Novotny was prepared to accept some and limited economic changes as a financial necessity. Furthermore he allowed "rehabilitation" of some of the imprisoned former political actors. But he refused to make political changes as he thought that would improve the Slovak's political influence. This resulted in a very strong alliance between the political reformers and the Slovaks. The battle between the conservative hard-liners came to its peak at the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party's meeting in October 1967. The Slovak Alexander Dubcek opposed the hard-liners led by the current president Novotny. Dubcek managed to win the support of a majority of the CC members, and on January 5th 1968, Dubcek succeeded Novotny as General Secretary of the Communist Party. Novotny however, managed to retain the largely ceremonial position of President.
Within a short amount of time Dubcek started to loosen the repressive political ropes of the Novotny regime. New winds, winds of democratisation, started to blow throughout Czechoslovakia. Its name was Prague Spring. At a conference in the city of Brno on March 16th, Dubcek promised "widest possible democratisation" for the country and greater autonomy for the government, the courts, the trade unions and economic enterprises. Shortly afterwards, on March 22nd, Novotny was forced to resign as President. Ludvik Svoboda became the new President of Czechoslovakia.
In April the same year the Communist Party published its "Action Program" with
the stated aim of purifying communism of its "former aberrations" and "to build
socialism in this country in a way corresponding to our conditions and traditions."
[Arms, Thomas, "Cold War Encyclopaedia", New York, 1994, pp. 151]
- Guarantees of freedom of speech, press, assembly and religious observance.
- Electoral laws to provide a broader choice of candidates and greater freedom for the non-communist parties within the National Front.
- Upgrading of power of parliament and the government at he expense of that of the
- Communist Party apparatus.
- Broad economic reforms to give enterprises greater independence, to achieve a convertible currency, revive a limited amount of private enterprise and increase trade with the Western countries.
- An independent judiciary.
- Federal status for Slovakia on an independent basis and a new constitution by the end of 1969.
- Full and fair rehabilitation of all persons who had been unjustly prosecuted between 1949 and 1954 and "moral personal and financial compensation" to persons affected by the rehabilitation.
- Exclusion from important posts in the country's social and political life for those people who had taken part in past persecutions.
This Action Program of the Communistic Party of Czechoslovakia concerned the Communistic Parties in other member-states of the Warsaw Pact deeply. The other party leaders hastily called for a meeting that was held in the German city of Dresden on March 23rd 1968. At the meeting Dubcek and his government were heavily criticized. They tried o force him to take the reform program back, but he refused. He even accused Eastern Germany of interfering with Czechoslovak internal affairs.
Dubcek did not want to take back his reform program and he even told his fellow
Party members at a Central Committee-meeting that it was too late to go back
and too late to stop. They had to continue on the path they had chosen.
Read more about Stenographic Account of the Dresden Meeting, March 23, 1968.
A second Warsaw Pact meeting took place on July 14, 1968. Czechoslovakia was not invited to participate. The Warsaw Pact leaders sent a letter of their conclusions, stating that they found the Czechoslovak policy totally unacceptable. Read the Transcript of the Warsaw Meeting, July 14-15, 1968 Read the The Warsaw Letter, July 14-15, 1968
After Dubcek's answer where he declared that his new policy would continue, it was declared on the 22nd July 1968 that the Warsaw Pact's countries would march into Prague to prevent a counterrevolution. Dubcek declined again and declared that he would continue with his "socialism with a human face"-program. He declared: "We paid too dearly and are still paying for the methods of the past". But to get the Kremlin and the other Warsaw Pact States of his back he had to pledge allegiance to communism, Moscow and the other socialistic brother countries.
One of the last Soviet-Czechoslovak meetings before the military intervention, took place in the little Slovak village of Cierna nad Tisuou. It coincidently coincided with one of the largest Soviet military manoeuvres in post-war time. Its meaning was clearly to daunt the Czechoslovak politicians prior to the meeting.
When all the parts were at place Brezhnev declared the meeting opened with the demands of: restoration of the censorship, abolishment of all anti-socialist groups, and removal of all reform-friendly politicians in the Party and finally he wanted Dubcek to approve a treaty which gave the Soviets the right to place troops along the Czechoslovak-Western Germany border. Another member of Brezhnev's delegation was the CPSU (Communistic Party of the Soviet Union) ideologist, Mikhail Suslov. He went so far that he called Dubcek's Action Program a heretical doctrine.
On the second day of the Cierna Nad Tisou-negotiations, Ludvik Svoboda made an impassioned speech on the rights of his country to proceed with the reforms. The following day the Soviet Union's delegations tactic was to split the Czechoslovak delegation between conservatives and progressives. When they saw that their attempts were ineffective they accepted their defeat and went back to Moscow.
When the Czechoslovak delegation came back to Prague, they were met by thousands of students, workers and intellectuals on Wenceslas Square. Dubcek and Josef Smrkovsky, the National Assembly's President, declared that they had explained their situation to the Soviets and that they had succeeded with this. Furthermore, Dubcek told the people that he promised to continue with the reforms, and so he did.
On August 3rd 1968 there was another meet ing in Bratislava between the Soviet and the Czechoslovak delegation. This time there were delegates from the other socialistic countries. The Czechoslovak leaders received a communiqué that promised that the other leaders would cooperate with Dubcek and his government on basis of equality, sovereignty, and national independence.
The Czechoslovak people and the Party leadership were at this time almost 100% percent sure that they had won and that they had the right and approval of Kremlin to develop and run their own political system. Dubcek and his members of the government were hailed. Throughout the republic spontaneous pro-regime demonstrations were conducted. But what the celebrating people did not know was that the Soviet leadership already had decided that the Czechoslovakia represented too much of threat to socialism and the Warsaw Pact.
If Czechoslovakia was allowed to break free, there was a risk that other satellites could follow and that the Soviet Union would lose their "moat" of countries. The meaning of the "moat" was that if the Western countries and the NATO wanted to invade the Soviet Union with conventional weapons, they first had to pass through the Soviet Union's satellite countries, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Eastern Germany.
If Czechoslovakia furthermore decided to join a pro-west policy and join NATO, it would pose a large security-politic threat to the Soviet Union. The Western countries had the possibility of placing tactical and strategic nuclear weapons in Eastern Czechoslovakia. It would totally tilt the balance of power.