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Subject: Prague Spring, Eastern Bloc, Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Brezhnev Doctrine, Democratic Government of Albania
Collection: 1968 in Czechoslovakia, 1968 in Military History, Cold War Military History of the Soviet Union, Combat Incidents, Conflicts in 1968, Czechoslovakia–hungary Relations, Czechoslovakia–poland Relations, Czechoslovakia–soviet Union Relations, Eastern Bloc, Foreign Relations of the Soviet Union, History of Prague, Invasions by Bulgaria, Invasions by East Germany, Invasions by Hungary, Invasions by Poland, Invasions by the Soviet Union, Invasions of Czechoslovakia, Military of East Germany, Military Operations Involving the Warsaw Pact, Political Repression in Communist Czechoslovakia, Prague Spring, Soviet Military Occupations
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Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia

Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia
Part of the Cold War

©Ladislav Bielik,Šafárikovo námestie, Bratislava: Emil Gallo baring his chest in a gesture of defiance
Date 20 August 1968 – 20 September 1968
Location Czechoslovakia
Result

Warsaw Pact victory

  • Moscow Protocol
  • Soviet military presence in Czechoslovakia until 1991
  • Withdrawal of Albania from the Warsaw Pact in September 1968
Belligerents
Warsaw Pact:
Soviet Union
Bulgaria
Poland
 East Germany
Hungary
Czechoslovakia
Supported by:
Romania[1]
Yugoslavia[2]
Albania
Commanders and leaders
Leonid Brezhnev
Ivan Pavlovsky
Andrei Grechko
Alexander Dubček
Ludvík Svoboda
Martin Dzúr
Strength

500,000 (27 divisions) 6,300 tanks, 800 airplanes,

2,000 cannons

200,000 / 600,000 = 30 divisions in 2–3 days (with general mobilization about 2,500,000) more than 250 airplanes

2,500–3,000 tanks (numbers classified)
Casualties and losses
96 killed (84 in accidents),[3]
10 killed (in accidents and suicides)[4]
4 killed (in accidents)
2 killed
108 civilians killed, over 500 wounded.

On the night of 20–21 August 1968, the Soviet Union and its main allies in the Warsaw PactBulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, and Poland—invaded the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in order to halt Alexander Dubček's Prague Spring political liberalisation reforms.[5]

In the operation, codenamed Danube, approximately 500,000 troops,[6] with Romania and Albania refusing to participate, attacked Czechoslovakia. 108 Czechs and Slovaks were killed and around 500 wounded in the invasion.[7][8]

The invasion successfully stopped the liberalisation reforms and strengthened the authority of the authoritarian wing within the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). The foreign policy of the Soviet Union during this era was known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.[9]

Contents

  • Soviet fears 1
  • Czechoslovak negotiations with the USSR and other Warsaw Pact states 2
  • NATO 3
  • Intervention 4
    • Failure to prepare 4.1
    • Letter of invitation 4.2
    • Internal plot 4.3
    • Failure of the plot 4.4
    • The Moscow Protocol 4.5
  • Reactions in Czechoslovakia 5
  • Reactions in other Warsaw Pact countries 6
    • Soviet Union 6.1
    • Poland 6.2
    • Romania 6.3
    • East Germany 6.4
    • Albania 6.5
  • Reactions around the world 7
    • Communist parties worldwide 7.1
  • Later reactions and revisionism 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12

Soviet fears

  • "Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia": Collection of archival documents on www.DigitalArchive.org
  • Project 1968-1969, page dedicated to documenting the invasion, created by the Totalitarian Regime Study Institute
  • The short film Russian Invasion of Czechoslovakia (1968) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
  • The short film Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia (1968) is available for free download at the Internet Archive

External links

  • Bischof, Günter, et al. eds. The Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 (Lexington Books, 2010) 510 pp. ISBN 978-0-7391-4304-9.
  • Suvorov, Victor, The Liberators (Hamish Hamilton, 1981) ISBN 0-241-10675-3.
  • Williams, Kieran, 'Civil Resistance in Czechoslovakia: From Soviet Invasion to "Velvet Revolution", 1968–89', in Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (eds.), 'Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present' (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 110–26. ISBN 978-0-19-955201-6.
  • Windsor, Philip, and Adam Roberts, Czechoslovakia 1968: Reform, Repression and Resistance (London: Chatto & Windus, and New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), 200 pp.

