The Turning Point:1968

Students Show the Flag (1968) Czech students hang their national flag on a Soviet tank in Prague.

Students Show the Flag (1968)
Czech students hang their national flag on a Soviet tank in Prague.

In the popular memory of the last half-century, several years stand out as historical turning points, although none more so than 1968. For those who lived through 1968, events all across the globe seemed to take on lives of their own. Change, whether gradual or cataclysmic, emerged as the uniting theme of the most tumultuous year in the post World War II era.

One of the most important events that happened during this time was the Prague Spring, which was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. As the article in Seventeen Moments described, ” ‘Socialism with a human face’ was the slogan advanced by Alexander Dubcek to popularize the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s agenda for sweeping political reforms.” Dubcek called for complete cultural freedom, economic reform based on the “socialist market,” and restrictions on the secret police, provoking an outpouring of debate throughout the country.

As Dubcek’s power increased, pressure from Moscow intensified. In April, Dubcek introduced a liberalizing program, which reconfirmed the Czechoslovakian devotion to socialism but denounced the police state, the abuses of the past, and the Communist Party’s monopoly on political power. There was also a two thousand word manifesto that was written that called the people of Czechoslovakia to standards of openness and not revolution. The Soviet Union did not like this opposition that they were facing in Czechoslovakia and decided to do something about it.

On July 20-21 the Politburo approved preparations for a full-scale intervention by Warsaw Pact forces if Dubcek did not reverse his course. A last-ditch attempt to persuade him at a meeting in the little town of Cierna just over the border in Soviet Ukraine proved futile. (Seventeen Moments)  By mid-summer, Dubcek had lost control of the liberalization process. Despite protestations from Moscow, Dubcek proved unable or unwilling to exert influence over the free press and new political parties. After dusk on August 20, troops from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria invaded Czechoslovakia.

As the article in Seventeen Moments states, the invasion was a public relations disaster for the Soviet Union. Although Dubcek wasn’t removed from office, the movement was broken as well as the chance for ‘socialism with a human face’. This was such a vital time in history for the Soviet Union because it showed that resistance was out there and many countries were against what the Soviet Union was trying to do. This was only one of many revolts across the globe and all of them were just looking for one thing: change.



4 comments for “The Turning Point:1968

  1. samt1
    18 November, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Cool post! I find it interesting that given everything that Dubcek worked so hard for he was ultimately unable to manage his own creation, that is the free press and new political parties. I also too believe that this event was the most important event for the USSR during the cold war and showed the world that they were not in complete control.

  2. wilkins
    19 November, 2013 at 12:37 am

    Good post, succinctly covers the topic well, very informative. Dubcek facilitated a process that would have ultimately had the potential to lead to the demise of communism in Czechoslovakia. The question of a multi-party state arose, concessions allowing openness and debates about this naturally worried the Soviet Union. This was the last time the USSR invaded one of their satellite states for the remainder of the Cold War.

  3. djp28
    19 November, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    It’s interesting to see what happens when someone in power finally stood up to the communist government in Moscow. Obviously his forces were nothing compared to those within the Warsaw Pact, but by standing up against them it showed that there were those who did not agree with what was going on.

  4. jackscher
    23 November, 2013 at 5:39 am

    Very interesting post. I posted on 1968 also (and the Prague Spring) but I did not mention how big of a public relations disaster this event was for the Soviet Union, which is very important. Its important to note that many retrospectively see this event as the moment that really marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. The spirit of rebellion continued after the period of normalization.

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