s. But it can also make us forearmed. These concerns, the international meaning of the Czechoslovakian experience and revolution, lie at the heart of this our final reading.
Czechoslovakia's moments of tragedy and triumph also can help us to unravel the costs to small nations imposed by many centered (or "multi-polar") international systems that existed before the Cold War, as well as the costs imposed by the key relationships which have maintained the bipolar international system which lasted 45 years. It is of course true that these two (bi and multi polar) types are not the full range of our potential futures (see Krauthammer, Wohlforth).
The Czech experience is instructive at several other levels as well. From examination of the processes through which Czechoslovakia became independent, to its role in revealing the origins of World War II, to the creation and maintenance of the shifting course of the Cold War, to the roots of the revolutions of 1989, the Czechoslovakian case usefully can instruct. Its story touches major themes in 20th century comparative politics. It can show us the importance of methods of selection of political elites in enhancing or undermining the legitimacy of a political system in the eyes of its own people. It can show us the veil dictatorships create that prevented us from truly knowing public opinion in socialist states, a phenomena that retains practical significance in other semi-closed political systems of our times (e.g., regarding Mexico). It can caution us about the role played by the "official" arts in totalitarian societies, and inspire us with the model of what independent artists can do for their society by retaining an authentic vision and voice. It can reveal the role of ideas, the most underrated power factor in many measurements of the dynamics of revolution.
But more acutely, learning about the Czech experience can shed light onto our understanding of international relations. It can reveal the role ideology played in leading the foreign policies of major countries to actions that had significant impact on many small nations. It can show the limits of sovereignty in a rigidly aligned, bipolar world. Most importantly, knowing the Czech case makes all the more central the powerful force that the underlying human quest for systems, national and international, which protect fundamental human rights can be.
Origins of the Czechoslovakian State
Czechoslovakia was not one of the long-standing states of Eastern Europe, unlike Poland, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania, or Austria. It was an amalgam of two ethnicities (Czechs; Slovaks), joined together by the Great Powers. In its birth, October 18-28, 1918, some of US President Woodrow Wilson's key precepts about the route to world peace were embodied. He had argued in his "14 Points" of 1918 that "self-determination" of distinct nations (i.e., ethnicities, peoples), realized through democratic and representative institutions, would lead to a world in which war would be infinitely less likely ever again to occur. This principle was used by the victorious allies of the US (e.g., France, Britain, Italy) to create many new states in Eastern Europe after the First World War. Czechoslovakia was formed from territories ceded by Germany's ally, Austria-Hungary as their empire was dismantled in punishment for having sided with the losers in that Great War. Indeed, some recalcitrant Hungarian military units remained in the eastern (or Slovak) part of the new nation well into 1919 before they finally were forced to withdraw by the Allies' pressure.
A democratic system of politics was established there under the leadership of Thomas Masaryk, and it proved far more durable than those set up in the other new states of Eastern Europe. (E.g., Poland soon became a military dictatorship under General Pilsudski, etc.). Masaryk was elected President in 1918 and was reelected in 1920, 1927, and 1934. He resigned his office in 1935 (and died in 1937). His successor was a man who faithfully had served him in a number of posts, most significantly as Foreign Minister, Eduard Benes.
The Masaryk-Benes governments were successful in bringing about substantial economic development. The existing bureaucracy, inherited from the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire that ruled Czech and Slovak regions before the Great War, provided the state an efficient administrative structure. Growth in the economy was spurred on both by this stability and by the natural complementarity of pairing together industrial Bohemia and rural Ruthenia, Slovakia and Moravia. Among the established heavy industries were the Skoda munitions works, a large and valuable asset to the strategic defense of the nation. Though many political parties existed and this inhibited the stability of governments, gradually the electorate gave more and more of its support to moderate and conservative parties. This trend, along with the rare stability among personnel at the top leadership positions in government, increased international confidence in the Czech state. Masaryk and Benes also were successful in bringing about a sweeping land reform which enhanced both industrial development and eliminated one of the key grievances used by more radical parties to woo new members in the rural areas. With this action, however, some new enemies were created as lands of the Roman Catholic Church were expropriated. (Most Czechs are Catholic, but the official church presence there was widely perceived as an intrusion of German Catholic influence into the Bohemian, or Czech, community).
After 1933, to the north of Czechoslovakia rose a powerful, ideologically guided, dictatorially governed state dedicated to expansionism: the infamous "Third Reich" of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP, or "Nazis"), in Germany. This presented problems to the Czechoslovak state, for while it was composed primarily of two major ethnic groups (i.e., Czechs; Slovaks), there also were substantial German-ethnic minorities within its borders. They were concentrated in the northern border districts adjacent to Germany. The Germans (3.1 million in the 1921 census) were only one of several potentially disruptive minorities. Nearly three fourths of a million Hungarians, 76,000 Poles, 180,000 Jews, and 459,000 Ruthenes also were present at the establishment of this republic (compared to 6.5 million Czechs and 2.2 million Slovaks; Chambers: pp. 170-171). During the years in which a free Czechoslovakia existed (i.e., 1918-1939), the Sudeten Germans consistently provided a political base for political groups opposed to the Czech policy of alliance with France, as well as other domestic legislation. In order to deal with the potentially seditious direction of political sympathies in these and other minority areas, the state's administration gradually became more Czech in its ethnicity, a direction that was bitterly resented not only by the Sudeten Germans but also by the Slovaks (and others).
During the period after 1933, pro-German political organizations in the Sudetenland emerged which championed an ideology which mirrored that of the NSDAP. Led by Konrad Henlein, the Heimatfront formed paramilitary gangs, usually masquerading as "sports clubs," though some particularly terrorist elements (the "Free Corps") wore their ominous military uniforms to street battles quite openly. In April 1938, this Pan-German fifth column enunciated its "Karlsbad Program" which demanded full home rule for the Sudeten Germans, reparations for injustices they had "suffered" at the hands of the Czechs, and assurances that their fascist ideology could publicly be advocated unperturbed by the police. A month later, the Czech government mobilized 500,000 troops when German troop movements north of the border seemed to suggest an impending German invasion of Czechoslovakia. But this was just a dress rehearsal.
As a precaution against having to stand up to the increasingly militant German Reich on its own, the Benes government concluded two treaties of mutual defense, one with France and the other with the USSR. Each obliged the larger nations to intervene should Czechoslovakia be attacked, though in the Soviet case this was required only if France honored its commitment. This commitment by the USSR was part of its diplomacy of "collective security," which (along with "popular front" tactics prescribed for communist parties in the West) sought to enlist others to check the threat posed to the USSR by a resurgent Germany.
The Crisis of 1938 and the Munich Settlement
Czechoslovakian relations with Hitler's Germany deteriorated into a serious crisis in 1938. The resolution of this rift in the Munich settlement of that year forms one of the most significant lessons in international relations in the 20th Century. French failure to live up to its commitment to protect Czechoslovakia convinced the USSR that collective security would not protect the USSR --a conclusion that led Stalin to take the diplomatic initiative and strike his own separate peace with Hitler the next year (1939). Britain also pursued a policy of "appeasement" toward Hitler during the crisis. In order to avoid general war over Czechoslovakia, Britain urged that the Czech government make concessions to Hitler. But appeasement had just the opposite effect: it appears to have convinced the German dictator that the West had no interest in protecting democracies outside their traditional spheres of influence, and that little would be risked if Germany were aggressively to advance territorial claims in Eastern Europe. To many Czechs --especially Czech communists--, the affair taught a deep lesson about the unreliability of the West.
The crisis unfolded in the Fall of 1938, only a few months after Germany had absorbed Austria and barely a year before general war ultimately would begin to cover the globe. On September 12, Hitler told a party rally at Nuremberg that, in light of the denial of appropriate rights to the Germanic peoples in Czechoslovakia, they "can obtain rights... from us," clearly implying that Germany might invade. This prospect spurred British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to embark on a series of meetings with Hitler, the first three days later at Berchtesgaden (Germany). There Chamberlain and Hitler agreed to a formula by which "self-determination" would be given to the Sudeten Germans: in areas of 50 percent or more Sudeten Germans, the border would be redrawn and that area incorporated into the Reich. French Premier Daladier traveled to London, agreed to this whittling away at his ally, then generously joined in a joint British-French announcement that each would "guarantee" the resulting new border.
In the interim, however, Hitler had decided to up the ante: when Chamberlain returned to Godesburg (Germany) to complete the deal, new conditions were announced by the Fuehrer. Hitler now demanded that Czechoslovakia additionally surrender the Polish inhabited areas to Poland and the Hungarian inhabited areas to Hungary. Moreover, he declared that no "elections" would be used to determine which Germanic counties actually would be designated to be transferred to the Reich (this had been the formula in the earlier Chamberlain-Hitler discussions).
At this point, the Foreign Minister of the USSR, Litvinov, publicly stated that, no matter what Britain and France might be attempting, the USSR would stand by its commitment to the Czech government, should it ask for Red Army protection.
