What happened on August 21, 1968?
Every year on August 21, the Czech Republic commemorates a sad anniversary. In 1968, the back then Czechoslovakia was invaded. The unthinkable became reality. It was a shock of such a dimension that many could not believe it. Heck, we were being occupied by our liberator!
At the end of the World War II, Prague was liberated by the Soviets, although some other parts of the Czechoslovakia were liberated by the Americans. People were grateful. The Soviet Union, therefore, became a close friend of Czechoslovakia and soon afterwards Czechs had found themselves under the control of the USSR.
In the late sixties, however, there was a worldwide feeling that the tension between the Soviets and Americans was easing, generally known as the time of détente. In the Czechoslovakia, this feeling led to a slight change in government, electing Alexander Dubcek as a leader of the Communist Party in January 1968. What had followed is now being called Prague Spring because of its origins in spring months.
Dubcek was a man, who wanted to reform the communist system. Many reforms had been introduced since January 1968. Among the most significant, the increased freedom of the press and more democratic multi-party government.
It is to say, however, that Dubcek never intended to change the government into democratic one. He only wanted to reform the unpopular system and turn it into “Socialism with human face”. But people wanted more reforms, asking for further liberalization and democratization of the system. Moscow was watching all this with a great fear.
In order not to permit Czechoslovakia to step out of the eastern block and fuel other nations to follow, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies (except for Romania) invaded the country. People in the Czechoslovakia woke up on August 21, 1968, and could not believe their eyes. Their celebrated liberator and “friend forever” came to crush the liberalizing reforms with 200,000 troops and 5,000 tanks. There was a tank in almost every street. How can you fight this back?
Under these circumstances, with no one who would help, there was nothing else to do but to give up all the reforms which were adopted during the Prague Spring. All politicians involved in Prague Spring were put aside, but not only politicians. Many people fled the country.
The Czech nation had to wait for its true liberalization until 1989.