The Freeze Came from Within

Friday, August 22nd, 2003

Yesterday, 21 August, was the 35th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 that put an end to the “Prague Spring,” and here in Prague that story is getting big play in the media. This is even though it’s all about the past, specifically a quite unpleasant incident from the past which presumably nearly every Czech knows about (whether s/he experienced it directly or not) and which perhaps s/he would just rather forget. Respekt is probably the leading Czech journal of commentary, with a quite impressive battle-record of offending (and being threatened by) post-1989 governments, and in its current issue it approaches the event from a different angle. It was not the case that the Red Army invaded the country (accompanied by symbolic contingents from Warsaw Pact “allies”) and that was that: end of the “Prague Spring.” Rather, the Communist tightening-down of the country back to the pre-1968 level of repression (or, in some respects, an even worse state) actually proceeded over the course of a year-and-a-half, into 1970. In other words, not that much changed in Czech society right after the invasion; the oppressive changes came later, gradually, in the face of a Czechoslovak populace which could see what was happening but did little about it. It was this same populace which had been enthusiastic for its new freedoms in the first part of 1968, prior to the invasion, introduced by the then-government led by Aleksander Dubcek. So how could the re-introduction of a Communist dictatorship happen? What are the lessons for today? These sorts of questions are intelligently explored by Tomas Nemecek in his article entitled Mráz prišel zevnitr, or “The Freeze Came from Within.” (more…)

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