[ Background | Spring 68 | Main | Aftermath ]
[ Intervention Introduction | Intervention Summary ]
Two days before the beginning of operation "Danube", the leaders of five Warsaw-Pact countries met in Moscow. Brezhnev informed Ulbricht, Gomulka, Kádár and Zhivkov about the decision made by the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) to use military force.
The decision was made partly out of fear, as their Czechoslovak sympathizers would lose their important positions at the upcoming Extraordinary Congresses of the Slovak Communist Party and of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. These sympathizers, led by Vasil Bilak, had written a letter to Brezhnev where they requested military assistance that would put a stop to the approaching counterrevolution. The letter was signed by Vasil Bilak, Drahomir Kolder, Alois Indra, Oldrich Svestka and Antonin Kapek and was, without the knowledge of the Czechoslovak leader, handed over to the Soviet leader during the Bratislava conference on August 3, 1968.
Brezhnev informed the leaders about the letter and suggested that the letter be used as a justification for the upcoming military intervention. And so an editorial was published on August 22 in Pravda justifying the invasion. Phrases like "request" of "assistance through military force" were used. Circumstances suggest that Brezhnev based his decision of invading on reports he had received from János Kádár and Stepan Chervonenko.
The first-mentioned had insisted on a meeting with Alexander Dubcek where the
Bratislava conference was discussed. As Dubcek told the Hungarian leader that
his opinion was that the conference had created more unity between the countries,
Kádár reminded him that the parties had not changed. And indeed they had not.
Just a couple of hours after the CPSU decision to carry out the invasion, a
secret meeting took place between the Czechoslovak President, Ludvík Svoboda,
and the Soviet Ambassador in Prague, Stepan Chervonenko. The Ambassador was
straightforward about the situation and let Svoboda understand that there will
be a military intervention. When Svoboda finally understood the gravity of the
situation, he cried out:
"No! Dubcek is not deceiving the CPSU! He is not deceiving the USSR! He's an honest man and a friend of the USSR; you must have faith in him! Have faith in us!"
Navratil, Jaromir. "The Prague Spring 1968". Hungary: Central European Press, 1988, pp. 391.
The Russians met the same negative response from the Czechoslovak people and the rest of the world as they together with the GDR, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria invaded Czechoslovakia on the night of 20 to 21 August 1968. About a quarter of a million soldiers participated in operation "Danube", which became the biggest armed action in Europe after World War II.
Early in the morning of August 21, transport planes started landing in Prague,
at the Ruzyne Airport. Tanks were driven into Prague and soldiers were marching
on the streets. The most direct and obvious measure taken by the troops was
the arresting and the abduction of Dubcek, Smrkovsky, Cernik, Kriegel, Spacek
The plan was that the Soviet sympathizers holding leading positions with the CPCz would form a new government with the help of President Svoboda. The new government would be headed by Alois Indra. He would the consent to the international help and deal with the right-wing forces in the country. The now arrested leaders would be convicted for terrible political deeds and sentenced to prison.
They would take over important institutions as newspapers, television and radio stations and let reliable workers manage them. But the intervention-forces met with a setback from the beginning. When Dubcek and the rest of the members of the Presidium had found out about the intervention they prepared a draft for a statement, which stated that the occupation was not supported by a majority in the Party Presidium and that it was even an unlawful act.
The statement was voted upon and as only 4 members of 11 voted against, the
statement was published in Rude pravo and broadcasted on radio. The statement
inspired other institutions in the country to issue their own statements condemning
What the invading forces had not counted with was President Svoboda's reaction, as he refused participate and to cooperate in appointing a new government. But when the Soviet Ambassador Chervonenko came to Svoboda with a list of names on ministers who he had to install in the new government, Svoboda stubbornly refused to remove the Cernik-government. The situation newly arisen was one the Kremlin had not counted on. The Kremlin had counted with replacing the government with legal methods. But with Svoboda's unexpected refusal the chance of doing so had disappeared. When a new and revised list was brought to Svoboda's in the afternoon he once again refused this time he delivered his own demands.
