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On January 6, 1968, the Czechoslovak public found out what the previous day had resulted in. As there had existed some problems within the leadership of the CPCz for some time it was decided on the meeting on January 5, 1968, that Alexander Dubcek would replace Antonin Novotny as first secretary of the CPCz CC. Many had been proposed for the function but the Czechs and the Slovaks could not agree upon any of them. As Dubcek remained the only candidate who both sides considered workable, both Czechs and Slovaks voted for him. Novotny did not dare to oppose.
Alexander Dubcek, the 46-year-old now former head of the Slovak Communist Party, did not want to accept the function of first party secretary. He was pushed into it by his party comrades who promised him all the support he would need. Follow this link to the Resolution of the CPCz CC Plenum, January 5, 1968, Electing Alexander Dubcek as First Secretary.
Antonin Novotny would only remain on the post of president, loosing his position as supreme commander of the army, chairman of the Central Committee of the National Front of the CSSR and first party secretary of the CPCz.
These developments disturbed the Soviet leadership who wanted and strived for
a reinforcement of the Czechoslovak party. The division of the party top posts
would only weaken the party. In addition, there was a certain fear of a change
in the Czechoslovak foreign policy. This would generate a desire for similar
changes and reforms in the other Eastern Bloc countries. These concerns led
to an unofficial visit by Brezhnev, Podgorny and Kosygin to Poland on the 12
January and to GDR on the 15 January. Resulting from these meetings, Brezhnev
invited Dubcek to Moscow.
Dubcek had been pushed into a position he had not chosen and not willingly accepted. He was the best compromise between the Czechs and the Slovaks. When the news had been announced publicly, fear spread among the Czechs. They did not know much about him and what they found out was the that he had help the post of the First Party Secretary of the Slovak Communist Party. The people, indoctrinated with Novotny's anti-Slovak policy, thought that Dubcek would favour the Slovak people. Another contributing reason for the sceptism Dubcek was received with was his Soviet past. For more than a decade, in the time between the two world wars, Dubcek had lived in USSR with his parents. There he attended school and returned later on to his homeland. In the 1950s he once again went to the Soviet Union to continue his education at the Higher Party School in Moscow.
After the Moscow visit on January 29, 1968, where the leaders of the Soviet
Union had reassured themselves that Dubcek posed no threat to socialism system,
Dubcek went to Otrava. There he met with the communist leader of Poland, First
Party Secretary, Wladyslaw Gomulka. Dubcek wanted to account for the changes
that were taking place in Czechoslovakia. Unofficially, he proposed a reform
bloc within the Warsaw Pact. This would include the communist parties of Yugoslavia,
Hungary, Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. The reform bloc would give the
countries political freedom and free scope. Gomulka refused the proposal.
Before leaving for Moscow, Dubcek solicited Kadar for support. Kadar, the leader
of the Hungarian Socialist Worker's Party was the only political leader who
Dubcek dared to discuss openly with about the reforms planned. Kadar was attempting
modest reforms in his country and welcomed a fellow leader who shared his views.
Among other things he told Kadar about the arguments he had had with Novotny
and about the future plans for the party. When Kadar reports about his meeting
with Dubcek to the HSWP Politburo he informs the members about the conversations
that have taken place. One member of the HSWP Politburo, Zoltan Komocsin, expresses
his opinion saying, "They have to grapple with a series of problems of a political
nature, and here we are able to offer reasonable assistance."
The only socialist countries in Eastern Europe that welcomed the changes in Czechoslovakia were Romania and Yugoslavia. Eager to improve their relations with the reform country they supported Dubcek and kept themselves up to date. In August, before the intervention, Josef Broz Tito and Nicolae Ceausescu visited Dubcek in Prague for two days each.
The media was at the time concentrating on the new occurrences and many articles
were written to generate public support for Dubcek. Two very important articles
were written by the CPCz Presidium member Josef Smrkovsky.
After Dubcek's election as First Party Secretary the party was split. Dubcek was supported by a claque of supporters and Novotny by another. This caused confusion and disorder in the lower party levels as contradictionary orders were issued. Criticisms arouse against the party and the whole system was on the verge of collapse. Such a development would have been highly dangerous for Dubcek and Czechoslovakia in view of the Soviet Union's impatience for political changes. The reforms would have turned into a revolution and although the changes would have been welcomed in the Czechoslovak society it would have posed a threat to the national security.
