history Eastern_Europe Czecho-Slovakia

 

 

CZECHOSLOVAKIA  1968

 

The "Bear’s" Occupation of Bohemia by John  Zetocha 


Was the 1968 Czech Invasion a Success?  By Cindy Urrutia

 

 

The 'Bearís' Occupation of Bohemia

by John  Zetocha

 

 

 

 

Sitting down around the table putting a puzzle together of some ancient castle with my grandfather reminded him of letters he received from friends and family in and just outside of our ancestry lands, of the former Czechoslovakia. He stops for a moment gazing at single piece of the puzzle as it was a single moment relived in one of his cousinís letters written decades ago. He sits back in his chair and asks if I had ever learned of the about how Czechoslovakia had fallen to the Soviet Unionís grasp for Eastern Europe. I, only being in grade school and had not even learned about long division in great of detail, said no.

 

He said in that case I would learn something new today and be a better Czech for it. He started out. It was 1968 in August; the people were out in their normal everyday bustle. The onlynoticeable difference was the radio had started to play a sober classical music not the everyday business reports.

 

 Then at the end of the music there was an announcement made that ĎAll government officials were called to Prague and that troops of the ‘‘Great’’ Soviet Union were expected to land at a nearby airport and be station throughout the land. With this announcement people started to act like another Nazi invasion was expected to fall upon them, so people of the town were rushing to the stores and started to stock pile provisions.

 

Even though all hope had seem to be lost, there from the ashes of what had been their freedom rose a new force of opposition.

 

This new opposition did not meet the Soviet troops or march on Moscow in protest, they were smarter than this and loved lifeís freedom too much to give it up for certain death that would not  accomplish anything for their beloved homeland. The opposition was a nuisance to the Soviet’s and an information guide for the people of their area. They would steal clothing and equipment meant for the Soviet troops and used them against them. The clothing helped the beleaguered people of the town keep warm during wintertime. The equipment, mainly radios, was used to send information from city to city reporting troop movement and any other pertinent information.

 

  Even with the opposition raiding the Soviet warehouses and trains there were still shortages. People would line outside the grocery stores hoping for some food. Many weeks the stores would run out of food before everyone received their food.

 

  The shelves laid bare, people cried out for food, this was a miserable time for the inhabitants of the towns. Most people were poor, hungry, and lived without meaning. From the shortage of food starvation was not an unusual occurrence. There was a stench of death in the town, bodies were taken out to the coroner especially during the wintertime.

 

Eastern Europe was in a time of upheaval; the Soviet Union was expanding its grasp westward. People within these countries were being forced into new ways of thinking and new systems of command and distribution of resources. They were scared, for their future was up in the air, their next meal was uncertain. Times were tough, yet there were some who were still optimistic and trying to fight for their freedoms. They were fighting a force superior in armaments and money but not in the will and the desire to be self-governing.  

 

Sources

Pictures were also taken from this site

 

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Was the 1968 Czech Invasion a Success
?

By Cindy Urrutia
 

 

"Military occupation of the country had been successfully carried out... yet a nearby unanimous response of Czech population, rulers and institutions had taken shape, freezing authority along the line of legitimacy." (Eidlin, 319) When Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Red Army in August of 1968, people were numbed with disbelief. How was it possible that Czechoslovakia was betrayed by a protector it had put its trust in? Evidently, the Kremlin did not approve of Czechoslovakia progressive ideals to buy a "human face" to socialism. However, before one can examine the events that led to the Soviet invasion, a person should be aware of the important historical events which shaped the mentality of the Czech people. These events will help the reader understand why the Czech people had progressive ideals and why they resisted an overwhelming army. Although this brief historical synopsis can not fully encompass everything which has shaped a nation, there are a few incidents whose importance cannot be denied.

 

With the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovakia became an autonomous independent nation. With its recently acquired independence and democracy, the Czech nation struggled to consolidate unity amongst its minorities in order to bring about a prosperous egalitarian society. Amongst its social issues, Czechoslovakia had serious economic problems to overcome. However, after hard work and determination, Czechoslovakia achieved peak post WWI prosperity in 1929 as well as adopting the gold standard. One-third of its industrial product was destined for export. For this reason the collapse of international trade ensued by the Great Depression was disastrous for the economy. By 1933 industrial production decreased by 60% and agriculture by 61%. The situation was intensified by wide spread unemployment. Recovery was a slow process which was aided by the re-armament due to Nazi threat.
Just when the economy began to stabilize the Czech government had to attend to the German demand for greater autonomy. Tied into this issue was Hitler’s decree in 1938 in which he declared himself the protector of all Germans abroad. Clearly Czech authority within its own boundaries was challenged. A person must now look at the international scene. Hitler’s expansion program brought the Austrian Anschlus. At the same time the other European nations wanted to avoid another great war. For this reason, France did not honor its alliance with Czechoslovakia when Hitler demanded the Sudeten territory. Instead, France and Britain suggested compliance. The Czechoslovakian people were indignant, but nonetheless forced to accept the Munich Agreement. This set the pattern of capitulation in which Germany promoted disintegration from the complete invasion of this central European nation. During the German occupation terror was used to subjugate the citizens of Czechoslovakia. Nonetheless, the Czechs resisted the best they could. During this time there was a government vacuum which the communist party used to influence people who felt dislocated during WWII.

