By the late 1950s, the Stalinist economic system began to show signs of stagnation in both
the USSR and Eastern Europe, though the process was more critical in the latter. This meant that the
communist governments imposed by the Soviet Union could not deliver on their promise of a better
life, which was their only claim to legitimacy.
Polish economists were probably the first to state the need for economic reform and work
out a reform model, but the party leader, Gomulka, refused to consider it. There were some limited
Soviet experiments in economic reform in the mid-1960s, but reform implementation went much
further in Hungary than anywhere else in the bloc, beginning in 1968.
Although developments in the Soviet Union always affected its satellites in Eastern Europe,
some of the latter were ahead of Moscow. This is particularly true of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Poland
in 1980-81 and then 1989, when Hungary was a close second. In particular, the Prague Spring of
1968, which the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact armies crushed in late August that year, had a significant
impact on Soviet dissent of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It pointed the way for Mikhail S.
Gorbachev's reform program twenty years later.
We will look first at key developments in Eastern European states, then Khrushchev's USSR
and the early years of Brezhnev, followed by the Prague Spring of 1968 in Czechoslovakia and
dissent in the Soviet Union.
I. East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia to 1968-70.
a. East Germany (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR; German Democratic Republic, GDR).
Except for the brief Berlin uprising of June 1953, East Germans expressed their dissent in a
very specific way -- with their feet. (Lenin described desertions from the Russian Army in 1917 as
soldiers voting with their feet). In the years 1945-61, there was a massive flight amounting to some
3,000,000 people or one-sixth of the total population, until it was halted by the building of the Berlin
Wall in August 1961.
Why did the East German communist government wait so long to stem this flood? It seems
the Soviet leaders did not want to jeopardize the chances for the unification of Germany as a
"neutral" state under a communist-dominated government subjected to Moscow.
The German question was, of course, bound up with the Soviet goal to have U.S. forces and missiles
leave Europe, thus weakening NATO, and then eliminating the latter. The opening shot in this
strategy was Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki's (1909-1970) proposal of October 1957, known
as "The Rapacki Plan". He proposed a nuclear-free zone in Central Europe, i.e. Germany, Poland,
and Czechoslovakia. The Western powers rejected the plan because the abolition of the U.S. "nuclear
umbrella" would leave NATO forces vastly outnumbered by the conventional forces of the Warsaw
Pact. Britain and France developed their own nuclear weapons too, but would be too weak to stand
up to the USSR by themselves. At the same time, the Rapacki Plan involved the recognition of East
Germany as a sovereign state, which was unacceptable to the West Germans. Indeed the German
Federal Republic followed the Hallstein Doctrine (named after Walter Hallstein, 1901-1982, who
formulated it). According to this doctrine, the German Federal Republic (GFR) would not recognize
any state that recognized the GDR. However, exceptions were made over time for Yugoslavia and
Khrushchev's policy of "coexistence" with the West did not mean he was willing to recognize
the peace settlement in Germany. On the contrary, he was determined to change it in favor of the
Soviet Union and its East German satellite. Thus, in late November 1958, he provoked the first major
Berlin crisis since the Berlin blockade and, at the same time, defined Soviet policy regarding
Germany. He demanded the unification of a neutral Germany. He also stated that if West Germany
left NATO, East Germany would leave the Warsaw Pact. (Note: Little Austria became a neutral state
in 1955 with the consent of Moscow but a united Germany would be a big state at the heart of
Europe). Finally, he proposed that West Berlin become a demilitarized free city. If the NATO powers
refused, Khrushchev threatened to carry out certain measures agreed on with the East German
government. However, though his offers were turned down, he waited another three years.
The Berlin wall went up on August 13, 1961. The East German leader, Walter Ulbricht (1893-1973), called it a "cordon sanitaire" (sanitary barrier) against the "frontline swamp of West Berlin"
(speech of September 15, 1961). East German propaganda claimed the wall was erected to prevent
the flow of "undesirable" people into East Germany. (Spies?) Of course, the wall accomplished its
primary aim, i.e. to cut off the easiest escape route for East Germans: the short ride on the Berlin
subway from East to West Berlin. (The Berlin wall finally came down in early November 1989, see
ch. 8). We should also note that the East German police and military placed barbed wire, watch
towers and mine fields along the whole length of the frontier with West Germany.
