If you don't know much but you're slightly interested, I recommend you to watch this 48-minute (ex-Soviet Georgian!) video about the events. Just to be sure. Czechia and mostly Slovakia have been parts of the Western civilization – through the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Empire - for some 1,000 years. This country that has belonged to Western Europe politically nevertheless fell into the Soviet sphere of influence after 1945, partly due to the betrayal by France and Britain in 1938, partly due to our gratitude to the Soviet army that sacrificed a lot of lives, and partly because of the unstoppable growth of the communist movement in much of Europe.
The communist coup took place on February 25th, 1948, when the communist party was already influential in the government. The anti-communist ministers were aware of the growing danger and tried a desperate attempt: they submitted their resignation and expected the president Dr Edvard Beneš to call snap elections which would tame the communist party. Instead, the communist party took its paramilitary "LM" units (no relationship with me) to the streets. They threatened a civil war and our Stalin's counterpart Mr Klement Gottwald demanded the president to accept the resignations and replace the non-communist ministers with communist ones.
The effort by the anti-communist ministers backfired. But the situation was pretty tense so there was probably no way to stop the rise of communism at that time.
Thousands of people were executed – well, still many fewer than tens of millions in the Soviet Union. Insane collectivization, terror against the capitalists, aristocrats, intelligentsia. They were sent to uranium mines and other yummy places. Happily, in 1953, both Gottwald and Stalin snuffed it. The Stalinist cult was removed rather quickly in Czechoslovakia.
From the early 1960s, the third communist president Antonín Novotný allowed a lot and the society was getting gradually liberalized. He realized that it was too much and demanded some deceleration of these changes. Instead, in January 1968, he was fired and replaced with an even more pro-democratization leader of the communist party, Mr Alexander Dubček [doop-Czech] of Slovakia. Moscow thought he was great because Dubček looked like a typical communist leader who had spent his childhood in the Soviet Union, spoke Russian fluently, and so on.
But Dubček really kickstarted his socialism with a human face, the Prague Spring of 1968. It was like Gorbachev's glasnost' and perestroika but on steroids and almost two decades earlier. In March 1968, censorship was abolished (Google's managers are way more hardcore totalitarian communists than the Czechoslovak communist bosses in 1968) and it was just the beginning. Suddenly, the media were free and proposals that went even "beyond the pro-reform communist programs" – proposals by non-communists including the likes of Havel – were heard and written everywhere.
You may imagine that the Soviet boss Leonid I. Brezhnev was trying to stop these things. So he organized a propaganda and blackmailing campaign, met "Sasha" Dubček many times. During a last meeting, Brezhnev demanded something dramatic had to change. Dubček said no – well, he said "in that case, you will have to lick your own aß and do whatever you want". Sadly, Brezhnev did exactly that.
The process of the Prague Spring was stopped and reversed on August 21st. In the morning, all of Czechoslovaks could hear airplanes everywhere and everyone was woken up and told what was going on. The decision makers – mostly in Moscow – were determined to stop it even if the invasion meant the Third World War, as some documents in the video above point out. Poor Russian and other soldiers were coming to Czechoslovakia while they were brainwashed by ideas that we had some insane violent counter-revolution going on here. Needless to say, nothing like that was taking place in my country.
Only 137 Czechoslovak civilians were killed by the end of 1968. If you look at the number, you must agree that the tally was just a tiny fine structure constant relatively to the far-reaching consequences. (Somewhat fairly, about 112 of the occupying troops were randomly killed, too.) Censorship was reintroduced. Pro-Brezhnev, neo-Stalinist people were made bosses at every level of the society. The country returned into full-blown (albeit no longer bloody, like in the 1950s) socialism when it came to the suppression of the freedom of speech, entrepreneurship, and political competition.
This post-occupation period was known by the euphemism "the normalization" from the official propaganda books – and just to be sure, everyone is using this term, the critics simply consider it a terrible thing. We Czechs like to use clear names – in a similar way, we like to use the official term "the Protectorate" for the regime on the Czech territory occupied by Nazi Germany. Our diluted, Czechoslovak flavor of perestroika notwithstanding, the normalization basically lasted up to the November 1989 when the Velvet Revolution exploded.
If you want to have some idea about the soft communism that Czechoslovakia enjoyed already in the mid 1960s, look at this Greek document that also mentions the 1964 film Lemonade Joe [pronounce Yaw-eh], or the Horse Opera, a parody of the American Western genre where the main hero loves to drink Kolaloka's lemonade (they permuted some letters in Coca Cola, to be sure that it would really get through) and this Joe gets to the town of men drinking whiskey. Try to check some YouTube videos on Lemonade Joe.
A song from the movie. Ms Olga Schoberová's "Arizona", the true men's zone. Cards are rustling, bullets buzzing. Cows are moo-mooing full of feeling. I feel relaxed, as a fish in its element. ... You may imagine this is not the most typical movie genre that Leonid Brezhnev would be watching in a cinema. Schoberová was a sex symbol in the 1960s and 1970s, a material of the Playboy covers, living in the U.S. as the wife of Brad Harris. The world has known her from the 1966 comedy Who wants to kill Jessie? (YouTube excerpts: she communicated through the comic "bubbles" in the movie, a fun concept). It's rather amazing that the tabloid press allows the retired sex bomb to live in Prague so that almost no one knows she's there. The 74-year-old is said to be shocked by having more wrinkles than in 1964.
Well, with some limitation, this Western-style Czechoslovak cinematography continued even after the 1968 occupation but you could feel some political restrictions in it later.
On August 21st, 1968, my uncle Leszek Sawicki was in Prague at the Geological Congress. Here are his never before published pictures. pic.twitter.com/H4jvp1b0AS— Marcin Czerwinski (@CzerwinsMarcin) August 20, 2017
Fascinating bonus: the Polish tweeter's father was in Prague and these colorful pictures from that day haven't been published before!