The return of the Czechoslovak leaders was considered by their society to be a great victory. They had to embark on the fulfilment of the Moscow protocol in order to avoid further interference from the USSR. At first the situation for Dubcek's supporters was unchanged. The political consequences had no direct influence upon them. On the 31st August, the Central Committee gathered at a meeting together with delegates from the Vysocany Congress representing all districts in the country. Dubcek explained the situation and said that he hoped that everything would fine as long as they fulfilled their obligations. Then they could resume the reform program they had started on. In the meantime order and lawfulness was demanded, a temporary censorship, a prohibition of all other organisation than those connected to the communist party and resolute actions to deal with the economical problems.
On the 1st September 1968, the Czechoslovak Central Committee accepted unanimously
a resolution that approved the actions of the Party Presidium at the negotiations
in Moscow and agreed with Dubcek and the rest of the party leadership on their
standpoint and their line of action during those critical days. On the same
CPCz Central Committee meeting a decision was made to postpone the Extraordinary
14th Party Congress. The Presidium was authorised to do everything in their
power to get the military troops out of the country.
The response from Kremlin to the party measures taken could be seen in the newspaper Pravda a couple of days later. It claimed that 40 000 counterrevolutionaries had been dealt with. This was the first article in a campaign designed to show the Soviet idea of normalization and to create disbelief against Alexander Dubcek. In Bratislava Husak persuaded the leaders of the Communist Party of Slovakia that the Moscow Protocol had to be accepted. By order from Kremlin he condemned the Extraordinary 14th Party Congress because all to many Slovakian delegates had not been able to attend the congress. He also stated untruthfully that he and the Slovakian leadership had not been informed about the preparations for the congress. The statement gave reason for mistrust from the Czech side. Husak was elected to the post of First Party Secretary of the Communist Party of Slovakia.
The Soviet Union published what they understood of the term "normalization" on the 6th September. This coincidentally happened the same day that a Soviet delegation, lead by V. Kuznetsov, arrived in Prague with the mission of hastening the fulfilment of the Moscow Protocol. They sent all useful information about the politicians, their opinions and the events taking place in the occupied country to Kremlin. The inside information made it easy for the Soviets to determine the proper countermeasures and to assure themselves of choosing a strategy that would end the era of "counterrevolutionism". The presence of military troops on Czechoslovak soil made it hard for the Czechoslovaks to negotiate about the Soviet demands. It put the necessary pressure on Dubcek and his followers to steer the normalization process in the right direction. It also made it more difficult for them to reject the propositions made by "realists" who wanted a full stop of the reforms.
Under the following period of time the reconstructed party leadership tried to conduct a policy that would improve the relations with the Soviet Union and still preserve some results of the reform policy. The leading five (Oldrich Cernik, Alexander Dubcek, Ludvik Svoboda, Gustav Husak and Josef Smrkovsky) did their outmost to convince the general public that the compromises made in Moscow were necessary and that the reform policy would be resumed. They were conscious about the calming impact their unity had on the public and they did not neglect any opportunity to appear publicly together
Alexander Dubcek appeared on TV in September, explaining how he interpreted
the "process of normalization". According to him the reform policy could be
made possible with the acceptance of the Soviets by the fulfilment of the Moscow
Protocol. He also expressed hope that the military troops would soon return
to their home countries.
On the 3rd October, Dubcek, Cernik and Husak went to the USSR for negotiations with Brezhnev. Brezhnev's strategy was to damage the confidence that the Czechoslovak people had for Dubcek by making him seem politically powerless. Brezhnev declared the Czechoslovak view on the "process of normalization" as totally unacceptable and stated that even Novotny's regime was liberal. He criticised the Action Program and some of the party members.
Brezhnev also claimed at the meeting that the Czechoslovaks were far too ungrateful for the help the Soviet Union and the other socialistic countries had provided in their struggle against counter-revolutionism. He never allowed an argumentation on the matters at the meeting. Brezhnev did not agree to the withdrawal of his troops and furthermore forced the Czechoslovak leaders to approve a legalisation of the troop's lingering on Czechoslovak soil. Gustav Husak summoned the situation at the meeting saying upon his return home: "We came, we listened, we lost".
As the legalisation was discussed in parliament few members opposed openly to it and some objected to it by not attending the voting. With approximately 230 votes in favour and only 4 votes against the "treaty on the conditions for the temporary stationing on Soviet troops on CSSR territory" was signed on October 16, 1068, by Prime Ministers A. Kosygin and O. Cernik. The forced stationing of the foreign troops evaporated the hope that the troops would leave when the situation "normalised". With this hope the leaders had sustained the population.