As tensions rose throughout September, the Benes government decided again to mobilize its army: 600,000 troops were placed on full alert. Concurrently, the British Navy was placed into a mobilization for war. Sensing the two incompatible inclinations of the British, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini then urged Hitler to hold one final meeting in an attempt to negotiate a solution. Thus the stage was set for the Munich conference of September 29, 1938. It was attended by the French Premier (Daladier), Hitler, Mussolini and Chamberlain. (No Soviet, Czech or American diplomats attended). The conclusions of their negotiations were hailed as "Peace in our time" by Chamberlain on his return to Britain. The terms of Munich amounted to complete capitulation to the Germans' aggression, however: (1) the Czechs were given 10 days to withdraw from the Sudetenland; (2) an international commission (not elections) would be appointed to draw up the final new German-Czechoslovak border; (3) France and Britain would "guarantee" the inviolability of this border; (4) Germany and Italy also agreed that they would "guarantee" the new border, but only after Czechoslovakia ceded to Poland and Hungary additional territories; and finally, as a token of its concern, (5) the UK agreed to loan the Benes government 10 million pounds.
These conditions were imposed on the Czechoslovakian government. They meant that the entire system of defensive fortifications the Czechoslovakian nation had built were surrendered without a fight. Three fourths of the nation's heavy industries were thereby transferred to Germany, along with many of the key railroads and roads of her transport system. But far more damaging than these material losses were the messages that the entire affair sent to interested third parties. All of the earlier promises made by the Western governments to the democratic Czechs were sacrificed, undermining the credibility worldwide of Western governments that, on occasion, had sought to portray in ideological terms a need for emergence an anti-fascist alliance.
Munich had a number of secondary effects as well. Dishonoring even the despicable conditions of the Munich Pact, Hungary joined with Hitler's Reich simply to absorb the remainder of the Czechoslovakian nation in Spring 1939. None of the "guaranteeing" nations lifted a finger to stop this further aggression. This lack of resolve can be attributed to the continuation of "appeasement" attitudes in the governmental corridors of France and Britain. Soviet policy after Munich was more complex. Convinced by Munich that the West would not resist Hitler in any meaningful way, the USSR immediately had began earnest negotiations with the Reich for a separate, bilateral peace agreement. To avoid undermining this diplomatic initiative, no Soviet protest at all was made of the March 1939 erasure of the Czechoslovakian state. Buttressed eventually by the secret Hitler-Stalin treaty that was negotiated (1939), it is a fine irony that Moscow -- the only government to even orally express its actual willingness to defend Czechoslovakia at the time of the 1938 crisis -- also then endorsed the Munich Agreement as a step toward peace! Only after Poland was actually invaded by Germany did the USSR announce opposition to the Reich's (and Hungary's) absorption of Czechoslovakia in its entirety.
Wartime and Early Post-War Czechoslovakia
The considerable travail of the Czech people under Nazi occupation passed with little notice in the high councils of both Axis and Allied governments. But, at the Yalta Conference (February 1945), the US (i.e., F. D. Roosevelt) accepted a joint "Declaration on Liberated Europe" as a guide to post-war developments there and elsewhere in the region. Rather than hold firm to the Department of State's position, which argued that a "Commission on Liberated Areas" actually should rule in Eastern and Central Europe after conclusion of the War, Roosevelt accepted the inevitability of a substantial Soviet presence during the transition to peace. Weakened by several illnesses, Roosevelt was not entirely cynical in this: the "Declaration..." did call for the big powers to help create "democratic institutions" in the occupied areas.
However, misunderstanding about what each of the Allies meant by this phrase multiplied when Harry Truman -- who had not been at Yalta -- assumed the highest US office in the Spring of 1945. This change of personnel accentuated the existing lack of consensus over the meaning of "democratic institutions," a misunderstanding that contributed to the crises, 1946-48, in Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. Briefly, in communist lexicon, "democratic" means rule in the interest of the broad mass of the people which can be accomplished (in communists' eyes) only under the leadership of a nation's Communist Party that operates under the internal rule called "democratic centralism." To the US and UK, "democratic" had (and has) a much different, procedural meaning, having to do with civil and political rights of citizens before governments selected freely in fair, competitive elections. This misunderstanding among the Allies had far-reaching affects when Soviets and Czech Communists determined political pluralism to be unnecessary to their vision of the new order.
Czech Communists were closely attached to the CPSU and its vision for future "workers' democracies." But the affinity went beyond fuzzy goals: they were strategic allies as well. Assistance from the Czech anti-Nazi resistance had been critical to the success of the Soviet westward drive over the high Carpathian mountains in 1944-45. Not only was significant intelligence on German troops' movements provided: Czech and Slovak fighters heroically held off key German counterattacks so as to give time for Red Army assaults to succeed.
Anti-Nazism extended beyond the Communist-dominated armed resistance in the mountains. In May 1945, the Czech capital of Prague rose on its own in revolt and liberated itself. (Elsewhere in the nation, a provisional government had been established, by the Soviet Red Army at Kosice, a month earlier). Moreover, not even all Czech leftists saw the USSR as the only potential ally. According to former Czech communist Alexander Dubcek, elements of the Czech resistance actually met with US officials before the liberation of Prague to discuss the possibility of a complete US occupation of Czechoslovakia. U.S. Army General George Patton's tanks were in position to do this, but other partisans of the Czech Communist Party refused to countenance any further discussions along these lines, due to their suspicions of the West.
In the face of these several potential challenges to its future primacy, the Czech Communist Party began a campaign of anti-Western propaganda, touting a wholly false line that the US was "unwilling" to help. Clearly, even as the war was ending some Czech communists were preparing for a coming anti-US era and were refitting the truth in order to further mold Czech public opinion in a pro-Communist direction.
With such pliant local allies it would therefore seem hasty and unwarranted that Soviet diplomats should have required the Czechs to submit to a Soviet demand they soon made (June 1945) for the "return" of part of the Carpatho-Ukraine area. But they did. Incredibly, this clearly imperialistic demand was accepted by the then non-communist government of Czechoslovakia, even though the area ceded never had been part of the Russian empire. Apparently, the quiescence of the West on other issues, and the evident new rules of a two centered world system, left Czech leaders to believe they had no other choice. Bipolar system "rules," made tangible in the Red Army's presence --and the US Army's absence--, already in 1945 had an impact in Czechoslovakia. Sovereignty was beginning to be lost even as the dust of World War II --a war fought on behalf of a new international order-- Barely had begun to settle.
Within Czechoslovakia, given the vibrant tradition of Czech democratic politics, 1918-39, it was not unexpected that a formal process of democratic elections would unfold, and one did, 1945-48. When the Communist forces polled 38 percent in the first election, it was the greatest support won by any party. Others fared less well: National Socialists [Benes]: 18.2 percent; Social Democrats [Fierlinger]: 12.8 percent; Populists [a Catholic party]: 15.8 percent). Under the Czech system of proportional representation, the Czech Communists' 114 seats, however, were not a majority. Nevertheless, anti-Communist forces did not band together to stop a second chapter of totalitarianism from beginning, and a Communist coalition with Socialist and other forces initially ruled. (See chart). Thus, though the 1945-48 Czech government was not entirely communist-dominated, it fully supported most (but not all) goals of the USSR. The Czech government under (Communist) Prime Minister Gottwald made an initial request to participate in the 1947 (US sponsored) Marshall Plan, but the Kremlin refused to approve; the Czech government then dropped the request. It is not entirely clear whether the Stalinist Gottwald sincerely sought association with the West, or simply was a stalking horse for Stalin in the hope that the West would reject Czechoslovakia.
Domestic problems had been growing throughout the early post-war era and, in net, these tended to show that the initial appeal the Communists had enjoyed among the people was waning. By 1948, the predictable food shortages had become endemic and much of the public resented rationing policies of the new government. Opinion polls showed support for the CCP down to 20 percent. Outside the Party, the Social Democrats' were decreasingly reliable as coalition partners with the Communists: the right wing Social Democrats had gained control over the party and had replaced the "popular front"-type leader (Fierlinger) with men less inclined to go along with the CCP. Beyond the ruling coalition, large right-wing led demonstrations followed the execution of the leader of the war-era, pro-Nazi "Bratislava government," Monsignor Tiso.
Full communist control over Czechoslovakia in 1948 was unlikely to be endorsed by voters; therefore, this was achieved through extra-legal methods. First, the Party engineered an atmosphere of crisis. The CCP Minister of the Interior began by alleging that a plot was brewing against the regime, especially within the Slovak areas' cabinet. This unsubstantiated claim was used as a pretext to purge anti-communists from the police and security forces. Eight top non-communists in the Security forces were executed. Additionally, pro-government "Workers' Militias" were issued arms by the police. In February 1948, these actions caused twelve (non-CCP) ministers to resign their posts in the cabinet, probably in an effort to make the government fall. Prime Minister Gottwald then asked Pres. Benes to accept the cabinet resignations in order to bring about new elections, but Benes refused.
Amid the cold, but volatile winter weather of 1948, the CCP appears to have chosen a tactical confrontation to test the strength of their adversaries. Communist-formed "workers' militias" were assembled to demonstrate in support of the government in Prague. Over ten thousand were reported to have hit the streets. In the confusion of the streets, a pro-Communist student was shot during one demonstration and police "enemies of communism" were blamed by government officials and in the (Communist-dominated) press. The Deputy Foreign Minister of the USSR then arrived, just as leftist students -- apparently on orders of the CCP-- occupied the Social Democrats headquarters to demand a new cabinet, a fully SD-CCP government. The Minister of Interior then publicly accused the National Socialists of a coup plot that aimed to overthrow the Communist-backed government. Meanwhile, pro-Communist officers attempted to manipulate the Czechoslovakian Army they had formed only three years earlier. General Svoboda ordered that a long list of non-Communist officers be confined to their quarters.