Svoboda demanded the release of the Czechoslovak political leaders arrested during the night of the invasion. Furthermore he demanded a meeting with the Soviet leaders. These two demands created a respite that was of great importance for the resistance movement. The psychological importance was also of great importance as a new government could not be established.
Furthermore had the Czechoslovak side won their first victory - negotiations
with the Soviet leaders were about to begin.
Many other officials reacted as their President, refusing to cooperate. The rest of the Czechoslovak people they felt the same hatred against the foreign troops that had invaded their country and to force them to obey their orders.
The non-violent resistance from the people was extensive and continuous. Road signs, house numbers, telephone books from public telephones disappeared. Names of towns and villages were changed into "Dubcekovo" (belonging to Dubcek) or made unreadable. Other signs were turned, moved or removed. Massive demonstrations took place wherever the soldiers were. The streets in the big cities were filled with posters, placards and graffiti that showed the support Dubcek had and made fun of the troops and their leaders, demanding their withdrawal. Gatherings were organized where Smetanas (My country) was sung.
The inhabitants of one village occupied a bridge by forming a human chain around it. They withheld the troops for seven hours.
One of the most important measures of resistance was the continuous broadcasting from radio stations all over the country. The intervention troops had not counted on resistance from this direction and did not have access to the necessary technical equipment to silence them.
The four Czechoslovak ministers, among other Ota Sik and Jiri Hajek, that were
on vacation in Yugoslavia at the time of the intervention, gathered. They negotiated
with the Yugoslav government and Tito left directly for Romania for negotiations
with Ceausescu. Hajek then left for New York with the knowledge and approval
of the Czechoslovak government. There he defended the Czechoslovak interest
in the Security Council. The official Czechoslovak standpoint was that no intervention
from other countries was necessary. Still, the USSR demanded that the Czechoslovaks
requested the point at issue removed from the agenda. The request was granted
on August 27, 1968.
The radio stations started to broadcast the government's resolutions and utterances at approximately 01.50 a.m. on the 22nd August 1968. Some of the main transmitters had been destroyed or sabotaged by Soviet special units. Even though the radio was able to broadcast their message.
The listeners were exhorted to spread the message of invasion to their friends, family and relatives. The radio also repeated time after time that it was an invasion without the knowledge of the government and that the mass media totally supported the current Czechoslovak government.
During the 22nd August speeches, resolutions, manifestos, reports and roll calls from different parts of the occupied country were broadcasted. One important exhortation was to get the people to avoid violent confrontations with the occupying soldiers. The people should not participate in any active resistance.
At 08.00 a.m. the occupation of the Radio Tower in Prague started. Students and other Prague citizens determined to hold the Radio Tower as long as possible built barricades and fortified the blocs around the tower. They put up barricades of trolleys, buses, trucks and paving stones and used Molotov cocktails to stop the tanks. The invading Soviet Troops also acquired new knowledge on urban warfare. People soon discovered that a tank's fuel supply is in the back in a large cistern. If the cistern was broken one could easily ignite the fuel in it and thus making the tank useless. The students were able to hold the station for over three hours until 11.00 a.m.
As the pirate radio stations were tracked down and destroyed by the Soviet
troops new ones were set up on provisory places as schools, theaters, private
apartments, arenas etc. Mobile transmitters were put up and used on trucks that
were riving through the country and through the cities. Tele-communication firms,
the postal service and radio firms cooperated and managed to uphold the radio-broadcasts
although the current situation.
At the time of the invasion the newspapers where about to be printed and the news of the invasion had only reached a few of the major newspaper. One of the newspapers that the invasion news had reached was Obrana Lidu. They published this article on the 21st August. It states that it is an unlawful intervention not known about at the president office or in the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
Special editions were made during the morning and printed in private printing houses and apartments. The three newspapers Rude pravo, Mlada fronta and Prace had special editions printed in the morning. Furthermore did the people create pamphlets, brochures that were handed out and posters that were put up on the house walls.