Further reading

  1. ^ Conflicted Memories: Europeanizing Contemporary Histories, edited by Konrad H. Jarausch, Thomas Lindenberger, p. 43
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia. Globalsecurity.org. Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  7. ^ Soviet invasion of 1968 to have its own web page. Aktualne.centrum.cz. Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  8. ^ (Czech) August 1968 – Victims of the Occupation – Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů. Ustrcr.cz. Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Karen Dawisha, "The 1968 Invasion of Czechoslovakia: Causes, Consequences, and Lessons for the Future" in Soviet-East European Dilemmas: Coercion, Competition, and Consent ed. Karen Dawisha and Philip Hanson (New York, NY: Homs and Meier Publishers Inc, 1981) 11
  11. ^ Jiri Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968: Anatomy of a Decision (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979) 3
  12. ^ Jiri Valenta, "From Prague to Kabul," International Security 5, (1980), 117
  13. ^ Mark Kramer. Ukraine and the Soviet-Czechoslovak Crisis of 1968 (part 2). New Evidence from the Ukrainian Archives. Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Issue 14/15. 2004. pp. 273–275.
  14. ^ Valenta (Fn. 7) 17
  15. ^ "The Bratislava Declaration, August 3, 1968" Navratil, Jaromir. "The Prague Spring 1968". Hungary: Central European Press, 1998, pp. 326–329 Retrieved on 4 March 2013.
  16. ^ Dawisha (Fn. 6) 10
  17. ^
  18. ^ Czechoslovakia 1968 "Bulgarian troops". Google Books. Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  19. ^ Washington Post, (Final Edition), 21 August 1998, (Page A11)
  20. ^ Soviet foreign policy since World .... Google Books. Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Jerzy Lukowski, Hubert Zawadzki: A Concise History of Poland, 2006. Google Books (17 July 2006). Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  24. ^ Czechoslovakia 1968 "Hungarian troops". Google Books (22 October 1968). Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  25. ^ "Springtime for Prague" at. Prague-life.com. Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  26. ^ "Day when tanks destroyed Czech dreams of Prague Spring" (''Den, kdy tanky zlikvidovaly české sny Pražského jara'') at Britské Listy (British Letters). Britskelisty.cz. Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  27. ^ Jiri Valenta, "Could the Prague Spring Have Been Saved" Orbis 35 (1991) 597
  28. ^ Valenta (Fn. 23) 599
  29. ^ a b c H. Gordon Skilling, "Czechoslovakia's Interrupted Revolution," (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976)
  30. ^ a b c d e Kieran Williams, "The Prague Spring and its aftermath: Czechoslovak politics 1968–1970," (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
  31. ^ a b c d Jaromír Navratíl, et al., eds. "The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader," (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1998).
  32. ^ Vladimir Kusin, "From Dubcek to Charter 77 (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1978) 21
  33. ^ John Keane, Vaclav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts (New York: Basic Books, 2000) 213
  34. ^
  35. ^ Alexander Dubcek, "Hope Dies Last" (New York: Kodansha International, 1993) 216
  36. ^ Williams (Fn. 25) 42
  37. ^ Letter by Yuri Andropov to Central Committee about the demonstration, 5 September 1968, in the Vladimir Bukovsky's archive, (PDF, faximile, in Russian), JHU.edu
  38. ^ Andropov to the Central Committee. The Demonstration in Red Square Against the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia. 20 September 1968, at Andrei Sakharov's archive, in Russian and translation into English, Yale.edu
  39. ^ a b (English)
  40. ^ (English)
  41. ^ Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung: Die versäumte Revolte: Die DDR und das Jahr 1968 – Ideale sterben langsam (in German). Bpb.de (2 March 2011). Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h
  43. ^ "International; Prague's Spring Into Capitalism" by Lawrence E. Joseph at The. New York Times (2 December 1990). Retrieved on 23 June 2011.
  44. ^ Jutikkala, Eino; Pirinen, Kauko (2001). Suomen historia (History of Finland). ISBN 80-7106-406-8.
  45. ^ a b c d
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^ a b
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^

References

The memorial plate in Košice, Slovakia.