Nevertheless, both the Soviet and East German governments still pursued the goal of a united,
neutral, Germany under communist control. Also, the Soviets made several proposals for the removal
of nuclear weapons from the whole of Europe, and supported "ban the bomb" movements in Western
Europe - though they did not allow them at home. The anti-nuclear proposals were part and parcel
of Soviet policy aimed at the withdrawal of U.S. forces and missiles from Western Europe and the
disarmament of France and Britain. This would make the USSR the dominant power in Europe. (1)
Gomulka began to cut back the liberalization of the press and literature in the fall of 1957.
Despite restrictions, the years 1956-63/65 saw a flowering of literature and the emergence of an
outstanding new Polish film school. It was led by film director Andrzej Wajda, who became famous
with the film Ashes and Diamonds. Based on Andrzejewski's novel with the same title, the film
tackled the hitherto taboo topic of Polish Home Army resistance to Soviet "liberation" and the new
Polish communist authorities at the end of the war. At this time too, Roman Polanski produced his
first films; the best known was Knife in the Water, which also joined film classics. (Later, Polanski
sought asylum in the West and produced his films there).
There was also a significant increase in academic and cultural contacts with the West.
Beginning in 1956, Polish scholars, artists and writers travelled to Western countries, especially the
United States, while Western scholars -- mostly Slavists and particularly Americans -- studied in
Poland. The Fulbright progam, set up in 1946 by Senator John W. Fulbright of Arkansas, financed
most of these exchanges. American and East European scholars remember him with gratitude. At the
same time, western literature and drama were translated into Polish and some Polish works became
known in the West..
In the realm of Marxism, a Marxist philosopher at Warsaw University, Leszek Kolakowski,
discovered the "young Marx," i.e. his early humanist writings. Kolakowski began to criticize the
dogmatic Marxist doctrine which had evolved in the Soviet Union and was imposed on Eastern
Europe. In 1968, he was a leading dissident demanding political reform. He was expelled from the
party; lost his job; and proceeded to teach at universities in the United States and Great Britain. (2)
In view of the publicity given to Gorbachev's proposals and measures to restructure the Soviet
economy (1986-91), we should recall that the first economic reforms in the Soviet bloc -- similar to
Soviet NEP (see ch. 3) -- were implemented by Imre Nagy in Hungary under the "New Course" in
1953-55 (see ch. 6). Extensive reform was first publicly discussed by Polish economists in 1956-57,
but it was not implemented by the party leadership for political reasons (see below). Some reforms
were experimentally introduced in Czechoslovakia in 1965, and economic reforms were widely
discussed there in 1968; however, the Warsaw Pact invasion halted the process. Nevertheless, reform
began to be implemented in Hungary that same year. It was known as the "New Economic
Mechanism" (see Hungary, below). Soviet economists also realized the need for reform. Khrushchev
began some limited reforms in the USSR in 1964, his last year as Secretary General, but he never
envisaged dismantling socialism, only making it more efficient. Some experimental reforms were
implemented by Brezhnev beginning in 1965, but they were soon abandoned
As noted earlier, Polish economists were the first to publicly propose the decentralization of
the economy. They envisioned putting it on a "socialist profit basis" ( state enterprises would work
for profit, dividing it between re-investment and bonuses for the work force); replacing extensive by
intensive development; and allowing more scope for private enterprise, especially small scale
manufacture, e.g. small parts for machines. This New Economic Model was widely discussed in the
Polish press in 1957-58. Unfortunately, Gomulka and his closest advisers did not want to hear of any
economic reform; they refused to give up what they saw as "socialist principles." Above all, they
feared the loss of party control over the economy and thus the political life of the country. The result
was progressive economic stagnation, shortages, and price hikes, which made the situation much
worse. In December 1970, resentment against arbitrary price increases led to worker protest in
Poland's Baltic port cities and the fall of Gomulka (see ch. 8).
After five years of harsh repression, Janos Kadar launched a policy of reconciliation. This began with the 1961 slogan: "He who is not against us, is with us." At the same time, he purged the party of "dead wood" and allowed free discussion of economic reform. This policy allowed many non-party experts to enter the administration and some came to occupy managerial posts in the economic sector.
