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What was Prague Spring?

A map of the Soviet Union. Despite early successes, the Soviet Union ultimately put down the popular uprising in Czechoslovakia.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 April 2014
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Prague Spring was an event which occurred in 1968, when the politics of Czechoslovakia were briefly liberalized due to sweeping reforms. In response, the Soviet Union cracked down hard on the government of Czechoslovakia, ultimately invading and taking over the country in the name of “normalization.” This event is of historical interest because it marks a period of protest and dissent against the Soviet Union, much like the Solidarity movement in Poland in 1980 and the 1956 Hungarian Uprising.

The events of Prague Spring started in the early 1960s, with subtle shifts in the Czechoslovakian government which led to Alexander Dubček's rise to power as head of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia. Dubček prepared a long list of grievances against the government, and began promoting liberal policies such as freedom of the press in February 1968. The populace reacted positively, staging marches in support of the reforms and protesting Soviet influence in Czechoslovakia.

The Soviet Union grew increasingly uneasy as the political climate in Czechoslovakia began to thaw. By early summer, Party officials were concerned about losing their grip in the region, and they invoked the Warsaw Pact, staging an invasion with several allies on 21 August to put down the populist uprising in Czechoslovakia. Over 100 people were killed during the invasion, while the political leaders behind the reforms were taken to Moscow and replaced with Soviet-friendly officials who promptly reversed the reforms.

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Prague Spring was followed by a prolonged period of struggle and brutality for many citizens. Under Soviet rule, civil rights were severely curtailed, and many people had difficulty making a living, with some citizens ending up in work camps and extremely hard jobs. Many dissidents and frustrated youth fled Czechoslovakia for the West after Prague Spring, sometimes facing considerable danger in the process of their escapes. Despite the danger, there were also widespread protests within Czechoslovakia over the Soviet occupation.

During Prague Spring, numerous artists and writers became very active, recording the events of Prague Spring and inspiring the populace. Many of these people were later suppressed under the Soviets, attracting attention from supporters of the arts around the world. The marked shift from liberalized politics to occupied nation also increased disaffection with Communism among Westerners. Many members of the Communist Party in the West felt very uncomfortable with the events of Prague Spring, and they began to question their faith in Communist ideals and values.

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