See also

On 23 May 2015, Russian state channel Russia-1 aired Warsaw Pact: Declassified Pages, a documentary that presented the invasion as protection against a NATO coup.[50][51][52] Slovakia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the film "attempts to rewrite history and to falsify historical truths about such a dark chapter of our history."[53] František Šebej, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council, stated that "They describe it as brotherly help aimed to prevent an invasion by NATO and fascism. Such Russian propaganda is hostile toward freedom and democracy, and also to us."[54] Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek said that the film "grossly distorts" the facts.[52][55]

"When President Yeltsin visited the Czech Republic in 1993 he was not speaking just for himself, he was speaking for the Russian Federation and for the Russian people. Today, not only do we respect all agreements signed previously - we also share all the evaluations that were made at the beginning of the 1990s...I must tell you with absolute frankness - we do not, of course, bear any legal responsibility. But the moral responsibility is there, of course."[49]

During a state visit to Prague, on 1 March 2006, Vladimir Putin said that the Russian Federation bore moral responsibility for the invasion, referring to his predecessor Boris Yeltsin's description of 1968 as an act of aggression:

In the fall of 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev and other Warsaw Pact leaders drafted a statement calling the 1968 invasion a mistake. The statement, carried by the Soviet news agency Tass, said that sending in troops constituted ''interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign Czechoslovakia and must be condemned."[48] This acknowledgement likely helped to encourage the popular revolutions that overthrew Communist governments in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania at the end of 1989 by providing assurance that no similar Soviet intervention would be repeated were such uprisings to occur.

Later reactions and revisionism

Christopher Hitchens recapitulized the repercussions of the Prague Spring to western Communism in 2008: "What became clear, however, was that there was no longer something that could be called the world Communist movement. It was utterly, irretrievably, hopelessly split. The main spring had broken. And the Prague Spring had broken it."[45]

Reactions from communist parties outside the Warsaw Pact were generally split. The Eurocommunist parties of Italy and Spain firmly denounced the occupation,[45] and even the Communist Party of France, which had pleaded for conciliation, expressed its disapproval about the Soviet intervention,[46] thereby publicly criticizing a Soviet action for the first time in its history. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) suffered a major split over the internal disputes over the Prague Spring,[45] with the pro-Czech faction breaking ties with the Soviet leadership and founding the Eurocommunist KKE Interior. The Eurocommunist leadership of the Communist Party of Finland denounced the invasion as well, thereby however fuelling the internal disputes with its pro-Soviet minority faction, which eventually lead to the party's disintegration.[47] Others, including the Portuguese Communist Party, the South African Communist Party and the Communist Party USA, however supported the Soviet position.[45]

Communist parties worldwide

In Finland, a neutral country under some Soviet political influence at that time, the occupation caused a major scandal.[44]

The United States government sent Shirley Temple Black, the famous child movie star, who became a diplomat in later life, to Prague in August 1968 to prepare to become the first United States Ambassador to a free Czechoslovakia. Two decades later, when Czechoslovakia became independent in 1989, Mrs. Temple Black was finally recognized as the first American ambassador to a truly free Czechoslovakia.[43]

Although the United States insisted at the UN that Warsaw Pact aggression was unjustifiable, its position was compromised by its own actions. Only three years earlier, US delegates to the UN had insisted that the overthrow of the leftist government of the Dominican Republic, as part of Marxism–Leninism as an armed attack justifying self-defense by the United States.[42] American involvement in the Vietnam War led UN Secretary-General U Thant to draw further comparisons, suggesting that "if Russians were bombing and napalming the villages of Czechoslovakia" he might be more vocal in his denunciation.[42]

Ball accused Soviet delegates of filibustering to put off the vote until the occupation was complete. Malik continued to speak, ranging in topics from US exploitation of Latin America's raw materials to statistics on Czech commodity trading.[42] Eventually, a vote was taken. Ten members supported the motion; Algeria, India, and Pakistan abstained; the USSR (with veto power) and Hungary opposed it. Canadian delegates immediately introduced another motion asking for a UN representative to travel to Prague and work for the release of the imprisoned Czechoslovak leaders.[42] Malik accused Western countries of hypocrisy, asking "who drowned the fields, villages, and cities of Vietnam in blood?"[42] By 26 August, another vote had not taken place, but a new Czechoslovak representative requested the whole issue be removed from the Security Council's agenda.