At noon on the 22nd August Radio Brno transmitted this utterance on how people
should behave towards the hostile troops:
1. One should participate in passive resistance - no violent behavior against
2. One should not cooperate with the hostile forces.
3. Distribute propaganda among the invading troops.
4. If one is threatened pretend to not understand the Russian language.
5. If one is forced to cooperate in one way or the other pretend and act clumsy and stupid.
6. Support the resistance organizations and the free press and radio.
7. Work against the collaborator's propaganda.
8. Support and protect our rightful leaders.
9. Reveal collaborators and traitors.
The News Agency CTK continued with their work under the name Prague Press after their local offices had been shut down by the invading troops. Maintaining the press was a though task as many journalists had been arrested and the lack of printing houses made the publishing difficult. The published newspapers were now in smaller editions and with a changed layout. Most of the time the newspapers were published only on one to two pages. The printing techniques and the material used were often old as the new ones were besieged by the Russians. The people used presses from the 19th century to make leaflets and to print newspapers. The newspapers were handed out for free by volunteers in taxis, trucks, and private vehicles and by students and other youth who handed them out by foot.
Volunteers also produced leaflets and posters and there was a famous poster
on one wall in Prague that said: "A country that denies another country's freedom
does not deserve to be a free country itself". It is said that when two soldiers
saw this poster and they were about to tear it down one of the two soldiers
stopped the other and exclaimed something like: "Stop, he is one of ours!" because
he had realized that it had been written by Karl Marx.
The four Czechoslovak ministers, among others Ota Sik and Jiri Hajek, that were on vacation in Yugoslavia at the time of the intervention, gathered. They negotiated with the Yugoslav government and Tito left directly for Romania for negotiations with Ceausescu. Hajek then left for New York with the knowledge and approval of the Czechoslovak government. There he defended the Czechoslovak interest in the Security Council. The official Czechoslovak standpoint was that no intervention from other countries was necessary. Still, the USSR demanded that the Czechoslovaks requested the point at issue removed from the agenda. The request was granted on August 27, 1968.
The Prague City Committee of the CPCz had taken an initiative for an Extraordinary Party Congress on August 22. The delegates had been called up through Czechoslovak broadcasting stations and the congress took place at the CKD factory in Prague. The conference was opened in the presence of 935 members out of the total 1543 chosen delegates. During the discussions 265 more delegates came to participate at the conference reaching the total amount of 1200 delegates despite the fact that the city was besieged. Many of the Slovak delegates were absent as well as the ones from party organizations. At first it was generally assumed that they had been prevented coming by the intervention troops but the truth was that they had been absent by order from Husak. Husak did not consider the upcoming Congress serious and wanted to keep the Slovak party members in Bratislava for the Extraordinary Congresses of the Slovak Communist Party on the 26th August.
As the Congress begun, proclaimed to be the Extraordinary 14th Party, the intervention was declared to be an illegal act and a violation of the country's sovereignty. The motivation for the intrusion on Czechoslovak territory, the alleged invitation, was officially stated to be a lie. The political decisions made by the Party Secretary and the Action Program was defended. As a natural result of these statements the withdrawal and the liberation of the arrested leaders was demanded and for this reason the Czechoslovak people were called on to hold a general strike the following day.
The delegates elected a new Central Committee, consisting of Dubcek's followers.
Alexander Dubcek was elected to the post of First Secretary and during his absence
Vanek Silhan filled the position. There is no doubt that the Extraordinary 14th
Congress became the main reason for the Soviet decision of solving the Czechoslovak
political problems through negotiations. It had been a serious setback. Meanwhile,
the factory premises became the residence of the party from where the radio
stations were directed. After the Congress, a delegation was sent to Bratislava
to avoid any misunderstandings between the Czechs and the Slovaks. This delegation
also represented the Central Committee at the Extraordinary Congresses of the
Slovak Communist Party.