In the face of Communist provocations at these many levels, President Benes attempted to fashion a compromise. Acceding to leftists' demands, he appointed a nearly all-leftist cabinet. One non-leftist was named Foreign Minister, Jan Masaryk, the son of the founder of the Czech republic. Soon, however, he was found murdered, on March 10. Police investigations, however, claimed (incredibly) that he died when he "fell from a bathroom window" from a tall building. In this highly charged context, a new election was held under a new electoral law, the single list system (rather than the system of proportional representation that traditionally had been used). This change, combined with the fact that the left printed and counted the ballots, to produce results which were not surprising: the CCP was said to have won 239 seats; all others were awarded 61. In disgust at the evident fraudulent basis of the new government, President Benes resigned and (conveniently) died shortly thereafter, Sept 3, 1948. Hundreds of thousands attended his funeral.
The Prague Spring, 1968
For the better part of two decades, a doctrinaire Stalinist one-party system of Communism was imposed onto the Czechs by this Czech Communist regime, 1948-67. As one might expect among a vibrant, democratic people, this yoke of conformity was worn with little joy. By 1967, a new generation of intellectuals and university students had begun advocating reform (Stokes: 123-131), organizing study groups and exhibiting artistic exhibitions which went beyond established guidelines. By the Spring of 1968, Moscow perceived the early buds of another Hungarian Revolution (which they had crushed 12 years earlier). Though there were some significant differences between the two revolts, the Red Army (in the main) militarily crushed each.
Contrary to the mass movement that pushed Hungarians to replace their leader and demand his successor dismantle one party government (and withdraw from the Warsaw Pact!), the Czech movement for change was led by a Communist Party leader, Alexander Dubcek, and had a more limited reform agenda. Furthermore, the vehicle (if not the impetus) for reform in the Prague Spring (and summer) of 1968 was the Communist Party itself. Reforms advocated by the reform-minded Dubcek government were confined to the economic and cultural spheres. No end to Communist Party dominance of politics, nor any end to Czechoslovakia's unpopular foreign alliance (i.e., the Warsaw Pact) even was proposed. In contrast, Hungarian leader Imre Nagy had called for Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and had instituted the beginnings of a multi-party, democratic system. Nevertheless, the support given Dubcek by the renegade (i.e., anti-USSR, but communist) Tito government in Yugoslavia, in combination with the widening scope of the social sectors supporting the Czech reforms (e.g. students, intellectuals, workers), prodded the stiff Soviet Party led by the Brezhnev group to respond.
The Brezhnev Doctrine. An invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 brought a swift end to the Prague Spring, though it would be some months before Dubcek personally would formally be removed from the ostensible Czechoslovak government. The invasion was grandiose in that it was carried out by a massive deployment of the armed forces of the USSR and each of the other Warsaw Pact governments, except Romania. As Bartosek (443) reported, 165,000 troops and 4600 tanks occupied Czechoslovakia in the first wave, and within days that total grew to 400,000 troops and 6300 tanks. This massive deployment went well beyond that which the military situation required, as resistance was slight, and almost entirely of the unarmed variety. Contrast, for example, with Hitler's 1940 invasion of the much larger France, which required a mere 2500 tanks; or his 1941 invasion of the truly huge USSR and its 3580 tanks.
More is revealed here than mere numbers: Brezhnev was instructing the whole of East Central Europe by this action. First, the broad involvement of troops from much of the Warsaw Pact was dissimilar to the suppression of the Hungarian revolt, where only Soviet Red Army forces had participated. Second, in explaining the invasion, CPSU leader Leonid Brezhnev for the first time clearly articulated a key imperialistic tenet of Soviet foreign policy, a view of communist states' limited sovereignty which subsequently became known as the "Brezhnev Doctrine" (Stokes: 132-135). He stated:
"...when internal and external forces that are hostile to socialism seek to reverse the development of any socialist country in the direction of restoring the capitalist system, when a threat to the cause of socialism in that country appears, and a threat to the security of the socialist community as a whole, that is no longer only a problem for the people of that country, but also a common problem, a matter of concern for all socialist countries.
It goes without saying that such an action as military aid to a fraternal country to put an end to a threat to the socialist system is an extraordinary, an enforced step, which can be sparked off only by direct actions on the part of the enemies of socialism inside the country and beyond its frontiers --actions creating a threat to the common interests of the socialist camp." (quoted in Pickles: 164)
Imperialistic as the Brezhnev Doctrine obviously was, in practice it had a certain "conservative" quality to it. That is to say, it has suggested that the alignment of the nations of Europe that existed in roughly 1948 (and certainly, the alignment of 1968) was, in fact, a permanent, unchanging arrangement. In this sense the Brezhnev Doctrine stabilized and made more predictable the bipolar, ideological international system as a whole and particularly the international system of Central Europe. U.S. President Richard Nixon of the warmly received and materially rewarded Brezhnev a few years later for his policy of detente with the U.S.
Of course, this reading of "conservative" effects growing out of a Soviet doctrine about the impossibility of national change can be overstated. The Brezhnev Doctrine was conservative only insofar as it declared that the Marxian laws of historical motion continued to apply (i.e., continued to lead toward change and revolution) only in the non-Communist world. In this very real sense nothing in the Brezhnev Doctrine properly could have been construed to be supportive of a general Soviet policy that would lead to maintenance of the international equilibrium as a matter of principle (see Haraszti). Toward the allies of the U.S.S.R., however, for more than 20 years that certainly was the effect of the Brezhnev Doctrine, until the radical changes in Soviet foreign policy made by President Mikhail Gorbachev (1989-91) and by the Russian Revolution of 1991.
For a time, the Brezhnev Doctrine appeared consistent with an expansionistic Soviet foreign policy. It was invoked later to explain the "necessity" of Soviet troops entering "socialist" Afghanistan, in December 1979. This exemplifies well the flexibility that Marxist concepts at times have provided to Communist Party-run states: that which has appeared to be conservative (in that it merely maintains a status quo) at one moment has been used to legitimize unusual, new aggression to disrupt the status quo in other circumstances. This Soviet position was frequently justified by Soviet apologists as being the mirror image of the allegedly imperialistic "Monroe Doctrine," sometimes said to guide US interventionism in Latin America. While this comparison points us toward important issues in need of clarification so better to understand the international relations of any bipolar world system, it should be remembered that Monroe Doctrine interventions typically have been justified by US policy makers primarily on the basis of the hostile foreign policies of Latin American (and, within Latin America, European) states. Contrarily, the Brezhnev Doctrine arrogated to the USSR a much wider range of conditions, a wider definition of neighbors' faults, that were said to justify Soviet/Warsaw pact intervention. Specifically, the Czech domestic policy reforms --not any alliance with an anti-Soviet enemy-- prompted Soviet intervention in 1968.
This feature of the Soviet alliance system long was taken as a given in international relations, not the least among politicians and academics in the West. Indeed, in 1976 when US President Gerald Ford asserted that Poland was sovereign and not fully a Soviet poodle on a leash, nearly the entire American journalistic and intellectual communities joined Ford's opponent, Jimmy Carter, in deriding the claim. But, to the peoples of Central Europe, quick acceptance in the West of the high value of Brezhnev Doctrine maintained "stability" in Central Europe merely educated nationalists primarily to look within, not beyond, their borders for sympathy. Little was it appreciated in the West that the yoke of conforming with the several other dogmas of Brezhnev's stifling communist system was a burden borne with increasing difficulty virtually throughout East European and Russian societies. By the late 1980s cracks in the stable edifice of the Iron Curtain had appeared, and began to be heard in the West, as in Alexander Dubcek's candid words, issued on a brief visit to Italy, who said that accepting the legitimacy of the Brezhnev Doctrine is like "hiding the existence of such a problem [that it amounts to] ... an apology for the interventionist policy ...[and to] undervaluing the trauma which still weighs on Czechoslovak society" (WP 1988b: 13).
Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s
Why did the West so long undervalue the possibility of change in Eastern Europe? Much of this oversight can be traced to intellectual enfeeblement in the West. In the field of international relations theory, part of the explanation can be found in a mesmerizing worship of factors which introduced a bit of stability into the tense East-West relationship. This was an especially popular rationalization during the 1970s and early 1980s, an era of rapid destabilization of the East-West relationship in areas of nuclear weapons development and an era of heightened rivalry in obscure venue of the Third World. But students of global order alone should not be faulted. In the field of comparative politics theory, mainstream thinking followed Jeane Kirkpatrick (37) to a view which was elevated to near official status during the early Reagan years: only "authoritarian" dictatorships were thought capable of being changed, not sturdy "totalitarian" systems such as those of Central Europe. Change was thus either impossible or undesirable. Dissenting assessments, such as those of Hans Morgenthau who saw the entire Warsaw Pact as a policing instrument over uncooperative East Europeans, rarely had enough influence to affect policy. Thus, serious argument about the potential decay concealed by Sovietization of East/Central Europe rarely was disentangled from hyper-optimistic rantings of the East European exiles' presses who, like the little boy who too much cried wolf, heralded the collapse of the Soviet empire too often to be taken seriously. But the several signs of dry rot in the timbers of Central European communism became more evident in the years after Prof. Morgenthau passed away from the scene.
