Come And Czech This Out

Czech students
After the initial invasion by the Soviets, Czech nationalists demonstrate their hardened values for the need for communist reform (1968).

After the events of World War II, the state of Czechoslovakia came under the influence of the Soviet Union and communist ideals. This culminated in 1968 when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) saw Alexander Dubček, a communist reformer, elected as their First Secretary 1. Once in power, he began to promote his political agenda with a slogan of “Socialism With a Human Face.” According to historian Lewis Sigelbaum, Dubček wished to promote “… cultural freedom, economic reform based on the ‘socialist market,’ and restrictions on the secret police.” All of these promises seemed allowed him to gain the support of the majority of Czechoslovakia, however, his Soviet allies didn’t see this in the same light.

These reforms infuriated the Soviets and, after several failed negotiations, caused them to send upwards to half a million Warsaw Pact troops to Czechoslovakia to occupy the country.  These troops were said to have been equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry that the Soviets had in their arsenal 2. According to one Soviet news article,” The measures taken by the Soviet Union … to defend the socialist gains of the Czechoslovak people are of enormous significance.” This intervention wasn’t well received by Czech nationals who sought for political reform promoted by Dubček. Inevitably, a resistance movement was formed across the entirety of Czechoslovakia – curfews were ignored, violent and non-violent forms of protest were utilized, Soviet weapons and vehicles were stolen, etc 3. Due to their actions, the resistance movement of the Czechs all received global coverage as the Western world looked down upon the actions of the Warsaw Pact.

The Soviet invasion was caught on camera and broadcast across the globe – this had some very significant repercussions in the public sphere for the USSR 3. In an attempt to persuade others of their concerns for the actions taken in Czechoslovakia, the Soviets issued a memorandum know as the Brezhnev Doctrine that stated that it was the right and responsibility of the Soviet Union to protect their communist allies 5. Regardless of their intentions, the Soviets won out and the country remained under Soviet control until 1989 with the events of the Velvet Revolution. By that point though, the idea set forth by Alexander Dubček of having “Socialism With a Human Face” was long forgotten and the collapse of the communist state of Czechoslovakia began to fall.

Red Star

This post earned a “Red Star” award and is featured on the Soviet History Classroom Website.

Works Cited

  1. Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  2. Lowenthal, Richard. The Sparrow in the Cage, Problems of Communism, Vol. 17, No. 6 (November – December 1968), pp. 2-28.
  3. Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Crisis in Czechoslovakia.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 1 Sept. 2015, soviethistory.msu.edu/1968-2/crisis-in-czechoslovakia/.
  4. Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Crisis in Czechoslovakia.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 1 Sept. 2015, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1968-2/crisis-in-czechoslovakia/crisis-in-czechoslovakia-images/.
  5.  Stavrianos, L. S. The Epic of Man (The Brezhnev Doctrine). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971, pp. 465-466.
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10 thoughts on “Come And Czech This Out”

  1. Austin, this was a great post! I like how you’ve focused on other states associated with / controlled by the Soviet Union in this post and your last. Although still continuing many policies the Soviet Union did, you highlighted how the focus on liberalization and reform made the Soviets uncomfortable. I also like how you talked about the implications of the invasion; even with the Brezhnev doctrine, these actions made the world look down upon them. Great work!

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  2. Great post! I think you did a great job of hitting the key points in the downfall of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s/70s. I agree with what Caroline said above, I think this shows exactly how the Soviet Union felt about anyone breaking the status quo. Their actions towards Czechoslovakia show just how much control they wanted over the region and their allies.

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  3. Great post! I was particularly interested in the global coverage part and the ramifications put on the USSR after sending in troops. What negative consequences did the Soviet Union face? And what in particular did the United States do?

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  4. I share the enthusiasm others have expressed for writing about events beyond Russia proper, and this is a good analysis of the Brezhnev doctrine in action. In light of Brett’s question it would be good to consult and include some primary sources here. How were these developments covered in the Soviet press, for example? (I’m thinking about the news article we looked at last week about the repression of the Hungarian revolt in 1956…)

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  5. This is a very good post! I like reading about what the Warsaw Pact countries were doing during this time as well. What were the reforms that the Soviets specifically didn’t like? I know you mentioned restrictions on secret police, but were there any more than the Soviets didn’t like?

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  6. Great post with good sources! This seems reminiscent of US attempts to send support to unpopular regimes, like Vietnam, except that Soviets won out in Czechoslovakia. I wonder how nationalist movements in other countries reacted to this, and if it gave them power against Communism, as you alluded to. Overall, great post!

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  7. The Soviets went to great lengths to stop any of their satellites from deviating off their set path. This is especially evident in this post, half a million men seems like an awful lot to secure Czechoslovakia. The US catches a lot of flak in the Cold War for forcing governments onto people even though the USSR did the same thing.

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