The Prague Spring fifty years later
In august 1968 the troops of the Warsaw Pact, led by Soviet command, crushed the Prague Spring. The end of peaceful reforms, more free speech and the loosening of party control in communist Czechoslovakia. Twelve years after the dramatic and violent suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 these events proved once again that there was no such thing as a communist state with a ‘human face’. Authoritarian rule can’t survive free speech and the unrestrained exchange of political thought.
One of the nonviolent activists of the Prague Spring, Vaclav Havel, described his thoughts on the mastermind behind the reforms, Alexander Dubček. During a radio broadcast on 22 august 1968 while tanks were on the streets of the Czech capital he said:
‘What I liked about him was a quality that is very rare among politicians: he was able to listen. He was interested in our opinions. He joined in discussions. He was able to admit his own mistakes when we managed to persuade him he was wrong. But his finest quality was something I would call engagement. He had a gentle, caring attitude to the democratization process; he was proud of it, and it was obvious that it completely preoccupied him. What upset him most was when he felt we were doubting his determination to go through with the reforms to the very end, that we were worried about compromises and back-pedaling, or that the whole process would get stopped halfway through.’
It would be a very useful ‘short manual for politicians’ in 2018.