The Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968
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Publish Year note: First published December 16th 2009
On August 20, 1968, tens of thousands of Soviet and East European ground and air forces moved into Czechoslovakia and occupied the country in an attempt to end the "Prague Spring" reforms and restore an orthodox Communist regime. The leader of the Soviet Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev, was initially reluctant to use military force and tried to pressure his counterpart in Czechoslovakia, Alexander Dubcek, to crack down. But during the summer of 1968, after several months of careful deliberations, the Soviet Politburo finally decided that military force was the only option left. A large invading force of Soviet, Polish, Hungarian, and Bulgarian troops received final orders to move into Czechoslovakia; within 24 hours they had established complete military control of Czechoslovakia, bringing an end to hopes for "socialism with a human face."
Dubcek and most of the other Czechoslovak reformers were temporarily restored to power, but their role from late August 1968 through April 1969 was to reverse many of the reforms that had been adopted. In April 1969, Dubchek was forced to step down for good, bringing a final end to the Prague Spring. Soviet leaders justified the invasion of Czechoslovakia by claiming that "the fate of any socialist country is the common affair of all socialist countries" and that the Soviet Union had both a "right" and a "sacred duty" to "defend socialism" in Czechoslovakia. The invasion caused some divisions within the Communist world, but overall the use of large-scale force proved remarkably successful in achieving Soviet goals. The United States and its NATO allies protested but refrained from direct military action and covert operations to counter the Soviet-led incursion into Czechoslovakia.
The essays of a dozen leading European and American Cold War historians analyze this turning point in the Cold War in light of new documentary evidence from the archives of two dozen countries and explain what happened behind the scenes. They also reassess the weak response of the United States and consider whether Washington might have given a "green light," if only inadvertently, to the Soviet Union prior to the invasion.
EMBASSIES IN PRAGUE, MOSCOW, AND WARSAW The reports coming from the French embassy in Prague during Czechoslovakia’s invasion by the Warsaw Pact states were extremely patchy. The embassy had next to no contacts in the population. There were rather pathetic predictions of an early end to Alexander Dubček’s “moral resistance.”12 The embassy in Prague discounted the possibility of a long-term determination on the part of the people to resist the occupation. In psychological and historical terms
the notable exception of the discredited fascist years—and also favored the search for constant mediation and even “transformism”; the Communists reinforced their tendency to assimilate and compromise.17 In the latter, where the state was strong and centralized and societal conflict more inscribed in its evolution and even enshrined in the French Revolution, unassailable ideological faith could be more easily conflated with national identity.18 The PCI’s long experience as a clandestine group
stations. These moves appear to be consolidating their hold on Czechoslovakia and do so with lower visibility. Western military attaches have seen no evidence of troop activity in Hungary. There have been field training exercises in Bulgaria. To date there have been primarily communications exercises, with no movement of ground troops. Yugoslavia is in a high state of alert. Rumania is on alert but has been dampening their polemics. We should keep an attitude of watchful waiting. General Wheeler
existed in the “oases” of relatively free thinking and discussion, with access to information and enormous resources. The media reporting on the formerly secret scientific lab in Dubna near Moscow and the construction of a privileged “Academic City” near Novosibirsk epitomized the greater autonomy of the intellectual elites from the party-state as well as the recognition of the growing dependence of the latter on the former. Scientists became a privileged class and took advantage of this to help
Moscow.”61 Brezhnev simply acknowledged this information without reacting to it or drawing any other conclusion from it apart from asking Yakovlev to keep it from Kosygin.62 Brezhnev was convinced that the military action against Czechoslovakia would bear fruit sooner or later. At the plenum of the CC CPSU on 9 December 1968, he had already announced optimistically that the situation in Czechoslovakia was returning to “normal.” He also noted that V. Kuznetsov, who had been sent to Prague to