Implicated to the core in the denial of national self-determination to their people, a purged Czechoslovak Communist Party, with CPSU approval, selected Gustav Husak as its General Secretary later in 1968. His administration continued until November 1987, when he was replaced by Milos Jakes (though Husak stayed on in the largely ceremonial post of Czech President until dislodged by the 1989 Revolution). Jakes appeared to enjoy little public support during his brief two year tenure. For example, at the February 25, 1988 "Fortieth Anniversary" rally, celebrating the 1948 consolidation of Communist power in the land, half of the large crowd of workers attending simply got up and left the ceremony shortly after the national anthem was played. It was only through gestures like this -- walking out while the General Secretary spoke -- that public opinion could be gauged, for no opposition parties, press or critical arts were tolerated in Czechoslovakia in the first 20 plus years after 1968.
Unlike contemporaneous Hungarian experimentation in economic, political and cultural spheres, after 1968 the Czech Communist government clung to well tried methods of central planning. Similarly, repression of critical schools in the arts and journalism continued. For public amusement and international consumption, the Party frequently portrayed itself as moderate, announcing periodic "amnesties" for political detainees, in May 1980 and again in May 1985. However, few actual political prisoners were ever released subsequent to these empty gestures.
Human Rights Conditions: The movement for greater freedom in Czechoslovakia lay dormant for most of the first decade after the Prague Spring. But brave examples of individual protest drew attention to the continuing, unfilled aspirations of a silenced people.
Shrine to Jan Palach
For example, on January 16, 1969, twenty year old student Jan Palach publicly set himself afire and burned to death (January 19) to protest Soviet occupation of the nation. On his deathbed, Palach sent forward a message to the ages that would be suppressed by the Communists for 21 years. He stated that his sacrifice was "to awaken people" to the hope of freedom: "Let us not be too undemanding; let us not think too much about ourselves." In February, fellow student Jan Zajic; and in April, communist idealist Evzen Plocek also martyred themselves by becoming human torches, all protesting the Soviet/Warsaw Pact occupation (Bartosek: 442-443).
Palach and his compatriots' messages were not readily received. In the context of the Czech Stalinist system of that age, organized protests by groups may have seemed foolhardy in light of the massive Soviet military presence, but a half million plus nonetheless protested in the streets March 28-29, 1969 (Bartosek:443). Spontaneous crowds erupted in 69 cities after the Czechoslovakian national team defeated the USSR in ice hockey, and 21 of 36 Soviet garrisons were attacked. Large protests also marked the first anniversary of the invasion; three were killed by security forces and many were beaten. Of the thousands jailed, 1526 received jail terms by the end of the year (Bartosek:443). After each subsequent incident, leaders were arrested, lost jobs and in other ways were punished. Ten show trials of protest leaders in 1971-72 further instructed the public of the risks of protest. "Of the 46 accused, two thirds of whom were ex-Communists, thirty-two received prison sentences toaling ninety-six years" (Bartosek:444). Many of the leaders, notably Petr Uhl, were tried again and jailed for up to nine years later in the 1970s and 1980s. Gradually, protests became infrequent, and in the atomized social situation thus created, individuals were inhibited from forming truly independent Czechoslovakian public opinion until after the signing of the 1975 Helsinki Treaty (Stokes: 160-163).
Repression also played a role in maintaining the deceptive calm. An independent human rights group of over 1000 scientists, artists, professors, journalists and others banded together under the rubric "Charter 77" and emerged publicly in January 1977. (For text of the Charter, see Stokes: 163-167; for analysis, see Skilling). Initially, these dissidents were brought together by their shared outrage over the 1976 trial and conviction for disturbing the peace of rock musicians of the group Plastic People of the Universe. These human rights activists quickly broadened their concerns, calling for relaxation of Husak's neo-Stalinist economic model, for greater freedom of expression in the arts and in politics, and for other fundamental changes. One of their leaders, Vaclav Havel (later President after December 1989; see Appendix B), then summed up these concerns by saying that the Charter 77 was "an attempt to live in truth" (quoted in Braun: 120). The Charter these activists signed and attempted to publicize stated (quoted in Braun: 120) that the group was "united by the will to strive individually and collectively, for the respect of civic and human rights in our country and throughout the world." The Charter explicitly mentioned the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Final Act of the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (AKA, the Helsinki Treaty).
At first the regime chose to informally squash Charter 77. Key spokesperson Jan Patocka died in custody in March 1977 while undergoing interrogation for "subversive" activities. Other members were subjected to beatings on the streets and in the woods by plainclothesmen. Still others were force to emigrate after having been denied further employment in their chosen professions. Finally, legal apparatus were used: sixteen leaders of this movement (e.g., Havel, nuclear physicist Vladimir Lastuvka and agronomist Ales Machacek, theater director Ota Ornest, and journalist Jiri Lederer) in 1977-79 were tried and jailed. The judicial processes from which these dissidents passed were closed, as Western reporters were barred. Though closed trials ran directly contrary to Article 103 of the 1960 Czech Constitution (and Article 199 of the 1973 Czech Criminal Code), Czech citizens also were arrested for trying to attend the trials. This would soon become a pattern. In 1981, another group of human rights activists (including a former Czech foreign minister) were arrested, tried and convicted for "subversion in collusion with a foreign power on a large scale." Sentences ranged between 5 and 7 years. Their "offenses" involved (mainly) trying to get information about human rights conditions in Czechoslovakia out to the outside world.
Persons connected to the Charter 77 group continued to be repressed for more than a decade. In Fall 1988, for example, a conference in Prague called by Charter 77 members was broken up by police and the participants were arrested, only to be released within a week. Speaking twenty years after his removal from power, former party leader Dubcek described contemporary conditions bleakly, saying "every form of dialogue is practically inadmissible" in Czechoslovakia today (Washington Post, November 14, 1988, p. 13).
What the indirect threat of arrest alone could not convey, brutalities in the penal system reinforced. In 1979, Amnesty International launched a campaign for improved treatment of Czech political prisoners after receiving documented reports of inadequate medical and other treatment received by Lederer and others. Six of the members of a Charter 77-related group that had helped publicize these and other human rights abuses (i.e., the VONS, an acronym for "Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted"), themselves were tried, prevented from cross-examining witnesses, and convicted of "subversion," in October 1979. Notably, all of these individuals were professionals: journalists, playwrights, engineers, philosophers, mathematicians, psychologists. Reports of beatings, malnourishment and other forms of mistreatment of political prisoners continued to surface throughout the 1980s, though those so reporting did so at great personal risk. For example, Jiri Wolf in June 1980 complained to the courts that his 1978 conviction had resulted from police beatings, insults and threats to his pregnant wife; subsequently, his sentence on the earlier charges was extended by six months for the crime of "grossly insulting a public agent" by having tendered the torture allegations. After being released in 1983, Wolf again was jailed for an additional 6 year term for having distributed leaflets protesting the imposition of martial law in Poland, and for notifying the Austrian embassy of Czech human rights violations!
Special forms of repression were used to intimidate select groups. Women human rights activists apparently were subjected to special mistreatment while in custody. VONS member Zdena Freundova reported having been beaten and abused (i.e., blindfolded; forcibly disrobed; threatened with potential rape) by police following her October 1981 arrest (Amnesty International 1982: 264). Other dissenters simply (!) lost their professional appointments and have had to make a living thereafter in more menial lines of work after they were questioned by officials about their human rights activities. Another method of squashing dissent used by the Czech Party was the confinement of critics to psychiatric hospitals. In 1979, University student Tomas Liska and university professor Julius Tomin were detained in this manner for short periods; Tomin involuntarily was subjected to painful injections (Amnesty International 1980: 264). These practices appear to have continued. In 1985, railroad worker and Charter 77 signatory Augustin Navratil was confined to a psychiatric hospital in Prague after having distributed an open letter presenting evidence that Roman Catholic Father Premysl Coufal had been murdered by authorities in 1981 (Amnesty International 1986: 277-278). Officials, of course, denied Navratil's charge, stating that the priest was not properly ordained and that, in any event, he had committed suicide.