Accompanied by the Minister of Defense, Dzur, Prime Minister Husak and Kucera, Svoboda left for negotiations with Soviet. The President also took Bilak, Indra and Piller with him at the express request of the Kremlin. When they arrived at the destination, they were greeted warmly as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Svoboda demanded that the arrested leaders would be brought to the negotiations and so Dubcek, Smrkovsky, Cernik, Kriegel, Spacek and Simon were brought to the Kremlin on the 23rd August. The same day the rest of the party leaders came to Moscow by order from the Kremlin. Even before the rest of the party leaders came to Moscow, negotiations had started. Dubcek had talked to Brehnev but refused to initiate negotiations or even participate at the meetings because he did not have any information on the situation at home. He also said: "I think that what happened - the use of troops - was the greatest political mistake and one that will have tragic consequences." Navratil, Jaromir. "The Prague Spring 1968". Hungary: Central European Press, 1988, pp. 468. Read Alexander Dubcek´s Recollections of the Moscow Negotiations and the Moscow Protocol.
At these meetings the leaders of the Soviet demanded that the Czechoslovak leaders sign a protocol. The original Russian version of the protocol was rejected by the Czechoslovak leaders and with some difficulty accepted as a starting point for the negotiations. It was made clear to the Czechoslovaks sitting at the table that none of them would leave Moscow without an approved signed protocol.
Fatal to the outcome of these negotiations was the attitude of President Svoboda. As a man with military background and his Soviet history he was not used to political negotiations and could not permit a break in the relations between the USSR and Czechoslovakia. As soon as he was promised that the leaders of Czechoslovakia would be released and allowed to resume their political positions he was ready to sign the protocol and among other things declare the 14th Party Congress invalid.
On the meeting that took place on the 26th August, Dubcek, who had suffered a heart attack and not attended any meetings for three days, spoke in very harsh terms about the military interference. He declared that he considered the military intervention to be a serious mistake and that it had caused damage on the party and the communist movement internationally. Brezhnev and the rest of the Soviet leaders left the room in protest. Read Alexander Dubcek´s Recollections of the Moscow Negotiations and the Moscow Protocol. The talks were resumed in the evening and both Brezhnev and Kosygin answered back on Dubcek's speech.
Josef Smrkovsky said in an interview that at these meetings, Boris Ponomarjev
expresses the following: "If you do not sign straight away, you will do so in
a week's time. And if you do not sign in a week's time, you will do so in two
week's time, and if not in two week's time, you will sign in a month's time."
Translated by: Beatrice Derasadurian from Zdenek Hejzlar: "Prag i skuggan av Moskva". Stockholm: Coeckelberghs, 1976, pp. 165-166.
The protocol was signed by all parts involved with the exception of Kriegel
who had refused by principle to participate in any way. It had been made clear
to the Czechoslovak leaders that without a signed protocol the five "fraternal"
countries would establish a military dictatorship in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet
delegation had attained their goals. The original Soviet document contained
11 pages. The Czechoslovak leaders agreed among other things to the following:
- to protect and strengthen the socialism in Czechoslovakia.
- to carry out the agreements made in Bratislava.
- to declare the 14th party Congress and its resolutions invalid.
- to remove persons from their posts within the party that are not contributing to the strengthening of the ideals of the party.
- to take measures against the free press and certain organizations, controlling them by law.
- to hold talks with the Soviet Union in the near future.
- to keep the meetings secret.
- to reject a any examination of the situation in Czechoslovakia by the UN Security Council.
On August 27, 1968, the leaders of Czechoslovakia were allowed to leave the Soviet Union. The Soviets did not want to let Kriegel return home with the others but when all leaders refused to go anywhere without him, Kriegel was brought to the airplane at the last minute.