Planning for economic reforms began in 1964. These reforms followed the lines of the "New
Economic Model" proposed by Polish economists in 1957-58, i.e. decentralization, production on
a socialist profit basis, and the expansion of private enterprise. The Hungarian name for this program
was the New Economic Mechanism and its implementation began in 1968. In a few years, Hungary
seemed to be the most prosperous state in the bloc. However, this was due to the leeway given to
profitable food and other consumer production on collective farms, and to small private enterprise,
particularly in the service sector. But economic reform was not implemented in heavy industry (see
ch. 8). Still, l Hungarian dissent was minimal due to the rising standard of living and progressive
liberalization. Travel abroad was virtually unrestricted and even long-exiled Hungarians were able
to visit their country without difficulty. Like the Poles, Hungarians re-established their cultural and
scientific ties with the Western world. (3)
(i) Nationality Problems.
Part of the German-speaking population of Transylvania -- descended from medieval settlers
-- fled, or was deported, in 1944-45. Over the years, many of the Germans still living there, emigrated
to West Germany, which paid the Romanian government several thousand Deutsch marks per
head.However, there was still a sizable Hungarian minority in Transylvania, subjected over the years
to forced Romanian assimilation. This constituted the major cause of bad relations between Hungary
and Romania. (For Ceausescu's policy in Transylvania in the late 1980s, see ch. 8).
b. Politics and Economics.
Unlike Poland and Hungary, there was no liberalization of any sort in Romania after 1956.
However, there was increased independence from the USSR under the leadership of Nicolae
Ceausescu (1918-1989), who became First Secretary in 1965 and played up Romanian nationalism.
He stepped up the independent economic development begun by his predecessor Gheorghiu-Dej in
1963. Both rejected the Comecon ( Common Economic Market for Eastern Europe,1949) in which
Romania was to remain an agricultural and oil-producing country, exporting these products to other
Comecon members in exchange for industrial goods.
Ignoring the economic reform plans discussed in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary,
Ceausescu launched an intensive Stalinist-type industrialization in the late 1960s. He accepted loans
and credits from the West as well as Red China. He established diplomatic relations with West
Germany and Israel. As we shall see, he visited Prague in mid-August 1968 (along with Marshal Tito)
and refused to participate in the Warsaw Pact invasion of that country. Furthermore, Romania
protested against the Brezhnev Doctrine, fromulated in 1968, on the right of socialist countries to
intervene in the affairs of an ally, if socialism was threatened. Ceausescu was rewarded for this policy
with Most Favored Nation (MFN) status in trade with the United States and President Richard Nixon
visited Romania in 1969, where he was welcomed with great enthusiasm. (He visited Yugoslavia
in 1970 and Poland in 1972, which also enjoyed MFN treatment. This was during the period of the
Nixon-Brezhnev detente between the U.S. and U.S.S.R).
Ceausescu's economic program soon ran into problems typical of all Stalinist economies:
waste, inefficiency and declining production. These were compounded by foreign currency debts to
Western states and large scale corruption, headed by nepotism in the Ceausescu family. The dictator
decided to make the people pay off the debts incurred by his forced industrialisation. This led to a
drastic fall in the standard of living. In 1975, worker protests began and there was some individual
(intellectual) dissent. (4) In his reaction to this unrest and and criticism, Ceausescu developed the
most repressive dictatorship in all of Eastern Europe. It was accompanied by a ludicrous personality
cult on the scale of Kim Il Sung in Korea -- whom Ceausescu visited and greatly admired. (For
Ceausescu's fall in December 1989, see ch. 8).
Todor Zhivkov (b. 1911) ruled Bulgaria as First Secretary of the party from April 1956 until
his overthrow in November 1989; thus, he held the record for staying in power -- 33 years. He was
born into a peasant family; became a typesetter; and joined the Bulgarian Communist Party's youth
organization at the age of 17. He served in the minuscule Bulgarian partisan movement during World
War II. After the communist seizure of power, he worked his way up the bureaucratic ladder in Sofia.
He was elected to the Central Committee in 1948, and became a full member of the Politburo in 1951.