Other social institutions capable of helping shape public opinion also were repressed. Organized religion in Czechoslovakia traditionally has been synonymous with the activities of the Roman Catholic Church. After 1948, the Church strictly was controlled, but overt repression was rare by the mid 1960s. After the 1968 Soviet counter-revolution, religious leaders increasingly were targeted for official repression. Indeed, one expert concluded that "unauthorized religious activities... [were] repressed even more harshly than activities in defense of human rights" (Braun: 136). In 1979 alone, 20 religious activists had their homes ransacked by police, three Jesuit priests were jailed, and many lay assistants to Catholic Church activists were detained on related charges (Amnesty International, 1980: 262-263). In June 1980, 66 year old Jesuit priest Oskar Formanek was convicted of "incitement" and of "obstructing state supervision of the church" for holding private prayer meetings and for criticizing Party/State control over the Catholic Church. Later that year another priest (Josef Labuda) was given a six months jail term for holding Mass without authorization. In 1981, six Catholics, including two more priests, were tried in secret and convicted of distributing religious literature "for personal gain;" sentences of 1 to 2 years were assigned (Amnesty International 1982: 262-263). In April 1981, Father Anton Zlatohlavy and several other Catholics also were convicted for "obstructing state supervision of the church" for having privately built a Church and for holding a harvest Mass there. Catholics who attempted to alert their co-religionists in other lands were also treated especially harshly. Father Frantisek Lizna, for example, in January 1982 was convicted of "damaging the interests of the Republic abroad" for having attempted to send a letter announcing his July 1981 conviction for producing religious literature (Amnesty International, 1983: 250). Priests were jailed on these same charges in 1983-84. Catholic activists and young people convicted for unauthorized religious activities 1984-89, however, generally received suspended or much shorter sentences. Indeed, a July 1987 mass march of believers numbered over 100,000 in Levoca, Slovakia and was tacitly tolerated by authorities. Emboldened, in February 1988, the Czech Catholic hierarchy collected over 300,000 signatures on a petition which appealed to the government to guarantee religious rights in the nation.
Protestant sects also suffered police repression, though to a lesser degree. In December 1982, Pentecostalist minister Rudolf Bubik received a suspended one year jail term -- with orders not to persist in his ways-- for having organized an unofficial religious meeting. In 1984, an activist for Hungarian minorities living in Czechoslovakia, Miklos Duray, for the second time was charged with "subversion" and other offenses for having openly opposed proposed reductions in Hungarian language teaching in the schools (Amnesty International, 1985: 261).
Repression of artistic expression also illustrated the paranoid fear of public opinion rampant in the Czech Communist Party. Not content simply to jail explicitly political artists, the regime's reach extended beyond those directly involved in the human rights movement. As mentioned previously, rock music was a special target in 1976-77. In 1978, drummer Jaroslav Vozniak, of the rock music group Plastic People of the Universe, was jailed --ostensibly for refusing to serve a term of military service, though Army physicians previously had declared him unfit for service! Librarians and printers were jailed in December 1978 for duplicating and distributing typed and tape recorded unauthorized "anti-state" works. In November 1980, two other musicians (Karel Soukup and Jindrich Tomes) were convicted and jailed for writing songs with "anti-socialist content" (Amnesty International 1981: 287). Several other cultural leaders who were detained in 1981-2 were forced involuntarily to emigrate to the West due to their independent artistic activities (Amnesty International 1983: 250). Members of the Jazz Section of the Czech Union of Musicians (the official musicians' organization) were put into a form of official limbo when the government decided in 1983 to disband it. At the time there were several thousand members and over 100,000 subscribed to its publications; all section activities and publications were officially terminated. When Jazz section leaders raised objection to this repression at the CSCE session in Vienna (November 1986), the Chairman of the (disbanded) Jazz Section and six others were jailed (though for short terms).
The Communist era government and Party occasionally did offer explanations. All of this repression best was rationalized by Otto Kunz, representative of Czechoslovakia to the 1978 meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, when he said that civil freedoms in Czechoslovakia could be exercised only when "consistent with the interests of the working people" (quoted in Amnesty International 1978: 206). This same language appears within the 1960 Czech Constitution; and the 1973 Czech Penal Code, article 100, criminalizes "anyone acting out of hostility to the existing socialist, social and governmental system of the Republic" (quoted in Amnesty International 1979: 125). To its last days in November 1989, the Czech Communist regime continued to insist that such a cultural straight-jacket really did serve the best interests of constructing socialism in Czechoslovakia.
V. Havel, leader of the 1989 Revolution, and Czech president, 1989-2003
The Czechoslovakian Revolution of 1989
Given this broad definition of criminality in use in communist Czechoslovakia after 1968, virtually no independent avenues were provided those seeking to follow the lead set by the Gorbachev government in the USSR and "restructure" (perestroika) Czech state and society through a process of democratization and openness (glasnost). Slowly, a social explosion would result.
In 1987-88, a variety of social groups had begun to attempt to express grievances. In September 1987, a Prague-based group calling itself "Democratic Initiative" publicized a series of political and economic reforms it viewed as needed. In October 1987, a group of Slovakian environmentalists used official reports to publicize the compromised state of the ecology in that region. In March 1988, a Catholic Church petition for greater religious freedom garnered 600,000 signatures and religious activists held small demonstrations in both Prague and Bratislava. On the August 21, 1968 twentieth anniversary of the Soviet invasion, ten thousand gathered in Prague, and were dispersed by tear gas. In October 1988, a "Movement for Civil Liberties" was founded and began publishing an anti-Party journal. On International Human Rights Day, December 10 (1988), Charter 77 veterans and others demonstrated in Prague. In each of these cases, the authorities neither heavily repressed the participants nor did they fully permit the independent groups to have access to the press and other rights that glasnost policies nominally would seem to have accorded them. Moreover, the power structure itself barely had begun to embrace perestroika. As Czech dissident Jiri Dienstbier had stated in February 1988, "If you read the official speeches now there is a clear pro-Gorbachev tendency. But nothing happens in the realm of facts" (WP 1988a: 25). By early 1989, activists' patience with the pace of change no longer could be constrained by the combination of threats from the state and non-support from the West.
Street politics would be needed. On January 16, 1989, the Charter 77 organization attempted to hold a rally to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of Jan Palach and to point more generally toward the need for greater Czech compliance with the terms of the 1975 Helsinki Treaty. Singing the national anthem and chanting "freedom," four thousand gathered at Wenceslas Square in central Prague, the site of Palach's immolation. They were gassed with tear gas, attacked by riot police, sprayed by water cannon, set upon by police dogs, and disbursed. Nearly a week of protests followed before the conflict abated. High government officials, however, were unavailable to explain to Western reporters the reasons why the first rally had been suppressed. The reason for their absence? Most senior officials were present at that moment in Helsinki, where ceremonies extending and commemorating human rights in Europe were signed in that very same hour of January 16, 1989. The demonstrators salved their wounds and those remaining outside custody began to organize anew, forming action groups again from the residue of the Charter 77 and other human rights organizations. The leader of the demonstration, playwright Vaclav Havel (see Appendix B), was given a nine months jail term, beginning on the date of his conviction (February 21); he was released on parole in May 1989.
Throughout the summer of 1989, protest groups quietly began to organize. Clubs named "Movement for Civil Liberties" sprung up to demand economic pluralism and legal changes. A "Club for Socialist Restructuring" appeared, with long silent Prague Spring activists advocating policies which would mimic Gorbachev's reforms in the USSR. By midsummer, irreverent members of the "Society for a Merrier Present" daringly paraded without permits through Prague, waving long cucumbers and wearing helmets carved out of watermelons. More quietly, by September 27,000 professionals and middle class citizens had signed new petitions for change which demanded release of all political prisoners, despite stern Communist warnings against such protests (Harden: 45). Sixty political activists in these movements were arrested and tried. But even the Stalinist Jakes was heard -- over a Radio Free Europe that the Communist Government stopped jamming in February 1989-- telling Party comrades in a surreptitiously recorded audiotape of a members-only speech that it was no longer wise to target well known dissidents such as Havel since this might create martyrs useful to international and national critics.
Events beyond the national borders again would prove to be the harbinger of real change in Czechoslovakia. First, in early July, 1989, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev delivered a key speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Defining a "common European Home," Gorbachev implored all to "relegate to the archives the postulates of the Cold War." He then abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine: "Social and political orders in one or another country ... may change in the future. However, this is exclusively the affair of the peoples themselves; it is their choice. Any interference in internal affairs and any attempts to restrict the sovereignty of states --either friends and allies or anyone else-- are inadmissible" (reprinted in Stokes: 266). Declaring that peoples have not just the right to choose their type of social system but to change it regardless of the meddlesome attitudes of "friends, allies or anyone else," Gorbachev sent a cue to the Czechs (Luers: 85). This Gorbachev statement was received in Czechoslovakian opposition circles in the same spirit it was sent: as a signal.
Similar, but faint, murmurings of encouragement already had been read into such disparate events as a Leningrad television interview with Dubcek, a debate about the need to reassess the 1968 events carried in Moscow News, and a more forceful condemnation of the untimely end of the Prague Spring carried by no less an authority than Izvestia (Luers: 95). Then, in September, Hungary opened its border with Austria to permit on a mass scale legal and orderly migration through the Iron Curtain for the first time in forty years. Few Czechs or Hungarians fled, but many tourists from communist East Germany (G.D.R.) did take advantage of the porous Hungarian frontier and, by this circuitous route, found their way to freedom in Austria and ultimately in West Germany (F.R.G.). Mass protests within the G.D.R. then erupted when authorities there attempted to restrict travel to Hungary. These demonstrations quickly led to confrontations, to orders to repress the crowds that split the communist rulers from one another there, to the downfall of the hard line Honneker group (which had favored repression), and to the tumultuous mass mobilizations throughout the G.D.R. which forced his successor to capitulate.