The initiatives for reforms slipped from Dubcek´s hands and the political revolution
which should have been directed from above laid in the hands of impatient citizens.
If Novotny's situation was unbearable in January 1968 after the supposed "Night of Novotny" his situation became aggravated when one of his closest friends fled the country. It was the 25th February when Jan Sejna decided to desert. Sejna was a top military official and as general he knew all the secrets of the Czechoslovak military.
He fled through Austria to Italy and was from there transported to his new country, the United States of America. His defection caused a big agitation in the Warsaw Pact as they counted on that the general would reveal everything he knew for his new employers, the CIA.
The "Sejna affair", as it was called in the media, played a big role in the
liberation of the mass media. The journalists saw the possibilities for a big
scoop and started their investigations. They ignored the censorship and competed
for the best theories and explanations to the defection. For the first time
they mentioned the corruption in the higher echelons of the Party. As Sejna
was one of Novotny's closest friends, Novotny himself became involved. His name
was mentioned more and more frequently in negative terms in the newspapers.
When the mass media opposed to Novotny and criticized him, others dared to step forward and join in The newspapers came with accusations against Novotny and his closest Party officials.
They were told that they no longer had the public's confidence and that the people demanded their resignation. These demands came in thousands of letters, newspaper articles, interviews and resolutions.
On March 22, 1968 the event everybody had been waiting for and looking forward
to came about: the current President, Antonin Novotny, a member of the Old Guard,
resigned. With his resignation one could not oversee that new winds were about
to blow in over Czechoslovakia. The Prague Spring had for the first time really
seen its dawn.
After Antonin Novotny's resignation in March 1968 the parliament received the task to elect a successor to the President. For the first time in many years different organizations and groups were able to present their own candidates. The parliament's choice fell finally upon the World War II general Ludvík Svoboda. The Parliament saw him as the best suited man for the post as he enjoyed confidence of the Soviet Union, as he during the Second World War was the commander of the Czechoslovak forces in the Soviet Union.
Amongst the other candidates were Josef Smrkovsky and Cestimír Cisar, who were
the choices of the young people. But these two candidates would certainly not
be accepted by Moscow in the that way Svoboda was.
With the resignation of Novotny and the election where Svoboda was chosen as the successor, Novotny's staff was changed. Reformists received the vacant positions in different organizations, in the government and in the parliament.
"In the new government was Oldrich Cernik the Prime Minister, Josef Pavel,
minister of Home affairs, himself a victim of Stalinist trials. Jiri Hajek,
minister of Foreign Affairs, Miroslav Galuska, Culture and Information; Vladimír
Kadlec, Education, and Josef Boruvka, Agriculture. One of the five vice-premiers
was Ota Sik; also a progressive stamp were the vice-premiers Gustáv Husak and
Peter Colotka. Josef Smrkovsky, who was the second most celebrated leader after
Dubcek, because of his informal speeches and warm relations with the population,
became chairman of the National Assembly, and Frantisek Kriegel became the chairman
of the National Front."
Renner, H. "A History of Czechoslovakia".London;Routledege,1989, pp.54. & Political Leaders of Czechoslovakia
One new member of the Party Secretariat was Alois Indra. He and his followers had only joined the reformists in hope of getting rid of Novotny and his followers. They were in fact against Dubcek and his reform policy. They were the guardians of the Brezhnev policy in Czechoslovakia.
The situation for Dubcek and his followers changed drastically after the resignation
of Novotny, he got strengthened in the Party leadership but the situation in
the secretariat was unchanged. Instead of having Novotny's followers as opponents
he now had the coalition of Bilak-Indra-Kolder, who were at least as dangerous
as Novotny's followers, maybe even more dangerous.
The Action Program was an extraordinarily document, released by the Czechoslovak reform movement on 5 April 1968 and adopted by the Central Committee. It was published in Rudé právo 5 days later and symbolized a political culmination. The Italian communist leader Luigi Longo welcomed the political rebirth of Czechoslovakia.
The Action Program was not intended to consist of a whole party program. From the beginning, they wanted to appear before the Central Committee and the people with a few public statements. These would later be broadened and explained when the fog had cleared. This did not happen! An editorial committee wrote the Action Program just as they had done when Novotny was First Party secretary. Then the question of Slovakia's constitutional position delayed the document. The content and its openness came as a shock to the people. This was a formal declaration of freedom and a promise of future democratization with the preservation of socialistic order.