The night of the invasion, Canada, Denmark, France, Paraguay, the United Kingdom, and the United States all requested a meeting of the Cain gave to Abel".[42]

Demonstration in Helsinki against the invasion.

Reactions around the world

Albania responded in opposite fashion: already feuding with Moscow over suggestions that the country should focus on agriculture to the detriment of industrial development, and concerned that Moscow was becoming too liberal in its dealings with Yugoslavia (which, by that time, Albania regarded as a threatening neighbor and had branded in propaganda as "imperialist"), it withdrew from the Warsaw Pact entirely. Economic fallout from this move was mitigated somewhat by a strengthening of Albanian relations with the People's Republic of China, which was itself on increasingly strained terms with the Soviet Union.

Albania

In the German Democratic Republic, the invasion aroused discontent among those who had hoped that Czechoslovakia would pave the way for a more liberal socialism. However, isolated protests were quickly stopped by the Volkspolizei and Stasi.[41]

East Germany

A more pronounced effect took place in the Socialist Republic of Romania, which did not take part in the invasion. Nicolae Ceauşescu was already a staunch opponent of Soviet influence and had previously declared himself on Dubček's side, held a public speech in Bucharest on the day of the invasion, depicting Soviet policies in harsh terms. This response consolidated Romania's independent voice in the next two decades, especially after Ceauşescu encouraged the population to take up arms in order to meet any similar maneuver in the country: he received an enthusiastic initial response, with many people, who were by no means Communist, willing to enroll in the newly formed paramilitary Patriotic Guards.

Romania

Bucharest, August 1968: Ceauşescu criticizing the Soviet invasion

In the People's Republic of Poland, on 8 September 1968, Ryszard Siwiec immolated himself in Warsaw during a harvest festival at the 10th-Anniversary Stadium in protest against the Warsaw Pact's invasion of Czechoslovakia and the totalitarianism of the Stalinist government.[39][40] Siwiec did not survive.[39]

Poland

Ryszard Siwiec self-immolating.

One unintended consequence of the invasion was that many within the Soviet State security apparatus and Intelligence Services were shocked and outraged at the invasion and several KGB/GRU defectors and spies such as Oleg Gordievsky, Vasili Mitrokhin, and Dmitri Polyakov have pointed out the 1968 invasion as their motivation for cooperating with the Western Intelligence agencies.

On 25 August, at the Red Square, eight protesters carried banners with anti-invasion slogans. The demonstrators were arrested and later punished, as the protest was dubbed "anti-Soviet".[37][38]

Soviet Union

One of the protesters' banners
"For your freedom and ours"

Reactions in other Warsaw Pact countries

Finally, on 17 April 1969, Dubček was replaced as First Secretary by Gustáv Husák, and a period of "Normalization" began. Pressure from the Soviet Union pushed politicians to either switch loyalties or simply give up. In fact, the very group that voted in Dubček and put the reforms in place were mostly the same people who annulled the program and replaced Dubček with Husák. Husák reversed Dubček's reforms, purged the party of its liberal members, and dismissed the professional and intellectual elites who openly expressed disagreement with the political turnaround from public offices and jobs.

On 19 January 1969, student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square in Prague to protest the renewed suppression of free speech.

The generalized resistance caused the Soviet Union to abandon its original plan to oust the First Secretary. Dubček, who had been arrested on the night of 20 August, was taken to Moscow for negotiations. It was agreed that Dubček would remain in office, but he was no longer free to pursue to liberalization that he had before the invasion.

