Saturday, August 23, 2008

Prague Spring, 40 years on

August 68, Czech protesters confront Soviet tanks during Prague Spring

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the crushing by Soviet forces of the Prague spring movement in Czechoslovakia. This takes on added significance given the events of the last two weeks in Georgia. In January 1968 Alexander Dubček became First Secretary of Czechoslovakia. He initiated a series of economic, social and political reforms that were unprecedented behind the Iron Curtain. Dubček believed that the communist/Marxist system did not have to be dictatorial. The movement manifested itself in street demonstrations where open political debates and dialogue were encouraged. Independent media outlets sprang up, particularly radio stations where young DJ's expressed their admiration for the west as they blasted out rolling stones songs. 1968 is known as the year of protest. In America they rallied for civil rights and to codemn "Johnson's War" in Vietnam. They marched too for equality in Northern Ireland and in Paris massive student demonstrations against the status quo brought down the De Gaulle government and almost resulted in revolution. Prague Spring is considered the Eastern Block's equivalent of these events. However this period of optimism in Prague was not long being ripped away by Moscow.

Prague Spring caused a rift in the Warsaw pact. Some countries supported Dubček, others feared it would gradually lead to instability and uprisings throughout Eastern Europe. In any case the master of central and Eastern Europe Leonoid Breznev decided enough was enough. Rather than allow a pro western country emerge behind the iron curtain he ordered the Red Army into Czechoslovakia. There were few people killed in the invasion as Dubček ordered his people and the army not to resist the 200,000 Soviet troops. There were however many lasting images from the thousands of demonstrators that confronted and taunted the Soviet tanks. Back in these dark days it was common for the Russians to tell its neighbours what they could and could not do with themselves. But who could have imaged it, in 2008 the kremiln has ordered its troops into a neighbouring country because it was becoming too pro western.

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