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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

April 10, 2008

40 years ago in Prague

Filed under Life in Europe

On a cool sunny day spring was evident today as I rode public transportation from Prague’s airport to the nearest subway station. The trees are turning green, blossoms are sprouting and people are wearing lighter coats as the temperatures are in the low 50s. 40 years ago the outdoor temperature wasn’t the only one raised by a Prague spring.

The "Prague spring" of 1968 began in the winter, on January January 5, 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubček came to power in Czechoslovakia. Dubček introduced reforms in an effort to grant additional rights to his fellow Czech citizens. Among the freedoms granted were a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel. He also introduced a partial decentralization of the economy. Dubček also made Czechoslovakia into a federal state with two separate republics. This was his only change that survived the end of the Prague Spring and foreshadowed the division of the country when Soviet domination ended. Despite repeated assurances of Czech loyalty to the Warsaw pact, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded the country on August 21, 1968 to put an end to Dubček’s reforms. (East German troops were among the Warsaw pact forces entering the country – probably not the brightest move considering 20th century history.) 70,000 Czechs fled the country immediately.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged in 1987 that his liberal policies of glasnost and perestroika owed a great deal to Dubček’s "socialism with a human face." When asked what the difference was between Dubček’s Prague Spring and his own reforms, Gorbachev is reported to have said, "Nineteen years."

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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