Initially, some civilians tried to argue with the invading troops, but this met with little or no success. After the USSR used photographs of these discussions as proof that the invasion troops were being greeted amicably, secret Czechoslovak broadcasting stations discouraged the practice, reminding the people that "pictures are silent".[34] The protests in reaction to the invasion lasted only about seven days. Explanations for the fizzling of these public outbursts mostly center on demoralization of the population, whether from the intimidation of all the enemy troops and tanks or from being abandoned by their leaders. Many Czechoslovaks saw the signing of the Moscow Protocol as treasonous.[35] Another common explanation is that, due the fact that most of the society was middle class, the cost of continued resistance meant giving up a cushy lifestyle, which was too high a price to pay.[36]

Popular opposition was expressed in numerous spontaneous acts of nonviolent resistance. In Prague and other cities throughout the republic, Czechs and Slovaks greeted Warsaw Pact soldiers with arguments and reproaches. Every form of assistance, including the provision of food and water, was denied to the invaders. Signs, placards, and graffiti drawn on walls and pavements denounced the invaders, the Soviet leaders, and suspected collaborationists. Pictures of Dubček and Svoboda appeared in the streets. Citizens gave wrong directions to soldiers and even removed street signs (except for those giving the direction back to Moscow).[33]

Population securing food supplies.
National flag of Czechoslovakia covered in blood.

Reactions in Czechoslovakia

The conservatives asked Svoboda to create an "emergency government" but since they had not won a clear majority of support, he refused. Instead, he and Gustáv Husák traveled to Moscow on 23 August to insist Dubček and Černík should be included in a solution to the conflict. After days of negotiations, the Czechoslovak delegation accepted the "Moscow Protocol", and signed their commitment to its fifteen points. The Protocol demanded the suppression of opposition groups, the full reinstatement of censorship, and the dismissal of specific reformist officials.[31] It did not, however, refer to the situation in the ČSSR as "counterrevolutionary" nor did it demand a reversal of the post-January course.[31]

By the morning of 21 August, Dubček and other prominent reformists had been arrested and were later flown to Moscow. There they were held in secret and interrogated for days.[32]

The Moscow Protocol

An anonymous warning was transmitted by the Czechoslovak Ambassador to Hungary, Jozef Púčik, approximately six hours before Soviet troops crossed the border at midnight.[29] When the news arrived, the solidarity of conservative coalition crumbled. When the Presidium proposed a declaration condemning the invasion, two key members of the conspiracy, Jan Pillar and František Barbírek, switched sides to support Dubček. With their help, declaration against the invasion won with a 7:4 majority.[30]

The coup, however, did not go according to plan. Kolder intended to review the Kašpar report early in the meeting, but Dubček and Špaček, suspicious of Kolder, adjusted the agenda so the upcoming 14th Party Congress could be covered before any discussion on recent reforms or Kašpar's report. Discussion of the Congress dragged on, and before the conspirators had a chance to request a confidence vote, early news of the invasion reached the Presidium.[29]

Failure of the plot

With this plan in mind, the 16–17 August Soviet Politburo meeting passed a resolution to "provide help to the Communist Party and people of Czechoslovakia through military force".[31] At 18 August Warsaw Pact meeting, Brezhnev announced that the intervention would go ahead on the night of 20 August, and asked for "fraternal support", which the national leaders of Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, and Poland duly offered.

The plan was to unfold as follows. A debate would unfold in response to the Kašpar report on the state of the country, during which conservative members would insist that Dubček present two letters he had received from the USSR, letters which listed promises he had made at the Čierna nad Tisou talks but had failed to keep. Dubček's concealment of such important letters, and his unwillingness to keep his promises would lead to a vote of confidence which the now conservative majority would win, seizing power, and issue a request for Soviet assistance in preventing a counterrevolution. It was this formal request, drafted in Moscow, which was published in Pravda on 22 August without the signatories. All the USSR needed to do was suppress the Czechoslovak military and any violent resistance.[31]

Long before the invasion, planning for a coup was undertaken by Indra, Kolder, and Biľak, among others, often at the Soviet embassy and at the Party recreation centre at Orlík Dam.[30] When these men had managed to convince a majority of the Presidium (six of eleven voting members) to side with them against Alexander Dubček's reformists, they asked the USSR to launch a military invasion. The USSR leadership was even considering waiting until 26 August Slovak Party Congress, but the Czechoslovak conspirators "specifically requested the night of the 20th".[30]

Internal plot

A 1992 Izvestia article claimed that candidate Presidium member Antonin Kapek gave Leonid Brezhnev a letter at the Soviet-Czechoslovak Čierna nad Tisou talks in late July which appealed for "fraternal help". A second letter was supposedly delivered by Biľak to Ukrainian Party leader Petro Shelest during the August Bratislava conference "in a lavatory rendezvous arranged through the KGB station chief".[30] This letter was signed by the same five as Kapek's letter, mentioned above.

