history Eastern_Europe Czecho-Slovakia Slovakia   






by Alexandre Teles Carreira



Alexander Dubcek is a name easy to be found in books of Czechoslovak history. For some Dubcek was a celebrity and a symbol of the "Prague Spring" revolution of 1968, but others blamed him for being one of the leaders of communist movement whose consequences had Czechs and Slovaks to bear for more than 20 years(1).

Alexander Dubcek was the son of U.S. emigrants who had lived in Chicago in the beginning of the century. His father Stefan Dubcek and his mother Pavlina, both from Slovakia, had met and married in the United States. Stefan Dubcek worked as a cabinet maker by day and as a worker in Eugene V. Debs' Socialist Party in his spare time. During the World War I Stefan Dubcek was arrested and had to spend fourteen months in an internment camp in Texas because he refused to be drafted(2). A few months before Dubcek's birth, his parents returned to Slovakia where Alexander was born in November 27, 1921 (3). Alexander Dubcek's father was one of the founders of the Czechoslovak Communist party. In 1925 the Dubcek family moved to Kirghizia, Soviet Union, where Stefan Dubcek was one of the founders of an industrial cooperative. Alexander Dubcek completed his primary and secondary education in the Soviet Union where he also worked as a machine locksmith and engine fitter. The Dubcek family returned to Slovakia in 1938 escaping from the Stalinist purges(2).


   In 1939 , Alexander Dubcek joined the Communist party, which at that time was outlawed. Alexander also began to work as an apprentice at the Skoda armament factory at Dubnica and was very active in anti-Nazi underground activities. In the winter of 1944-45 he fought in the Slovak uprising against the Germans, during which he was twice wounded and his brother Julius was killed (2). When the war was over, Alexander Dubcek worked in a yeast factory in the Slovak town of Trencin where he became the secretary of the district committee of the Communist party.

This was the first of a series of important jobs that Dubcek got during his political carrier. In 1951 he became a member of the central committee of the Slovak Communist Party. During these year he also studied law at Komensky University in Bratislava. For a brief period of time he was also the chief secretary of the Communist party regional committee at Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia. In 1951 he was elected deputy of the National assembly, a job that he held until 1955 and to which he was reelected in 1960. In 1955 Alexander Dubcek was sent by the Communist party to study in the Soviet Union and he obtained a doctorate in political science in 1958(2).


When Dubcek returned from the Soviet Union he continued to rise up ranks of the Slovak and Czechoslovak communist party. In 1962 Dubcek became a member of the ten-men Presidium-or ruling body- of the Central committee of the Communist party of Czechoslovakia, hence becoming one of the highest ranking Slovak in the Communist party of Czechoslovakia. In 1963 he also became the top figure of the Slovak Communist party. Important to note is the fact that Alexander Dubcek reached the top positions favoring the official Soviet policy and without being involved in the internal conflicts of the party, hence avoiding the political purges conducted by the party leader Antonin Novotny(2). Meanwhile, a movement for political and economic change started to develop in Czechoslovakia. The negative performance of the economy in the early 1960s and the Slovak nationalism are believed to be important factors in the calls for change. In 1967 under enormous pressure for change the Communist party initiated a package of reforms to decentralize the economy (4). However, this reforms fell short of what the economic reformers, led by professor Ota Sik, thought necessary. Alexander Dubcek gradually started to identify himself with liberal writers, philosophers, movie makers, and economists who favored the reforms. Being the leader of the Slovak Communist party, Dubcek had expressed great concern for the neglect of the Slovak economy and started to advocate economic reforms. Dubcek also demanded the rehabilitation of Slovak Communists, victims of the purges of the Stalinist period, and demanded that the Slovak National uprising of 1944-45 be recognized as "progressive" rather than " bourgeois nationalist" (2).


    Within the Communist party, the discontent of the population was expressed by the calls for the removal of the conservative leader Antonin Novotny from the position of first secretary. On January 5, 1968, Alexander Dubcek replaced Novotny assuming the highest position in the party although Novotny retained the ceremonial post of national President(2). Alexander Dubcek, elected by unanimous vote of the 144 member Central Committee of the Communist party, was chosen for being considered a moderate political figure accepted by both conservatives and reformers who equally opposed Novotny(4). After his ascent to power Dubcek supported a package of reforms that changed the course of the Czechoslovak history. These reforms magnified the calls for removal of conservatives from power and hastened the replacement of president Novotny by general Svoboda in March of 1968(4). Dubcek reforms also abolished censorship, rehabilitated the victims of the purges of 1950's, and regularized relations between the government and the churches(5). Nothing like these reforms had happened since the unsuccessful uprisings in Poland and Hungary in the 1950s. These reforms signified the willingness of the people of Czechoslovakia to pursue a more independent and democratic path to social and economic development, and also signified a deviation from the more orthodox Soviet communist model.

   These reforms of the "Prague Spring" were naturally opposed by the other communist countries which denounced Dubcek's behavior as unacceptable. It was reported that Alexander Dubcek declared the position of the other communist countries an interference in the internal affairs of his country. In July 1968 Dubcek met with Brezhnev, the president of the Soviet Union, who clearly told Dubcek that the reforms in Czechoslovakia should be stopped. Even though Dubcek allegedly made some concessions to Brezhnev, he resisted Brezhnev insistence that the reforms should be stopped(3).


On August 21, troops of the Warsaw pact invaded Czechoslovakia because it had become clear that Mr. Dubcek was not backing down from the liberal reforms. Dubcek was arrested and taken to Moscow. In another meeting with Brezhnev, Dubcek was reminded that since the end of the W.W.II Czechoslovakia had been a part of the Soviet security zone, and that the Soviet Union had no intention of giving it up. Alexander Dubcek disagreed with this position and was brave enough to tell him so(6). After the invasion Dubcek was expelled from the party and sent to Turkey as an ambassador. In 1970 he was banished to internal exile for 18 years, but in 1989 with the advent of political reforms Dubcek was rehabilitated and was elected the speaker of the parliament. Alexander Dubcek died in November 7, 1992 victim of an automobile accident, when it was almost certain that Czechoslovakia was going to be separated into two different countries. Even though he was opposed to the breakup of Czechoslovakia, he was mentioned as a possible candidate for presidency of an independent Slovak Republic(3).

The role of Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovak history is still considered controversial. After all he was a communist. But it is also true that the Velvet Revolution of 1989 saw the Prague Spring of Mr. Dubcek as a proud symbol of free speech, and some scholars of today are clear about giving credit to the Prague Spring as being the source of inspiration to the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev and his associates in the former Soviet Union(4).



1) Tagliabue, John. "Prague Turns on Those Who Brought the 'Spring'" The New York Times, 24 Feb. 1992: A9

2) "Alexander Dubcek." Current Biography Yearbook. 1968 ed.

3) Severo, Richard. " Alexander Dubcek, 70, Dies in Prague."The New York Times, 8 Nov. 1992: 56

4) Pravda, Alex. " Prague Spring." The Oxford Companion to politics of the World. ed. 1993.

5) Swain, Geoffrey, and Nigel Swain. Eastern Europe Since 1945. New York: St. Martin's Press,1993.

6) Meyer, Karl. Rev. of Hope Dies Last, by Jiri Hochman. New York times (1993): 11-12.



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