The "socialism with a human face" was the platform of the new system. This reform government was the first in Czechoslovak history trying to combine socialism and democracy, the political anti-poles. The assurances given to the political leaders of the Warsaw Pact countries concerning the Czechoslovak continuation of cooperation and the upholding of socialistic order in the country were not convincing enough. Dubcek and the Action Program were criticized by Brezhnev who could not accept the spreading of these concepts to the other communistic countries of the Eastern Bloc. Dubcek hoped that the Action Program would reveal to the socialistic communities that his reforms constituted no threat. He did not succeed in this.
On the 9th and 10th April 1968 the CPSU Central Committee met. The content of the protocol from that meeting is still secret but Brezhnev declared in a later statement the main subject of the meeting being the political situation in Czechoslovakia.
Brezhnev wrote the following day a letter, dated April 11, 1968, to Dubcek.
He states:"Judging from what your press, radio, and television are saying, and
even from the speeches by some of your leading officials - in which, incidentally,
some important and fundamental questions are interpreted differently - we get
the impression that the longer the situation lasts, the more likely it is that
internal and external enemies will be tempted to exploit this situation for
fighting their goals."
Navrátil, J. "The Prague Spring 1968" Budapest: Central European University Press, 1998, pp. 98-100
The CPCz Action Program refers to the freedom of speech and the freedom of movement and declares that legal standards will in time guarantee them. It discusses improvements of the protection of personal rights and property of citizens and promises a more liberal economic market. It sets grounds for political pluralism and tries to emphasize the fact that the Slovak people have not been forgotten.
The Action Program analyzed the inflexible solutions to social problems and concerns, the corrupt and unrightfull suppression of democratic freedoms, the misuse of the laws and power. The program illustrated the economic and social wrongdoings where it among others included the expansion of the heavy industries, the stagnation of standard living and the shortage and bad quality of products and services.
These economic shortcomings and many others had to be set right. Therefore, part of the Action Program was devoted to economic restructuring, mostly after the principle of Ota Sik. He believed that even the socialistic countries need economic freedom, autonomy and spirit of enterprise. These reforms demanded institutions within the commerce; worker's councils and trade unions. The trade unions should protect the interest of their own members.
It was obvious that Dubcek wanted to democratize and restruct certain parts of the society. He wanted to dispense the corruption that was a widespread social epidemic. The document even accentuated the necessity of political reforms. The Communist Party would adjust itself into being a guiding authority, striving to erase the class differences and to abide the democratic rules. This would give the various social organizations more liberty to act and develop themselves. The Action Program also contained the prospects of a new electoral law, a starting point for political pluralism. Even the victims of the political show-trials were mentioned together with a proposal for a rehabilitation law. A new constitution was planned, a federal form of government for Czechs and Slovaks.
Many of the Party members voted in favor of the Action Program and approved of its content. Important members of the Party were against the reforms. One example is Vasil Bilak. There were also more radical members who thought that the reforms were too modest. Their desire was a political revolution with no consideration regarding the USSR. They supported Dubcek but saw him as weak. Wide circles within the Czechoslovak people supported Dubcek and his reform government.
The Prague Spring was not a result of a bloody revolution nor was it the fruit
of idle demonstrations. The population did not play big role in it. The Spring
seemed to come to the people as fast and without resistance as the freedom had
two decades ago.
The lifes of the people and the whole society began to change, in a few months
had the censorship been lifted, from being one of the toughest in the world
to being totally suspended. The mass media could now work as their brothers
in the western countries, they could once again report on the whereabouts and
doings of their politicians, debate the current and past developments. People
could express their own opinions and not be afraid of the consequences. They
regainedtheir role as an important organ in an open society, namely the role
of controlling and investigating its leaders.
For the first time in two decades the general public had access to rightful and free information. He could take part in the current happenings and so he and the rest of the people did. The public followed the developments in their Republic with a great curiosity. And the only reason they were able to do this was thanks to the free mass media.
The publication of newspapers rose to levels never seen before, everybody got newspaper and read them. An example is that the number of distributed newspapers in January 1968 was 118,000 to be conferred with 557,000 in March the same year. This was the top amount of newspapers the printing works could make in one day.
The most important newspaper in the late 1960s was the Union of Writers' Literarny
Listy. In this newspapers many well-known authors, among them Vaclav Havel,
wrote their opinions on the reforms and the developments. Other important newspapers
during that time where: Mladá Fronta, Rude Právo, and Student.