He succeeded Vulko Chervenkov as First Secretary in April 1956. Chervenkov resigned in the wake
of Khrushchev's anti-Stalin speech, which led the Bulgarian party to admit that innocent party
members had been victimized in the Bulgarian purges. In 1965, Zhivkov survived a plot to
overthrow him, but information on this matter is scarce; his opponents apparently came from the
army. When the plot failed, Zhivkov established his control over the military.
Zhivkov followed the Soviet Union in experimenting with limited economic reforms in the
mid-1950s (Malenkov's "New Course"), and again in the mid-1960s. He then followed Moscow's lead
in holding on to a centralized economy. In agriculture, state farms were placed in agro-industrial
complexes in the 1970s, but private plots were allowed. Although these plots covered only 12.9%
of the arable land, they produced 25% of the national agricultural output in 1982.
By 1969, 82% of the labor force was employed in industrial production, as compared with
37% in 1948. Such an intensive pace meant great dislocation and suffering. Furthermore, like other
communist leaders, Zhivkov loved grand, expensive "white elephants." In his case, it was the huge
metallurgical combine at Kremikovtsi near Sofia. After eating up 20% of the total industrial
investment in 1961-63, it proved an economic disaster. It had to import both coal and iron, thus
raising the costs; it also overburdened the country's railway system.
In the 1960s, there was some liberalization of cultural life, which brought Zhivkov the support of most Bulgarian intellectuals. Much of this support was due to the activities of his daughter, Liudmilla Zhivkova. She had been educated in Bulgaria, but also studied at Oxford University. She became the deputy chair of the Committee for Art and Culture in 1971, and was given responsibility for radio, TV and the press in 1976. She showed interest in religion and emphasized Bulgaria's historical heritage, particularly in the celebrations of the 1,300th anniversary of Bulgarian statehood in 1981 - which was also the anniversary of Bulgaria's conversion to Greek Orthodox Christianity from Constantinople. (Compare Gorbachev's similar policy in Russia, 1988). However, she died of cancer a few years later.
In 1971, Bulgaria obtained a new constitution and a new party program. This program
announced that the party would build "an advanced socialist society," in which all differences of
property and function were to disappear. As in other communist-led countries, this goal was never
achieved. In the meanwhile, the party elite enjoyed a standard of living undreamed of by the people
it ruled. (5)
This was a communist country outside the Soviet bloc since the Sino-Yugoslav split of 1948.
However, it maintained good relations with the bloc states after reconciliation took place under
Khrushchev in 1955. Yugoslav economic developments were followed with great, though discreet,
interest by experts in the Soviet bloc with access to the information. There is no doubt that some
Yugoslav economic reforms influenced the thinking of economists in other East European states.
After 1948, Tito allowed the decollectivization of agriculture and instituted "workers'
management" in the factories. (In fact, the directors soon had more say than the workers).He
developed economic and cultural relations with the West, but refused to align his country with
NATO. For many years he led the bloc of "non-aligned countries" established at the Bandung
In the 1960s, Yugoslav workers could work in the West, mostly in West Germany. They
lived frugally, saved money, sent it back home, and/or returned to invest it in family farms or private
business. These funds provided an important source of foreign currency and investment capital.
Foreign capital also came with the development of tourism along the Adriatic coast. In the mid-1970s.
However, the recession of the 1970s limited the number of Yugoslav and other "guest workers" in
Germany, which was a hard blow to the Yugoslav economy.
In the political sphere, the Yugoslav Communist Party was transformed into the "League of
Yugoslav Communists," which was supposed to "guide" the country's development, not dictate it.
Nevertheless, Tito remained the supreme authority. Thus, despite a certain amount of liberalization,
Tito maintained control over the media and did not allow any serious opposition. He jailed his former
close collaborator, Milovan Djilas, when he began to criticize the Yugoslav communist system. He
began this with the book The New Class, (New York, 1957), in which he pointed out that the
communists had established a new ruling/ managerial class, made up of themselves. In fact, Djilas's
idealistic communism led to his disillusionment with establishment communism as it existed in
Yugoslavia and elsewhere in the Soviet bloc. Thus, he became a leading dissident, expressing ideas
that were later to appear in other bloc countries, notably in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. He
wrote many interesting books, including an autobiography, wartime memoirs, and a scathing
biography of Tito.