In the early 1990s, however, the Russian government gave the new Czechoslovak President, Václav Havel, a copy of a letter of invitation addressed to Soviet authorities and signed by KSČ members Biľak, Švestka, Kolder, Indra, and Kapek. It claimed that "right-wing" media were "fomenting a wave of nationalism and chauvinism, and are provoking an anti-communist and anti-Soviet psychosis". It formally asked the Soviets to "lend support and assistance with all means at your disposal" to save the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic "from the imminent danger of counterrevolution".[30]

Although on the night of the invasion, the Czechoslovak Presidium declared that Warsaw Pact troops had crossed the border without knowledge of the ČSSR Government, the Soviet Press printed an unsigned request, allegedly by Czechoslovak party and state leaders, for "immediate assistance, including assistance with armed forces".[29] At the 14th KSČ Party Congress (conducted secretly, immediately following the intervention), it was emphasized that no member of the leadership had invited the intervention. At the time, a number of commentators believed the letter was fake or non-existent.

Letter of invitation

The Dubček regime took no steps to forestall a potential invasion, despite the ominous troop movements by the Warsaw Pact. The Czechoslovak leadership believed that the Soviet Union and its allies would not invade, having believed that the summit at Čierna nad Tisou had smoothed out the differences between the two sides.[27] They also believed that any invasion would be too costly, both because of domestic support for the reforms and because the international political outcry would be too significant, especially with the World Communist Conference coming up in November of that year. Czechoslovakia could have raised the costs of such an invasion by drumming up international support or making military preparations such as blocking roads and ramping up security of their airports, but they decided not to, paving the way for the invasion.[28]

Failure to prepare

The invasion was followed by a wave of emigration, largely of highly qualified people, unseen before and stopped shortly after (estimate: 70,000 immediately, 300,000 in total).[26] Western countries allowed these people to immigrate without complications.

During the attack of the Warsaw Pact armies, 72 Czechs and Slovaks were killed (19 of those in Slovakia)[25] and hundreds were wounded. Alexander Dubček called upon his people not to resist. He was arrested and taken to Moscow along with several of his colleagues. Dubček and most of the reformers were returned to Prague on 27 August, and Dubček retained his post as the party's first secretary until he was forced to resign in April 1969 following the Czechoslovak Hockey Riots.

As the operation at the airport continued, columns of tanks and motorized rifle troops headed toward Prague and other major centers, meeting no resistance. The bulk of the invading forces were from the Soviet Union supported by other countries from the communist bloc. Among them were 28,000 troops[23] of the Polish 2nd Army from the Silesian Military District, commanded by general Florian Siwicki, and all invading Hungarian troops were withdrawn by 31 October.[24]

Two members of a Polish armored unit in Czechoslovakia, 1968.

The invasion was well planned and coordinated; simultaneously with the border crossing by ground forces, a Soviet airborne division (VDV) captured Prague Václav Havel Airport (at the time called Ruzyne International Airport) in the early hours of the invasion. It began with a special flight from Moscow which carried more than 100 plain clothes agents. They quickly secured the airport and prepared the way for the huge forthcoming airlift, in which An-12 transport aircraft began arriving and unloading Soviet airborne troops equipped with artillery and light tanks.

At approximately 11 pm on 20 August 1968,[17] Eastern Bloc armies from four Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Bulgaria,[18] Poland and Hungary – invaded Czechoslovakia. That night, 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 2,000 tanks entered the country.[19] Romania did not take part in the invasion,[20] and nor did Albania, which withdrew from the Warsaw Pact over the matter.[21] Participation of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was cancelled just hours before the invasion.[22]

Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning Soviet tank in Prague.
Soviet soldier with a tank shell - possibly having brought it out of a burning tank.

