Prague Spring

From Anarchy In Action

"The Prague Spring (Czech: Pražské jaro, Slovak: Pražská jar) was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to halt the reforms."[1]

From Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action[2]:

In a broadcast on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia a speaker looked back to the summer of 1968 in Prague as one in which, as she put it, 'Everyone had become more gentle, more considerate. Crime and violence diminished. We all seemed to be making a special effort to make life tolerable, just because it had been so intolerable before.'

Now that the Prague Spring and the Czechoslovak long hot summer have retreated into history, we tend to forget though the Czechs will not forget - the change in the quality of ordinary life, while the histo­rians, busy with the politicians floating on the surface of events, or this or that memorandum from a Central Committee or a Praesidium, tell us nothing about what it felt like for people in the streets. At the time John Berger wrote of the immense impression made on him by the transfor­mation of values: 'Workers in many places spontaneously offered to work for nothing on Saturdays in order to contribute to the national fund. Those for whom, a few months before, the highest ideal was a consumer society, offered money and gold to help save the national economy. (Economically a naive gesture but ideologically a significant one.) I saw crowds of workers in the streets of Prague, their faces lit by an evident sense of opportunity and achievement. Such an atmosphere was bound to be temporary. But it was an unforgettable indication of the previously unused potential of a people: of the speed with which demoralisation may be overcome.'[3] And Harry Schwartz of the New York Times reminds us that 'Gay, spontaneous, informal and relaxed were the words foreign correspondents used to describe the vast outpouring of merry Prague citizens.'[4] What was Dubcek doing at the time? 'He was trying to set limits on the spontaneous revolution that had been set in motion and to curb it. No doubt he hoped to honour the promises he had given at Dresden that he would impose order on what more and more conservative Communists were calling "anarchy".[5] When the Soviet tanks rolled in to impose their order, the spontaneous revolution gave way to a spontaneous resistance. Of Prague, Kamil Winter declared. 'I must confess to you that nothing was organised at all. Everything went on spontaneously . . .'[6] And of the second day of the invasion in Bratislava, Ladislav Miiacko wrote: 'Nobody had given any order. Nobody was giving any orders at all. People knew of their own accord what ought to be done. Each and every one of them was his own government, with its orders and regulations, while the government itself was somewhere very far away, probably in Moscow. Everything the occupation forces tried to paralyse went on working and even worked better than in normal times; by the evening the people had even managed to deal with the bread situation'.[7]

In November, when the students staged a sit-in in the universities, 'the sympathy of the population with the students was shown by the dozens of trucks sent from the factories to bring them food free of charge;[8] and 'Prague's railway workers threatened to strike if the government took reprisal measures against the students. Workers of various state organisations supplied them with food. The buses of the urban transport workers were placed at the strikers' disposal . . . Postal workers established certain free telephone communications between university towns.[9]

  2. Anarchy in Action
  3. John Berger, 'Freedom and the Czechs' (New Society, 29 August 1968).
  4. Harry Schwartz, Prague's 200 Days (London, 1969).
  5. ibid.
  6. The Listener, 5 September 1958.
  7. Ladislav Mnacko, The Seventh Night (London, 1969).
  8. Ladislav Mnacko, The Seventh Night (London, 1969).
  9. Schwartz, op. cit.