In the 60s, political reforms by president Alexander Dubček and his “socialism with a human face” were dangerous to the political integrity of the Eastern Bloc. Czechoslovakia was in the bloc’s defensive line and was therefore strategically important in the times of Cold War.
The Soviet leaders first tried to stop or limit the changes in the country through a series of negotiations. Their attempts failed, as the people were looking forward to a bright future, and so a different solution was prepared, using forces of Warsaw Pact, a militarily alternative to Western NATO.
Between the nights of August 20 and August 21, 1968, forces from five Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia. The tanks rolled into Prague and took over the city. Dubček was arrested and taken to Moscow, where he was excluded from the political life. More than 100 people lost their lives during the attacks, yet the Soviets insisted that they had been invited by loyal communists to restore order.
The reaction was immediate, 70 000 people fled the country the very year, 300 000 in total. The air of defeatism and deeper mistrust reached European intellectual communists, who were forced to leave the Leninist ideologies. Ten years later, the Beijing spring in China reminded the world of the Prague incident.
Just like Vietnam permanently affected the Americans, Prague Spring is one of the most common themes used by Czech writers, poets and directors. It left a deep impact on Czech culture, most notably in Milan Kundera’s “Unbearable Lightness of Being”.