The political situation was pressed. The leaders wanted to give the Czechs
and Slovaks hope by allowing some liberties and still keeping the Soviets and
Bilak's group satisfied by fulfilling the agreements. A campaign was at the
same time launched against Dubcek and Smrkovsky, spreading its propaganda around
the country. Dubcek did nothing as the people behind the campaign probably had
Soviet support. The concessions made to Kremlin dominated the politics to the
annoyance of the public. The political language was changing, using fewer references
to the Action Program. Instead, the speeches expressed the importance of the
restoration of order and the fight against anti-socialist forces.
In November 1968 two organizational decisions were taken that would have grave consequences for Dubcek. An 8-member Executive Committee of the Party Presidium was created, consisting of Cernik, Dubcek, Erban, Husak, Sadovsky, Smrkovsky, Svoboda and Strougal. Only Dubcek and Smrkovsky were representative of the reform policies. The second decision was that of the creation of a new Party body, which was led by Lubomir Strougal. All Czech party organizations were controlled by the new Party body and it was granted powers similar to those of the Communist Party of Slovakia. Lubomir Strougal's authority in Moravia and Bohemia was matched by that of Gustav Husak in Slovakia. With these two new administrative changes, Dubcek own authority was greatly reduced.
Dubcek and Smrkovsky were no longer in control of the party but in the mercy of the members of the Executive Committee of the Party Presidium. Further more, Dubcek had to cooperate with his political enemies Strougal and Husak.
In December 1968, a conflict concerning Smrkovsky arose. Husak demanded in the name of the Communist Party of Slovakia that the post of chairman be held by a Slovak, dividing the four most important functions equally between the Czechs and the Slovaks. At the time the Czechs held the functions of President (Ludvik Svoboda), Prime Minister (Oldrich Cernik) and Chairman of Parliament (Josef Smrkovsky). The Slovaks had Dubcek in the post as First Party Secretary.
Millions of people in the country aligned themselves in Smrkovsky's defence. Their attempts to help Smrkovsky through petition written in the newspapers and threats of strike from unions did not help. Husak and Sadovsky threatened to leave the Executive Committee if their demands were not met.
The Kremlin clearly showed their support for Husak. A delegation was sent on
December 27, headed by Party Secretary Katushev. Smrkovsky was put under a lot
of pressure and resigned some days later. He tried to calm the public in speech
broadcasted on radio and TV. The resignation of Smrkovsky had strong psychological
effects on the general public. It was a great disappointment to them to see
the division of that strong party leadership that had bravely started the Prague
Spring. This was the background to the tragedy that took place on Wencelas Square
on January 16, the day when the young student named Jan Palach committed suicide
by combustion. His action was meant as a protest against the demolitions of
the reforms made in the spring. Mass demonstrations broke out. Jan Palach had
left a short farewell letter in which he asked for two things: the prohibition
of the paper Zpravy and the abolition of censorship. National mourning turned
the 25th January, the day of the funeral of Jan Palach, into a day that never
will be forgotten in Czechoslovak history.
The Soviets complained about the disturbance in the country and the mass demonstrations were their proof of the existence of counter-revolutionism. They were waiting for a chance to strip Dubcek of the power he had. The reasons were many. Dubcek was going to submit a proposal about a partial legalisation of companies and then resume the economical reforms. He was also going to propose a new date for a Party Congress and a new parliament election. Dubcek was furthermore planning to present a moderated version of the report of the Piller-commission who had investigated the political and legal responsibilities of the purges in the 1950s.
But Dubcek could not be degraded without a legitimate reason because he still had many followers. This Soviet intervention of killing Dubcek politically was expected on the May Day 1969, as there were probable reasons to believe that anti-Soviet demonstrations would break out.
An opportunity long awaited by the Soviets arose late March 1969 when the Soviet ice-hockey team lost playing against the Czechoslovaks in the world championship in Stockholm. This happened on two occasions, namely on March 21 and 27. The celebrations of the victories later transformed into anti-Soviet demonstrations, giving the Soviets a reason to intervene. Four days after the second victory, without a preceding notification, Marshal Andrei Gretjko and deputy Foreign Minister A. Semenov, landed in Prague. They were met by some Czechoslovak pro-Soviet generals. The Soviet delegation waited until April 2 with a request to see Svoboda, Dubcek and Cernik. As the Soviets considered the situation in Czechoslovakia worse than at the time of the intervention the Czechoslovak representatives at the meeting received an ultimatum: either would the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia take such steps to suppress further turmoil in the country or, if they were unable, to request help from the Soviet Union. If the ultimatum were to be ignored, the Soviet Union would accomplish the demands themselves, without Czechoslovak participation.