We now can appreciate that the products of this chain of events were enormous. Not only must they be measured in ways beyond merely noting the opening of the Berlin Wall and free elections which led to the final end of the G.D.R. in German reunification (October 3, 1990), etc.. As the revolutionary events of Fall 1989 all were dramatically portrayed to the Czechoslovak people through radio and television, so did these media play critical roles in mobilizing national support for protests in the USSR itself. Clearly, the revolutionary efforts to force changes onto the G.D.R. both emboldened activist groups in Czechoslovakia and created conditions in which broad sectors of Czechoslovakian society were responsive to similar demands for dismantling the communist system articulated by remnants of Charter 77, VONS, Catholic and other activists. Similarly, Russian impatience with half reforms under Gorbachev's glasnost policies (1985-91) was magnified in 1990-1991 by the demonstrated example of both communists' vulnerability and the potential for non-violent "people power" as both of these earlier cases had shown.
Thus, the chain of events leading to the November 1989 resignation of the Jakes Government and much of the Politburo of the Czechoslovak Communist Party became a part of both Czechoslovakia's and of Eastern European/Russian history. Local heroism in each case must not be understated.
The Czech revolution began on Friday November 17, 1989. On that date student activists had received permission to hold a limited demonstration to commemorate the Nazis' shooting of two students on the same date in 1939. Veteran activists from the ranks of the Charter 77 movement joined the students that night, amounting to a brave 40,000 demonstrators. Days later, this assorted and ad hoc movement coined a name to call themselves: the "Civic Forum," and led a series of events involving up to 100,000 to assemble to defy later government orders forbidding demonstrations. But on the 17th, demonstrations were not yet habitual and, in the eyes of the regime, might still have been repressed. As the crowd that night approached Wenceslas Square, at 9:45 PM hundreds were beaten by police riot batons and attacked by police dogs. Rumors circulated of the death of a student named Martin Smid; Radio Free Europe and Voice of America immediately latched onto this story and rebroadcast it in Czech to the nation. These reports later were proven false: a secret police agent provocateur named Ludwig Zivcak posed as Smid and faked the death (Battiata: 20). Inside the Czech capital, the credibility of initial reports of a killing were reinforced by the widespread injuries experienced by demonstrators at the hands of police. In the short run, the regime's clumsy attempt to depict the demonstrators as "violent" backfired. Indeed, students' efforts at portraying the ruling Jakes group as the authors of a "massacre" were made much easier by the brutality --both the real brutality and the police planned fake killing-- of November 17.
Students again rallied on Sunday November 19. Despite the danger of lethal repression, on Monday (November 20) 200,000 --more than twice as many as in any earlier protest-- assembled to repeat Friday's defiance. This time they were left undisturbed by the police. According to some reports the restraint was due to the direct influence of Soviet KGB officials (Luers: 96). It is now clear that one of the keynote speakers of the day, V. Havel, had been engaged in secret direct negotiations with the Soviets for some days prior to this rally. The demonstrators' demands, heard now throughout the nation in support protests in other cities, included the resignation of the Communist leaders and free elections to the government.
Within the course of one week, daily demonstrations grew by leaps and bounds until Alexander Dubcek returned to speak to over one half million assembled late in the week (i.e., November 24). Behind the scenes, negotiations between Havel -confidant and Charter 77 activist (and Czech Rock Star) Michael Kocab with the Soviet Embassy began on November 19 and continued throughout the crisis (Luers: 96-97). Through these contacts the Soviets became aware that Havel, not Dubcek, was the preferred leader of the demonstrators. In light of apparent Soviet abandonment, and facing the prospect of continued disruption of the capital and other cities, as well as the organized involvement of the working class in a scheduled general strike set for November 27, Communist Party First Secretary Milos Jakes simply quit (November 24). But the demonstrators chose not to cancel the general strike which went off without violence for two hours on the scheduled date, underlining the activists' demand that real change must occur, or else. Over two million were reported to have participated in this unprecedented event.
The apparently durable communist control over the political system had been paralyzed by the polite new form of politics of the streets. Without recourse to violence, the authority of the Czech Communists simply had evaporated. In this new atmosphere, the Government they long had hectored and dominated also responded to the nation's opportunity. On November 28, it scrapped legal provisions naming the Communist Party as having a perpetual "leading role" in state and society. Two days later it announced plans to remove fortifications along the Austrian border and recognized new rights for Czechs to travel freely across it beginning December 4. Despite these significant advances, Government head Premier Ladislav Adamec and the leaders of the demonstrations were unable to reach agreement on the composition of a transitional coalition government. Adamec resigned his post (December 7) and was replaced by Marian Calfa. The Calfa cabinet, sworn in on International Human Rights Day (December 10), was the first since 1948 to include non-Communist Cabinet ministers. Concurrently, Czech President Gustav Husak resigned and the new Government was forced to look to the people for a leader. Breathtaking in his lack of personal ambition, Havel reluctantly accepted their demand that he lead --insisting all the way that Dubcek eventually stand at his side as Prime Minister through the transition to complete freedom. On December 29, 1989, modern Czechoslovakia's first non-Communist President Vaclav Havel thus took power.
In his first major speech as President, Havel (1990: 15) emphasized the universal message the experience of his nation contains, a message to Czechs relevant to citizens of all nations:
"...The worst thing is that we are living in a decayed moral environment. We have become morally ill, because we have become accustomed to saying one thing, and thinking another... Few of us managed to cry out that the powerful should not be all-powerful.... The previous regime, armed with its arrogant and intolerant ideology, denigrated man into a production tool. In this way it attacked their very essence and the relationship between them. It made talented people... into cogs in some kind of monstrous, ramshackle, smelly machine whose purpose no one can understand... I mean all of us, because all of us have become accustomed to the totalitarian system, accepted it as an unalterable fact and thereby kept it running. In other words, all of us are responsible... None of us is merely a victim of it, because all of us helped to create it. Why do I mention this? It would be very unwise to see the sad legacy of the past 40 years as something alien to us, handed to us by some distant relatives. On the contrary, we must accept this legacy as something we have brought upon ourselves... Throughout the world, people are surprised that the acquiescent, humiliated skeptical Czechoslovak people who apparently no longer believed in anything suddenly managed to find the enormous strength in the space of a few weeks to shake off the totalitarian system in a completely decent and peaceful way. We ourselves are also surprised at this, and we ask where the young people, in particular, who have never known any other system, find the source of their aspirations for truth, freedom of thought, political imagination, civic courage and civic foresight. How is it that their parents, the generation which was considered lost, also joined in with them? How is it even possible that so many people immediately grasped what had to be done, without needing anyone else's advice or instructions?
"I think that this hopeful aspect of our situation today has two main reasons. Above all, man is never merely a product of the world around him, he is always capable of striving for something higher, no matter how systematically this ability is ground down by the world around him. Second, the humanistic and democratic traditions --which are often spoken about in such a hollow way-- nonetheless lay dormant somewhere in the subconscious of our nations (i.e., ethnic groupings) and national minorities, and were passed on quietly from one generation to the next in order for each of us to discover them within us when the time was right, and put them into practice.
"Of course, for our freedom today we also had to pay a price. Many of our people died in prison in the '50s, many were executed, thousands of human lives were destroyed, hundreds of thousands of talented people were driven abroad. Those who defended the honor of our nations in war were persecuted, as were those who resisted totalitarian government, and those who simply managed to remain true to their principles and think freely. None of those who paid the price in one way or another for our freedom today should be forgotten. Independent courts should justly assess the appropriate guilt of those responsible, so that the whole truth about our recent past comes out into the open.
"... Without the changes in the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary and the G.D.R., the developments in our country could hardly have happened, and if they had happened, they surely would not have had such a wonderful peaceful character. The fact that we had favorable international conditions, of course, does not mean that anyone was helping us directly in those weeks. For centuries, in fact, both our nations have risen up by themselves, without relying on any help from more powerful states or big powers.
"This, it seems to me, is the great moral stake of the present moment. It contains the hope that in the future we will no longer have to suffer the complex of those who are permanently indebted to someone else. Now it is up to us alone whether this hope comes to fruition, and whether our civic, national and political self-confidence reawakens in a historically new way."
Czechoslovakia after Communism
International relationships. The new ways soon turned in dramatic directions. Negotiations aiming at beginning the withdrawal of the Red Army from Czechoslovakia began in December 1989 and swiftly were concluded: agreement in principle to withdraw was signed on February 26, 1990. Agreement then was reached on a time table for the withdrawal of all Soviet armed forces from the nation. In March 1991, the final Red Army tank was loaded onto a train car and headed east, 23 years after the tanks had arrived en masse. In May 1991, the very last Red Army soldier left the renamed Czech and Slovak Republic. After a 53 year hiatus, free and democratic Czechoslovakia was whole again. The "East Bloc" of Cold War days further was buried when the Havel Government dissolved its membership in the Soviet-run trade group C.M.E.A. (June 1991) and when it inked the July 1991 agreement ending the alliance known as the Warsaw Pact. After the anti-Communist Revolution in Russia (August 1991), relations with the emerging democracy there improved and, in June 1993, Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited the former Czechoslovakia, signing a friendship treaty with Czech Republic and an economic pact with Slovakia.