 

The communist cause was facilitated by the liberation the Red Army brought. With the closure of the military war (WWII) in Europe, one sees the opening of an ideological one. The Soviet Union exerted its influence on countries it liberated. Czechoslovakia saw massive nationalization. The USSR also used the menace of its army to influence elections. By 1947 the communist undermined all other government groups by a coup which would solidify its power. Thus, the country was set on a course to imitate the Soviet example. Along with collectivization, the USSR brought purges (49-57) against anyone who they felt would undermine its power in Czechoslovakia. The worry was that Titoism would spread. This had to be prevented at all cost! To the dismay of the Kremlin, the Czech people did not wish to be subjects of manipulation.
In 1953 the world saw the first anti-government manipulations in Czechoslovakia. Along with discontent inside the Kremlin itself. Kruschov, the leader of the USSR, gave a "Secrete Speech" denouncing some of Stalin’s hardline purge practices. Kruschov wanted to work toward rehabilitation of communism. In lieu of what has been discussed above, one can foresee great discontent in Czechoslovakia. The nation was not prospering and instead of bringing nirvana, communism brought repression. The workers felt absolutely no incentive to work, when in the end they gained nothing but hardship. There was confusion at the top, worker absenteeism and worker job-hopping seriously slowed down industry labor productivity.

 

Dislocation and resentment reached its height in 1963. The economy was in a serious crisis, the party’s structure was collapsing, and intellectuals were rebelling. Permissiveness was allowed in the culture field and Cisar began reforms in the education system which deviated from the Soviet model. The above "reforms" set the ideological profile for what is referred to as the Prague Spring. One important factor in reform is to realize that economic reform cannot be separated from political reform. On January 1, 1967 the economic model designed by Ota Sik was initiated. The success of this model would depend on the creation of a market economy, supply and demand would be spontaneous, realistic salaries and prices, decentralization of industry, incentives, and a formation of international convertibility for the Czech crown. Modernization and the import of Western technology and equipment would enable Czechoslovakia to be a competitive international force. A person can deduce that these ideas are radical in the face of communism and would encounter opposition. Such as the case amongst conservatives in the Czech government and the Soviet Union. These reforms were not a smooth process, but were nonetheless attempted. 
At this point one must shift one’s attention to Soviet politics. In this time frame one finds neo-Stalinist Brezhnav as the head of the USSR. Brezhnav was greatly concerned over the deterioration of Soviet style communism in Eastern Europe and advocated tighter controls. He began to discuss the Czech problems in great detail with the central committee in the Kremlin as well as with other Warsaw Pact nations. Brezhnav was not going to concede any reforms which would soil the Soviet Socialism ideology and bring insubordination from other Eastern European countries. The spring of 1968, known as the Prague Spring, brought the rebirth of hope into a people who had been demoralized by the depression, WWII, and strong Stalinist measure. The democratic tendencies suppressed by the historical events of the last 30 years could no longer be denied. These rejuvenation is personified by the reforms instigated by President Svoboda and party leader Dubcek. Socialism with a "human face" was the goal. Unfortunately the aspirations of the government and its citizens was short lived as the Soviet Union decided Czech reforms were of non-socialist tendencies, and Soviet control was essential.

 

With the support of the other Warsaw Pact countries, the Red Army marched onto Czechoslovakian soil in August 20, 1968. The military expedition was a success, but politically a failure. During the Prague Spring progressive ideal became deeply rooted within the mind of the Czech nation. The Czech people refused to go without a fight. The invasion of 1938 could not be forgotten and people did not want it to repeat. Compliance was not an option. This can be seen in the leadership’s survival during the first crucial hours. Most importantly, the people supported the government through radio stations. The radio stations’ support of the government along with its broadcast undermined the credibility of the Soviets and by not allowing them to communicate with the country. This massive resistance also incorporate large riots. The voices of freedom would not be silenced. To the great dismay of the nation, superior might forced capitulation, censorship, and the enforcement of Soviet type socialism. 
Although, the USSR won militarily it failed miserably politically. The spirit of Prague remained and the Soviets knew it. The people’s mind could not be manipulated into believing in the righteousness of Soviet Socialism. The new Czech government was not based on legitimacy through trust and support of its people, but on military suppression. What is significant is that the world (including the other Soviet protectorates) knew this. A government based on subversion and totalitarians could not be respected nor supported. In this sense the invasion of ‘68 was a failure because the people of Czechoslovakia could not be fooled. They knew that Soviet Socialism was not the best way of life. Force authority is illegitimate and unreal.

 

References
  1. "Capitulation", "Resistance" and the Framework of "Normalization": the August 1968 Invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak Response". Eidlin. 1981

  2. "Czech Sin WWII". Tad Szulc. 1971

  3. "A History of the Czech Rep". Mamatey and Luza. Princeton University Press. 1973

  4. "Prague Spring". Zeman. 1969

 

 

 

 

 

 

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