Intervention

The United States and NATO largely turned a blind eye to the evolving situation in Czechoslovakia. While the Soviet Union was worried that it might lose an ally, the United States had absolutely no desire to gain it. President Lyndon Johnson had already involved the United States in the Vietnam War and was unlikely to be able to drum up support for a potential conflict in Czechoslovakia. Also, he wanted to pursue an arms control treaty with the Soviets, SALT. He needed a willing partner in Moscow in order to reach such an agreement, and he did not wish to potentially risk that treaty for Czechoslovakia.[16] For these reasons, the United States made it clear that it would not intervene on behalf of the Prague Spring, giving the USSR a free hand to do as it pleased.

NATO

As these talks proved unsatisfactory, the USSR began to consider a military alternative. The Soviet Union's policy of compelling the socialist governments of its satellite states to subordinate their national interests to those of the Eastern Bloc (through military force if needed) became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.

On 3 August, representatives from the Soviet Union, East Germany, People's Republic of Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia met in Bratislava and signed the Bratislava Declaration.[15] The declaration affirmed unshakable fidelity to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism and declared an implacable struggle against bourgeois ideology and all "antisocialist" forces. The Soviet Union expressed its intention to intervene in a Warsaw Pact country if a bourgeois system—a pluralist system of several political parties representing different factions of the capitalist class—was ever established. After the Bratislava conference, Soviet troops left Czechoslovak territory but remained along Czechoslovak borders.

At the meeting, with attendance of Brezhnev, Alexei Kosygin, Nikolai Podgorny, Mikhail Suslov and others on the Soviet side and Dubček, Ludvík Svoboda, Oldřich Černík, Josef Smrkovský and others on the Czechoslovak side, Dubček defended the program of the reformist wing of the KSČ while pledging commitment to the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. The KSČ leadership, however, was divided between vigorous reformers (Josef Smrkovský, Oldřich Černík, and František Kriegel) who supported Dubček, and conservatives (Vasil Biľak, Drahomír Kolder, and Oldřich Švestka) who adopted an anti-reformist stance. Brezhnev decided on compromise. The KSČ delegates reaffirmed their loyalty to the Warsaw Pact and promised to curb "anti-socialist" tendencies, prevent the revival of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, and control the press more effectively. The USSR agreed to withdraw their troops (still stationed in Czechoslovakia since the June 1968 maneuvers) and permit the 9 September party congress.

The Soviet leadership at first tried to stop or limit the impact of Dubček's initiatives through a series of negotiations. Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union agreed to bilateral talks to be held in July 1968 at Čierna nad Tisou, near the Slovak-Soviet border.

A Prague resident tries to talk with a Soviet soldier.
Barricades and Soviet tanks on fire.

Czechoslovak negotiations with the USSR and other Warsaw Pact states

In addition, part of Czechoslovakia bordered Austria and West Germany, which were on the other side of the Iron Curtain. This meant both that foreign agents could potentially slip into Czechoslovakia and into any member of the Communist Bloc and that defectors could slip out to the West.[14] The final concern emerged directly from the lack of censorship; writers whose work had been censored in the Soviet Union could simply go to Prague or Bratislava and air their grievances there, circumventing the Soviet Union's censorship.

Other fears included the spread of liberalization and unrest elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The Warsaw Pact countries feared that if the Prague Spring reforms went unchecked, then those ideals might very well spread to Poland and East Germany, upsetting the status quo there as well. Within the Soviet Union, nationalism in the republics of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine was already causing problems, and many were worried that events in Prague might exacerbate those problems.[12] KGB chairman Yuri Andropov and Ukrainian leaders Petro Shelest and Nikolai Podgorny were the most vehement proponents of military intervention.[13]

Czechoslovak leaders had no intention of leaving the Warsaw Pact, but Moscow felt it could not be certain exactly what Prague's intentions were. [11] but it would also mean that it could not tap Czechoslovakia's industrial base in a potential war.[10]

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