The Havel Government's main objectives in both its foreign policy and in its domestic priorities centered around consolidating democracy. Accordingly, its primary attention turned toward its immediate neighbors and to the West. In February 1991, Hungarian leader Joszef Antall, Poland's President Lech Walsesa and Havel signed mutual political cooperation agreement. In June of that year, U.S. President George Bush waived trade restrictions on the nation that since 1975 had been imposed under the Jackson-Vanik trade law. A further step toward integration with the West was taken in December 1991, when Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland became associate members of the European Community. That agreement envisioned a system of fully free trade emerging by 1999 and foreshadowed the formal invitation to fully join the EC that was extended in June 1993. In February 1992, a Czech Republic-German friendship treaty was signed, though outstanding problems remained unresolved regarding compensation to be paid to Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II. In March 1992, the newly relaxed security system in Europe was ratified by the Havel Government as it signed the Open Skies Treaty, which permits aerial surveillance of the territory of all signatory states. In 1998, the Czech portion of the former Czechoslovakia, along with Hungary and Poland became full members of the NATO alliance.
Domestic Democratization led to National Divorce. On June 8, 1990, President Havel's political party decisively won parliamentary elections in Czech areas; the allied Slovak party ("Public Against Violence") carried the vote by landslide proportions in the eastern areas. A month later, on July 5, Havel was reelected President for a two year term by the democratically selected parliament, 234-50. In the next two years, however, the euphoria of November 1989 which had united them passed, and the two major regions of the nation drifted apart. In June 1992, national parliamentary elections showed a nation divided at its grass roots: Czech areas backed westernizers led by Havel ally Vaclav Klaus of the Civic Democracy Party (30 percent), but Slovakian areas backed nationalist V. Meciar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (37 percent). Slovak nationalists in and outside parliament demanded independence, and Havel, in an attempt to precipitate greater realization of the stakes involved, resigned the presidency. His attempts to persuade the opposition to remain of one nation failed. A divided Czechoslovakian parliament would not insist that the union persist and, in November 1992, by a bare three vote margin it voted to dissolve the nation into two separate states. (I.e, 183 of 300 seats, 3 more than the 3/5ths needed to amend the Czechoslovakian Constitution voted to split the state in two). On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia was dissolved and two new sovereign states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, came into being. Virtually immediately, the Slovak president (Meciar) called for an end to free market polic[ies] in Slovakia. Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic, Havel was again elected president.
Economic renewal dominated the agenda in each of the two new states. In the Czech Republic, efforts found a limited level of success. Gross domestic product (GDP) growth was negative in 1992 (-7.1 percent); flat in 1993 (0 percent); slow in 1994 (2.5 percent); more than 4.5 percent in 1995, over 4 percent in 1996, then slipping to 2.5 percent (projected) for 1997. Czech Republic relations with the rest of the world overall slipped over the course of the 1990s: trade faltered initially, with the country running a deficit of $ 1.4 Billion (1992); the current account balance worsened as the 1990s wore on, slipping from a break even situation in 1994 to a negative $4.48 billion (US) by 1996 (Hockstader: A31). Despite gains in tourism and other service sectors, Czech industrial products found few international customers and that basic economy faltered. Thus, the transition from a communist full employment system to a market one was not painless and unemployment, while low, began to rise by mid-decade: 2.3 percent (1992), 6 percent (1994). Another measure of the social implications of democratization can be seen in the rate of inflation, which by mid-decade continued to hover between an annual rate of eight to eleven percent (Hockstader: A31). These factors contributed to social discontent and a financial scancal eventually strained the unity of the center-right government of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and its leader Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. Klaus was forced to resign in November 30, 1997; his party split in half in January 1998, with 30 of its 69 MPs resigning to form a new entity, the "Freedom Union." A June 1998 general election produced no stable majority, and unstable cabinets fell frequently through the early parts of the new decade after 2000.
Matters were worse in Slovakia, where greater support for continued socialism did not sustain the new state well in the changed system of Central Europe, and poor economic performance resulted. The GDP decline was steeper and more persistent in Slovakia when compared to its more balanced western neighbor: 1992: -7 percent; 1993: -5 percent; 1994: -3 percent; and 1995: 0 percent. The Slovak trade deficit not only persisted, it widened: $ -0.2 billion (1992); $-0.9 billion (1993); $-0.5 billion (1994); and $-0.8 billion (projected for 1995). Slovak unemployment skyrocketed: 10.4 percent (1992), 14.4 percent (1993); 17.5 percent (1994); 18.5 percent (1995).
Economic failure in Slovakia produced political discontent, which took the form of a March 10, 1994 vote by the Slovakian Parliament expressing No Confidence in Meciar Government. It passed overwhelmingly, 78-2 (56 abstained). Four days later opposition leader J. Moravcik was made Slovakian PM, heading an unstable coalition government that within three months had called new elections. When they were held, ironically, it was the new coalition, not Meciar, whom the voters blamed for the poor economic performance of their state. In October 1994, Meciar's M.D.S. was returned to office for a few years, though as a minority government (having finished first with but 35 percent of the ballots). It fell from power late in the 1990s, and in November 2002, Slovakia, too, formally was invited to become a member of the N.A.T.O. alliance.
Czechoslovakia's importance to events beyond its borders cannot really be overstated. In the early 1990s, more than just Red Army tanks returned to the USSR on those east bound trains. The utter bankruptcy of the very idea of an ideology of world dominance came home. Along with it came the memory of an Army unwilling to kill to defend the Communist regime. Through the images of all that 1989 had achieved, Russians --and all the world-- learned that an unarmed people who believe in their rights, who are willing to sacrifice to achieve them, can be the most powerful force on earth. Less than two years after the people of East Germany and Czechoslovakia showed the way, the people of Moscow and Leningrad (i.e., St. Petersburg) demonstrated that that same lesson had been learned by a people never before ruled by democracy. The Eastern European Revolution clearly was the harbinger of the 1991 Russian Revolution.
By the first decade of the new Millennium, despite what at times has seemed to be the democrats' tenuous hold on power in Moscow, this spirit continued to live. Though challenged by near coups and anti-democratic rioters in Moscow (September-October 1993), by voters' flirtations with communists and fascists, and by the potential for chaos created by bloody conflict in Chechnya, electoralism if not full democracy in Russia has endured. Though it has bittersweet elements, in the annals of democratization, it remains a partial victory nonetheless. Clearly, it could not have occurred in the generally peaceful way that it has without the ground before it having been prepared by Czechs and Slovaks, by the Hungarians, Poles and Germans; indeed, by the ascendance of the idea of freedom in our times.
Two Leaders of the Czech Revolutions:
Alexander Dubcek and Vaclav Havel
Alexander Dubcek made his place in the history of his nation by attempting to introduce democratic reforms into the Communist system he led in the 1960s. That Dubcek would come to question the communist ideology and totalitarian system was unusual in that his personal socialization was deeply influenced by the strong ties his family long had had to Communism and the USSR.
Dubcek was born the second son of Stefan and Palina Dubcek, in the Slovakian town of Uhrovec on November 27, 1921. His parents had each earlier immigrated to the U.S. where they had met and married, then elected to return home. While in America, Dubcek's father had lived in Chicago and had joined Eugene V. Debs' Socialist Party. For refusing to join the U.S. Army (a pacifist position that he and the American Socialists advocated), the father was interned fourteen months in a Texas federal facility during World War I. Mother, father, and brother Julius traveled back to Slovakia just months before Alexander's birth. When Alexander was three years old, his father became a founding member of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party. Later that year (1925) the family responded to a CPSU appeal to Czechoslovakian friends of the Russian Revolution and moved to Kirghizia where the father helped to found an industrial cooperative. For the next 13 years the Dubcek's lived in various parts of the USSR. Alexander attended primary school in Kirghizia and secondary school in a regional center there, Frunze. He also became a locksmith, and lived for a time in the Russian city of Gorki. Due to suspicions cast on all foreigners during the Stalinist purges, the elder Dubcek moved the family back to Czechoslovakia in 1938.
Shortly after the family's return, Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Nazi Government of Adolph Hitler and all of the Dubceks had to conceal their Communist and Soviet associations. Nevertheless, the next year, at age 18, Dubcek joined the outlawed Czechoslovakian Communist Party, a membership he would retain until 1970. He worked as a laborer's apprentice in the Skoda arms factory, in Dubnica, during the war, and joined the underground resistance against the occupiers. In the winter of 1944-45, he became an armed partisan in the "Jan Zizka Brigade" and fought in the Slovakian uprising in the lower Tatra Mountains. His brother died in this fighting and Alexander twice was wounded. Later, when Dubcek had risen to positions of influence, he would insist that this uprising be reclassified in official histories as a "progressive uprising," though the CCP earlier had denigrated it as "bourgeois nationalist" in character.