When Tito died in 1980, he left a foundering economy and explosive nationality problems,
notably Albanian demands for greater autonomy in the Kosovo region. There was also smoldering
resentment against Serbian domination in Croatia and Slovenia, the two most prosperous republics
of Yugoslavia. (6)
II. Khrushchev's Russia, 1957-1964, and the Early Years of Leonid Brezhnev.
As we know, Khrushchev attacked Stalin and his deeds in his secret speech at the 20th
Conference of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956. (See ch.6). He began the
rehabilitation of party members killed by Stalin and released thousands of people from the labor
camps. He also initiated a "thaw" in the arts, media, and literature. Finally, he launched a policy of
"coexistence" with the capitalist West, especially with the United States.
In June 1957, Khrushchev's enemies within the Presidium (former Politburo) tried to
overthrow him.However, helped by Marshal Georgii K. Zhukov (1896-1974), who lent Soviet
military planes to carry Khruschev's supporters to Moscow, the First Secretary convened the Central
Committee, which confirmed him in power. He then retired some of his enemies. Fearing Zhukov's
prestige, he removed him from the Presidium and from his post as Defense Minister, replacing him
with Marshal Rodion Y. Malinovskii (1898-1967). In 1958, Nikolai A. Bulganin (1895-1975)
resigned as Premier, and Khrushchev assumed the post himself. He exiled his enemies, labelled as
"anti-party leaders," but had to face strong opposition to some of his policies from Mihail A. Suslov,
1902-1982), the official ideologue of the party.
Frustrated by opposition from the party bureaucracy, Khrushchev renewed his attack on Stalin
and Stalinism at the 22nd Congress of the CPSU in October 1961. At this time, he said that Stalin
had authorized the assassination of Sergei Kirov, in December 1934. He also linked two prominent
Stalinist leaders, Vyacheslav. M. Molotov and Kliment Y.Voroshilov - both old Stalinists - to the
purges. Moreoever, he had Stalin's mummified corpse removed from the mausoleum in Red Square,
where it had lain alongside of Lenin, and reburied at the base of the Kremlin wall along with other
lesser heroes of the USSR. Molotov was expelled from the party. (He was reinstated later by
Brezhnev). However, the "moderates" in the leadership, i.e., Aleksei N. Kosygin, (1904-1980)
Suslov, and Anastas I. Mikoyan, (1895-1978), blocked Khrushchev's efforts to expel his other critics
from the leadership.
Khrushchev concentrated his efforts on the economy. As noted earlier, he had initiated the
"Virgin Lands" program in 1953. By 1956, this had placed an additional 88.6 million acres under
cultivation. The man in charge was the Second Secretary of the Party in Kazakhstan, Leonid Il'ich
Brezhnev (1906-1982). A drought in 1955 pointed to the need of large scale investment, especially
for more irrigation. Moreover, grain production took place at the expense of livestock and created
a lack of balance between the two. Cotton was intensively cultivated in both Kazakhstan and
Uzbekistan. The intensive irrigation required by cotton led to an ecological disaster, i.e., the
progressive drying up of the Aral Sea. (7)
It is true that Khrushchev achieved some improvements in agriculture. He did this by raising
the ridiculously low state purchase prices for the produce of collective farms; by replacing peasant
payment in kind with money; and by encouraging greater food production on private plots. However,
when abolishing the Motor Tractor Stations (MTSs), he failed to provide the collective farms with
adequate funds to purchase their own machinery. Furthermore, the farms faced severe difficulties
in repairing what machines they had, because MTS mechanics were no longer available. On top of
all this, there was a constant lack of spare parts. (Rusting machinery was a common sight on
collective farms). Finally, all these problems were compounded by constant administrative
reorganization and changes in economic plans.
We should note that Khrushchev's major goal was much more grandiose than just increasing
agricultural production. In 1957, he began a campaign to "overtake" the United States. In 1959, he
scrapped the 6th Five Year Plan in mid-course and replaced it with a great Seven Year Plan, which
was supposed to "construct the basis of communism." By 1980, Soviet industrial production was to
outstrip the capitalist countries, including the United States. This is what Khrushchev meant in 1959,
when he shouted at the U.N.: "We will bury you!" However, the Seven Year Plan was abandoned in
1963, when it became clear that it was totally unrealistic. In that year the Soviet Union began
importing grain from Canada and the United States.
