The year 1968 is one of the important years that have left their mark on history. Student movements that took place almost all over the world at that time were only one of the reasons that made this period important. For example, ‘The 68 Generation’ in Turkey and ‘May 68 Events’ in France are some of them. The important event which will be discussed in this research article is the “Prague Spring”, which took place in 1968, in Czechoslovakia, where the understanding of “friendly socialism” was tried to be adopted. Prague Spring, which was end in the same year, was terminated as a result of the invention of the allies of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. This research paper, is aimed to evaluate the economic and political structure of that period by using various written and audio sources, and an attempt was made to answer the question of ‘What happened in the Prague Spring and what kind of changes took place?’ In this regard, the findings to be obtained in the research paper are limited to the economic and political structure of the period and who the political leaders of the period were.
Keywords: Democracy, Economy, Occupation, Reforming, Socialism.
The student movements, which started in France in 1968 and extended to cities such as Istanbul and London, and had an impact all over the world, giving the year of 1968 an important place in history (Dubcek, 2020). One of the most important events that took place during this period is the Prague Spring, which was initiated by the Czechoslovak leader Alexander Dubcek and ended in the same year. Antonin Navotny, who was the leader of the Communist Party until 1968, was replaced by Alexander Dubcek when the Soviet administration saw the change of power as a solution due to the growing economic crisis in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. Dubcek has tried to move along a democratic, liberal and reformist line. Dubcek, who adopted a friendly understanding of socialism that outweighs the human aspect, ensured that more space was given to issues such as freedom of the press and freedom of expression at that time. In this regard, he has made arrangements for the implementation of multi-party policy; initiated work on a federal constitution and restructured the economic system. However, this situation probably was not welcomed by the Soviet Union. Since it intervened in Czechoslovakia in the summer of the same year and ended the Prague Spring.
BEFORE THE PRAGUE SPRING
By 1960, Antonin Navotny was the General Secretary of the Communist Party, and a number of problems had accumulated in Czechoslovakia at that time. The most obvious one of these problems was the recessions in economic development. Antonin Navotny’s mistakes had created public suspicion and mistrust. It is suggested that before that period, Czechoslovakia was among the fastest developing countries in Europe, but after 1960, this development and economic improvement decelerated. One of the reasons for this situation was that “Czechoslovakia did not give the necessary importance to modern industrial branches such as electrical engineering, chemistry, the automobile industry.” (Trory, 2016). Also at that time, Oti Sik, a liberal communist economist, was preparing an economic program based on the Western experience. On the other hand, a philosophy based on pluralism (pluralism) and Marxist humanism was taking place on the political front. Important writers of the period like Zdenek Mlynar and Imre Lakatos now argued that the Stalinist monolithic society should be abandoned, and the Communist Party should have a regulating role for the order rather than dominating it (Karadeli, 2019).
Antonin Navotny. is a Czech-born statesman and communist politician. During World War II, he was one of the leaders of the Communist Party who fought underground against the Nazi occupation. He was captured and sent to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, but he managed to survive. After the death of Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald in 1953, he continued to lead the Communist Party until 1968 (Trory, 2016).
Alexander Dubcek is a Slovak politician. He became General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1968, replacing Antonin Navotny. However, in the same year, when the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia due to Dubcek’s reforms, his duty as the party’s general secretary was terminated (Euronews, 2018).
At that time, when the concept of friendly socialism was adopted, significant changes occurred in the economic structure. Steps were taken such as granting citizens the right to private property, expanding farmers’ rights to independent cooperation (Karadeniz, 2020). Some economists at that time argued that inflationary policy should be implemented. Arguments such as the independence of factories, the abandonment of the central planning of the national economy, free prices and low inflation were the main discourses of that period (Trory, 2016).
THE END OF THE PRAGUE SPRING
The Prague Spring began in 1968 and ended again in the same year. On August 20-21, 1968, the Soviet Union and the Allies of the Warsaw Pact (East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria), began to invade Czechoslovakia. Between 5,000 and 7,000 tanks and about 600,000 soldiers participated in the invasion. The occupation was protested by state leaders, but the public could not be encouraged to resist it. Alexander Dubcek and Prime Minister Ludvik Svoboda were taken to Moscow and abandoned their reforms due to this pressure. As a result of this, Prague Spring has ended (Karadeniz, 2020).
THE BREZHNEV DOCTRINE
The Brezhnev Doctrine was expressed after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, in S. Kovalev’s ‘The Sovereignty of Socialist Countries and International Tasks’ article in the issue of the newspaper ‘Pravda’, which was the official publication of the Communist Party Central Committee and dated September 26, 1968. Later Leonid Brezhnev released this doctrine to the public at the 5th Congress of the Polish Worker’s Party. According to this doctrine, the developments towards the re-domination of capitalism in socialist countries are a problem that concerns not only that country, but all socialist countries. The solution of such an important problem cannot be left to that country and attempts are made to prevent it in all ways, including armed intervention. In this context, the Brezhnev Doctrine was expressed after the intervention to the reform initiatives in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 (Okur, 2020).
“The soldiers could have won thanks to their tanks, but no force could suppress such strong passions as democracy, independence, freedom.” (Dubcek, 2020). This discourse of Alexander Dubcek shows how much he is fond of democracy. Dubcek was saying that he knew that military regimes cannot live forever (Dubcek, 2020). This intuition of his led him to take important steps for a Czechoslovakia dominated by democracy, away from repressions. Dubcek paid great attention to the freedom of the press, and therefore abolished the practice of censorship of the press and paved the way for people to freely express their opinions. Although this initiative ended in occupation, Dubcek inherited an event that will go down in history. Discourses such as “the creative development of Marxism, the deepening of socialism” (Trory, 2016) reflect a reformist point of view. As a result, this event, which took place in 1968, caused us to see the reflections of the revision, development, or different dimensions of the prevailing worldviews on social and political life and to see a number of positive or negative consequences that reflections have created.
Prepared by Yeliz Kıroğlu for The FEAS Journal.
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