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Last updated:18 June 2015

Prague Spring

The ‘Prague Spring' refers to a short-lived period of reform introduced by the government of Czechoslovakia in April 1968. The leader of the Czech government, Alexander Dubčhek, wanted the Czech regime to display ‘socialism with a human face'. In other words, under Dubčhek Czechoslovakia retained its socialist economy, and kept a central place in its politics for the Communist Party, but alongside this there was an end to media censorship, greater individual freedoms of speech and travel, a measure of decentralisation in agriculture, and greater bargaining rights for trade unions.

Despite his reforming zeal, Dubčhek was anxious to emphasise that Czechoslovakia would remain in the Warsaw Pact (a military alliance between the Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries). However, such reassurances were not enough. On the night of the 20/21 August 1968, Soviet and other Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia, Dubčhek was arrested and sent to Moscow, and his reforms reversed. There was no military resistance, and the short-lived Prague Spring was over.

The events of the Prague Spring have been interpreted in different ways. Western commentators have generally viewed the invasion of Czechoslovakia as the Soviet Union's attempt to crush any democratic reform in its satellite states, lest such ideas spread and the integrity of the Warsaw Pact be compromised. The Soviets themselves justified the invasion as the ‘Brezhnev Doctrine' in practice. This meant that the Soviet Union had the right to intervene in any Eastern Bloc country in which socialism was under threat. Others have interpreted the Prague Spring as a battle between competing elites (the Soviet Union on the one hand, and the Dubčhek government on the other) neither of whom really represented the real interests of the Czech working class.

Although our collection focuses on the UK and Ireland, the Library does also hold information that shows how important events in other countries affected people in the UK - find out more here.