People have speculated on how the democratization process would have evolved without the mass media. Most of us can agree on that it would most certainly look very different. The newspapers, the radio and the television informed the people during the whole period of change on the values of democracy, freedom of speech and the concept of democratization.
The mass media managed in fact to mobilize the whole population. Unlike a couple of months earlier they informed the Czechoslovak citizens and let them alone decide what was right or wrong and to make up their own opinions. The opinions of the government or the state were no longer forced upon them. The entire population was now aware of the changes that were going on and maybe even without their own awareness, the people of Czechoslovakia became politically active.
The only thing the mass media could be criticized for is that they thanks to their newly won freedom became to idealistic. In their ambition to seize the moment, and make as much as possible of this unique opportunity, many of the journalists, authors and writers strived for too farfetched ideas. Instead of being satisfied with small reforms, as previously, they now wanted a complete democratization.
They did not apprehend the fact that one was sometimes forced to compromise and they underestimated gravely the influence of Kremlin on the Czechoslovak politic. Like real idealists, the authors became zealots who asked for everything and wanted it at the same time without compromising.
The criticism in the newspaper articles was exagerated. When Dubcek went to
Hungary, for example, on the 13th of June, Literarny Listy published an article
which stated that the current Party Leader in Hungary, Janos Kadar, had unlawfully
executed Imre Nagy in the 1956 revolution in order to get rid of an idealistic
opponent. The media caused great political damaged and forced the leaders to
What the free mass media did not think of was to what extent their outspokenness hurt the reform movement. Dubcek and his government bitterly experienced the drawbacks with the abolition of the censorship rules. The free press started to attack not only the past leaders and their policies but they also the current leaders in the other Warsaw Pact countries.
The newspapers did not in a true democratic spirit have to pay for their insults by reprimands or condemnations but the persons who were considered responsible was Dubcek and his government. In the meetings with the other leaders Dubcek, Smrkovsky and Cernik were perpetually criticized for the actions of their country's mass media. The criticism took its toll when Dubcek and Smrkovsky were invited to a Warsaw Pact meeting in Dresden on the 23rd March. There they were supposed to talk about the economic development of their country but they were over and over again interrupted with questions on their mass media's doings. In the letters Dubcek received from Brezhnev he was also criticized. Brezhnev wrote in a letter the 11th June 1968:
"Unfortunately, we see that your mass media (the press, radio and television) are still mainly espousing right-wing, bourgeois-liberal, and sometimes openly counterrevolutionary positions, irrespective on the result of the May plenum of the CPCz CC."
Dubcek and his associates tried to rein the press and asked them not to write
anti-communistic and anti-socialistic materials. But the freedom of speech,
the most important achievement of the Prague Spring had become too precious
for the mass media or anyone to give it up. One reason was that almost everybody
accounted the freedom of speech as the single most important proof of reform
process. It was the insurance the people needed to be sure that the reform process
One of the clearest evidence of the Czechoslovak people's interest in the reform program was the formation of new political active groups. The groups were formed throughout the whole society and had members in all the levels of the society. They contained intellectuals, politicians, workers and just the common Czechoslovak citizen. The two groups that became largest and most active were the KAN [Klub Angazovanych Nestraniku] and the K231 [Club 231].
The KAN, Club of Committed Non-Party Members, was a group formed by 144 leading Czechoslovak intellectuals and prominent social figures. The group KAN proclaimed commitment to human rights and civil equality, political pluralism and the principles embodied in the UN Declaration on human rights. The KAN was crushed and abolished in August 1968 when the Warsaw Pact army seized Czechoslovakia. During KAN's peak they claimed to have almost 15,000 members. The Soviet Army formally proscribed it officially in September 1968.
The K231 was a group of former political prisoners that were sentenced to prison by the famous article 231 in the Czechoslovak criminal code that stated anti-socialistic actions.
The small parties within the National Front began their work once again. The two largest parties within the National Front were: the Socialistic Party and the People's Party.
Dubcek did not appreciate the re-installment of the Socialistic Party, as it would be the second worker's party. After negotiations with the leadership of the Socialistic Party they agreed to postpone the negotiations until the 14th Party Congress.
In a poll conducted in Czechoslovakia during that time 77% percent of the asked was positive on the fact of having an opposition party, and 21% were against. The conclusion was without any doubt that the Czechoslovak people favored democratization and the reform process. The people were proud of their political leaders, who not only introduced reforms, as the 5-day working week and the reduction of working hours, but also stood up for their policy against their neighboring socialistic countries.