The ultimatum was discussed in the Party Presidium the same day and was declared
unacceptable. During the next days negotiations took place between the Soviet
delegates, Strougal and Husak. The result was presented at the next Party Presidium
meeting on the 8th April. The resignation of Alexander Dubcek was demanded.
The Executive Committee of the Party Presidium announced a couple of days later
that Dubcek had resigned. The Soviet delegates went home, as Dubcek resignation
was satisfactory. They knew that the reform policies would die out or at least
be silenced and the hope of liberty for the followers of Dubcek would be evaporated.
Dubcek was later sent to Ankara as Ambassador and replaced by Gustav Husak on
the post of First Party Secretary. The party started to concentrate on defeating
the anti-socialism forces and political agitation.
The political atmosphere changed when newspapers were banned and editors in chief were fired. The new chief in charge of information and press let there be no doubt that he was going to use the censorship. The reversal of the reform politicises was completed. 19 members of the Central Committee were expelled, some of them because they insisted on their opinions. It became legal for all party organisations to replace any member without a voting. This led to the deprival of Dubcek's Central Committee membership and one month later he was relieved from his function in parliament.
The purges within the party continued until June 1970. Almost half of the Central Committee members were expelled and about 25% members of the district committees were excluded. 150 000 members of the party withdrew their membership and 100 000 people left the country. The communism spread like an epidemic throughout the country and all of its institutions. About 300 000 people lost their jobs and highly educated people were persecuted and harassed.
The consequences for Czechoslovakia were disastrous. The purges led to a stagnation of the cultural and social life in the 1970s and 1980s. The rigid policies of the Husak leadership and the public detestation towards it did the rest. Not even the greatest pessimists could have foreseen the events taking such turns.
In December 1970, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia released a document called The Lesson Drawn from the Crisis Development in the Party Society after the XIIIth Congress of the CPCz. The document accepted the Soviet version of what had happened 1968. It praised those Warsaw-Pact countries that had helped Czechoslovakia when counter-revolutionary forces were threatening the country. It even acknowledged the fact that help had been requested and a copy of a letter from 1968 was circulated. The letter had not existed at the time of the invasion in such form and certainly not with those signatures.
At the XIVth Party Congress of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, held
in May 1971, the leaders of the five intervening countries were guests of honour.
Brezhnev represented the Soviet Union followed by Gierek (Poland), Honecker
(GDR), Kadar (Hungary) and Zhivkov (Bulgaria). Brezhnev called the meeting the
"Congress of victory over the enemies of socialism" after he had been awarded
with the Czechoslovak hero's golden star.
Gustav Husak remained in power but the reversal of the economic reforms and the purges he pursued caused an economic recession, putting him in the same position as Antonin Novotny 1967. This economical failure of the country led to an inflationary spiral that caused demonstrations and protests.
In 1985, a new leader, named Mihail Gorbachev, came to power in the Soviet Union. Like Dubcek, he wanted to change the rigid policies of the party. His reform plan put emphasis on economical reforms, military reduction, the leisure of censorship and left Soviet controlled communist countries out in the cold. In December 1987, Husak resigned and was succeeded by an even more conservative leader, named Milos Jakes. One year later, on the "anniversary" of the Soviet invasion, thousands demonstrators marched in Prague. Pressured by the people and urged by the Soviets, President Jakes made some changes but nothing changed on the political front.
The political end of the communist era came on November 17, 1989. Demonstrators, mostly students and intellectuals, were brutally attacked by police. This angered other social groups in society and the number of demonstrators grew from 20 000 to 200 000. The human rights organisation, Charter 77, founded 1977 with the help of Vaclav Havel, formed a large organisation, named Civic Forum. Jakes and his group agreed to hold talks with the leader of Civic Forum, Vaclav Havel. The communists in power resigned and were replaced by other communists, which made the demonstrations continue. Three days later, a man from the past, that had been mocked and suppressed, raised his voice for the first time in 21 years. His name was Alexander Dubcek and he was the symbol of freedom and sovereignty for the Czechoslovak people. He expressed solidarity with his people that were once again fighting for their rights.
A couple of days later a coalition government seized the power, with the communists in minority. Vaclav Havel, one of the leading characters of the human rights organisation and the protests 1989, was elected President. He was the first non-communist President in 40 years.
After years of tyranny, terror and totalitarianism, the communist era had been ended without a single loss of life - so smooth that it was called "the Velvet Revolution".