After the war, Dubcek returned to a worker's life in the Slovak town of Trencin, sojourned as a yeast factory worker and as a locksmith, and received further education and degree at Komensky (Comenius) University in Bratislava. Dubcek was a charismatic speaker and, at six feet four inches, an imposing presence. He continued to participate in Communist Party work during the early post-war years. After the CCP consolidated sole control over the national political system (1948), Dubcek was chosen to serve the Party in several capacities, first as Trencin's party secretary and later more notably as Chief Secretary of the Slovakian Regional Committee (1958-60). By 1955, Dubcek was a full time Party apparatchik and was sent for the next three years to the CPSU's political college in Moscow USSR, where he was awarded a doctorate in political science in 1958. Upon returning home, Dubcek's rise was rapid as he was appointed to the chief party executive body, the Presidium, in 1960 and served there and on the Central Committee throughout the 1960s. After 1962, Dubcek was the highest ranking Slovak in the national Czechoslovakian Communist Party. Dubcek achieved the very highest Party offices, First Secretary of the Slovakian Central Committee in 1963 and First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Central Committee on January 5, 1968, replacing the hard line Stalinist Antonin Novotny. He would serve in the latter capacity until he was removed from office under Soviet pressure in early 1969. He also held office as a member of the powerless Czechoslovakian parliament in 1948, 1951-55, 1960, and 1964-69.
Though long a member of the power elite of the communist system, Dubcek is most remembered for his role in promoting reforms to create "socialism with a human face" during the famous Prague Spring of 1968. His ascent to power began in 1967. At the CCP's Central Committee meeting of October 1967, Dubcek was the first delegate to openly criticize Party head Antonin Novotny. In December of that same year, Dubcek demanded that the Party's Presidium remove Novotny, in part, for discriminating against Slovak areas. These pressures led to Novotny's resignation, January 5, 1968, the same day Dubcek was unanimously elected First Secretary of the CCP Central Committee. Dubcek's reform inclinations quickly surfaced. Party control over the press was relaxed almost immediately and the critical journal of the Writer's Union quickly took advantage of the new openness. Soon, 30,000 victims of Stalin era purges were rehabilitated and a party inquiry into the 1948 death of Jan Masaryk was opened. These steps, along with Dubcek's explicit call for the "widest possible democratization" (at Brno, March 16, 1968) endeared him to Czech reformers inside and beyond the Party. Dubcek was instrumental in securing from the Central Committee an April 9, 1968 reform document, "Czechoslovakia's Road to Socialism." It called for freedom of religion, of speech, for restrictions on police power, for an independent judiciary, for electoral reforms, for limited experiments with private enterprise, for increased trade with the West, and for true federal status for Slovakia. In many ways, Dubcek's democratization agenda surpassed even Soviet reformer Gorbachev's twenty years later.
After the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion that overturned all the Prague Spring reforms (August 20-21, 1968), Dubcek immediately was seized by Soviet troops and taken to Moscow. From the moment of the military action, it is clear that Dubcek had lost all real power, but because of his immense popularity the Soviets did not take all formal offices away from him. His Party title was retained until he was prevailed upon to resign on April 17, 1969, and he attempted unsuccessfully to preserve some of the reforms during those months after the invasion. He also remained active in parliamentary affairs for two years after his fall from power, serving even as Chair of the Federal Assembly for six months in 1969. Thereafter he was exiled as Ambassador to Turkey, 1969-70, and as a Forestry Inspector in Slovakia after his return to his homeland in 1970, a form of political banishment.
During the revolutionary events of Fall 1989, many in the crowds demanded his return to power, though Dubcek himself played little role in stirring up the demonstrations. After the Communist system's collapse, the revolutionaries acknowledged the nation's debt to him: Dubcek was named Chairman of the Czechoslovakian Parliament. He was reelected to the post in June 1990. While long an advocate for fair treatment of the Slovakian minority, Dubcek strongly believed in the union of the Czech and Slovak peoples into one state, and opposed the efforts of Slovakian nationalists to divide the nation in two. The success of the Slovakian nationalists in 1992 depressed him greatly and he died in Prague on November 7, 1992.
Vaclav Havel, an acclaimed Czech playwright, in many ways represents the creative and free human spirit the Communist systems most vigorously tried to tame and control. Instead of accommodating himself to the conformists' path to a secure life under Communism, Havel sought to convey his own views about the truth of the world around him. Punished for his candor, Havel's stature among other free-thinking Czechs rose, helping to form a bridge among various social elements discontented with the Communists' version of utopia. When conditions came to permit a more open expression in Czechoslovakia in 1989, Havel (and others) mobilized millions peacefully to demand an end to Communist dictatorship. His reward was a fully free Czechoslovakia, and election as national president throughout the entire 1990s and into the new millennium.
Havel was born October 5, 1936 into a wealthy Prague family with extensive real estate holdings. All of this was lost when the Communists confiscated the Havels' properties after the Party, with Soviet backing, had seized power (1948). Discrimination toward the young Vaclav compounded these losses: he was labeled a son of the hated bourgeoisie, denied easy access to post elementary education and spent much of his youth doing menial jobs. Undeterred, he continued his studies at night and published his first play at the age of nineteen. During his obligatory two year stint in the Army, 1957-59, Havel co-authored a play ("The Life Ahead") that correctly was seen by the officers as critical of the status quo; this conclusion marked Havel's later works for close scrutiny. His attraction to the theater grew in his twenties, and he made a meager living as a stagehand for various theater troupes in Prague. He continued to write and his first production, "Hitchhiking," a collaborative satirical work with Ivan Vyskocil, premiered in 1961. His first solo effort, the four act "The Garden Party," was a hit and soon was translated into all major European languages. It also satirized modern life and bureaucracy. His most famous early work, "The Memorandum" (1965), was a still more caustic examination of life under Stalinism and "all systems that destroy the human personality." For his many efforts to carefully critique his political system, Havel had his passport confiscated.
In 1968, during the Prague Spring, Czechoslovak authorities returned Havel's passport to him and he visited the U.S., where his works had become known through the efforts of the Czech-born writer Tom Stoppard. While there, "The Memorandum" won the Obie award for the Best Off-Broadway Play of 1967-68. Soon after his return to Prague, the Warsaw Pact invaded, precipitating Havel's first act of open defiance. Over an underground radio station, Havel denounced the Soviet-led repression and "in the name of all Czech and Slovak writers" issued an urgent appeal to the West, especially to intellectuals, to support the quest for respect of all peoples' human rights. In a direct way, probably no more than a dozen Czech intellectuals and artists comprised Havel's circle of activists at the time. Thus began the movement that twenty-one years later would precipitate the overthrow of Czechoslovakian Communism.
Neo-Stalinist orthodoxy was restored by Dubcek's replacement, Gustav Husak: the Party's leading role in all spheres of life again was declared to be infallible. Correspondingly, all performances of Havel's plays were banned, and their written reproduction was made a criminal offense. Havel's passport again was confiscated, and his movements within the nation closely were monitored by the secret police. Denied the possibility of making a living as the artist he was, Vaclav was forced to work in menial jobs (e.g., in a brewery) to earn subsistence. Nevertheless, he continued to write even without much hope for publication during the 1970s (e.g., "The Conspirators," "The Mountain Hotel," "A Private View"). Several times in that decade he was jailed for his surreptitious human rights work on behalf of the unjustly incarcerated. After a 1975 amateur production of his adaptation of "The Beggar's Opera," even members of the audiences were followed and harassed; some were arrested. Bravely, Havel penned an open letter to Husak (April 8, 1975), which in part said: "Society can be enriched and cultivated only through self-knowledge, and the main instrument of society's self-knowledge is its culture" (Current Biography: 173). Two months later, the Husak regime dupliciously signed the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as the Helsinki human rights accord.
Inside Czechoslovakia, as elsewhere in the Warsaw Pact, independent groups formed to monitor their states' compliance with the provisions of the Helsinki accords. In Czechoslovakia, it soon was clear that no change had taken place: religious groups continued to be repressed; journalists continued to be censored; opposition political groups still could not form; musicians and artists still could not express themselves freely. During 1976, official repression of rock music bands (e.g., the Plastic People of the Universe) came to Vaclav's attention through the efforts of Ivan Jirous. Havel and friend Jiri Nemec undertook to publicize the fate of these artists whom Havel believed spoke authentically for the generation lost in the fog of Communist culture. Accordingly, Havel was one of the key leaders of the Charter 77 human rights protest and, in 1978, was among the founders of the movement that grew out of it, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (or VONS). For the 1977 protest, Havel served a five month jail term; in October 1979, his conviction for "subversion" produced a further four and one half year sentence, at hard labor. Under this conviction, Havel was incarcerated until February 1983 during which time his health greatly deteriorated. His literary works from this period (e.g., "Interview," "Protest") contained still sharper attacks on the social hypocrisy that sustained Communism. These samizdat works were smuggled to the West and, along with "A Private View," were produced Off Broadway in 1983-84 by the once-blacklisted U.S. actress Lee Grant. A volume of letters to his wife (the former Olga Splichalova, whom he had wed in 1964) from prison, entitled "Letters to Olga," was published in German (1984) and English (1989). In the later 1980s, he penned several more plays.
Havel's role in the 1989 revolutionary events was a central one. In January, he helped organize the Jan Palach commemorative protest which started the year of challenge to communism. Jailed for a nine month term, he was released in May 1989. As protest activities ballooned in the Fall, Havel emerged as the chief negotiator for the Civic Forum mass movement. Elected as the first post-Communist Czechoslovakian President on December 29, 1989, Havel served in that capacity until his resignation (July 20, 1992), an act intended to shock Slovakian nationalists to desist from their efforts to divide the nation. Havel again was elected President of the Czech Republic in 1993, a role in which he continued to serve into 2003.
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