Khrushchev did score one stunning victory over the United States; this was the launching
of the first space satellite, "Sputnik," in 1957. (Sputnik means satellite in Russian. The Poles joked
that it was the only really free satellite in the Soviet orbit).
With regard to Eastern Europe, Khrushchev gave up the most extreme aspects of Soviet economic exploitation. Thus Polish "debts" to the USSR were cancelled in 1956 - a recognition of Soviet economic exploitation - and the Soviets also provided Poland with some economic aid in the form of credits. Joint stock companies were abolished in Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. The Comecon was revived, but most Soviet-East European trade was regulated by bilateral agreements.
Finally, Khrushchev gave massive Soviet credits to Third World countries, thus building up
a clientele for Moscow. Credits were given to China, India and Egypt, as well as to African and
Middle Eastern countries plus Cuba.. This became a further drain on the Soviet economy.
Khrushchev expanded the policy of coexistence, which he had initiated jointly with Georgii
M. Malenkov. The primary object was to halt the arms race, so that the USSR could catch up with
Western technology and improve its standard of living. Thus, Khrushchev tried to improve relations
with the United States. He attended a U.N. session in New York in 1959. He also travelled around
the country, showing great interest in methods of corn cultivation which he saw as the answer to
Soviet meat shortages. On his retrn home, he pushed corn growing in the USSR, including areas
quite unsuitable for it.
In mid-1960, the U.S.-Soviet rapprochement was halted by the U-2 spy plane affair. The
Soviets shot down one of these planes (based in Turkey) and captured the pilot, Gary F. Powers.
Detente might have been saved if President Eisenhower had disassociated himself from the spy plane,
but after initial denials he acknowledged full responsibility. Apparently, Khrushchev felt he had no
choice but to condemn the United States and refused to meet again with Eisenhower. Also,
Khrushchev created new tensions with the United States. This was particularly the case with Berlin -
the building of the Berlin wall in August 1961 - and then with efforts to expand Soviet influence in
the Third World. He was most successful in Egypt, which, under Gamal Abdel Nasser, became, for
all intents and purposes, an ally of the USSR.
Relations with Red China deteriorated after Khrushchev's attack on Stalinism in 1956 - which
he had not consulted with Mao tse-Tung - and worsened with the withdrawal of Soviet nuclear and
other experts in 1960-61. In that year, the rift between the USSR and China became public
knowledge (see ch. 10). However, this situation was not fully appreciated at the time by the U.S.
In October 1962, Khrushchev provoked a crisis with the United States by placing
intermediate ballistic missiles in Cuba, but had to climb down in the face of President John F.
Kennedy's naval blockade (see ch. 13). Nevertheless, this crisis led to some improvement in Soviet-U.S. relations. A telephone "hot line" was set up between Washington and Moscow. Also, the USSR,
Great Britain and the United States agreed to ban nuclear tests in the atmosphere.
In October 1964, the world learned that Khrushchev had resigned on grounds of "advanced
age and poor health." In reality, he was 70 years old and in good health. He was overthrown by his
enemies within the party leadership. He was criticized for "hare-brained schemes" in agriculture;
recklessness; dangerous experimentation; undignified behavior, etc. He was blamed for the rift with
China and the fiasco in Cuba, as well as for the ills of the Soviet economy. But what really united his
enemies was his attack on Stalinism. This not only outraged them, but also threatened most of them
with retirement. Finally, they resented his constant administrative reorganizations, which made them
In August 1988, when Gorbachev's "glasnost" (openness) began to uncover many secrets of
the past, the chief Soviet literary paper, Literaturnaia Gazeta (The Literary Gazette), published an
article by Feodor Burlatsky, a former speech writer for Khrushchev, member of the Party
Secretariat, and one of Gorbachev's key supporters. Burlatsky wrote that Khrushchev's overthrow
was prepared by small group of party leaders headed by Alexander N. Shelepin (b. 1918), head of the
KGB since 1958. He was aided by his protege, Vladimir Y. Semichastny (b. 1924). Burlatsky claims
that Shelepin wanted to restore the Stalinist system. (Of course, both Brezhnev and Kosygin were
in favor of overthrowing Khrushchev). The most accurate account of the "plot" is given by
Khrushchev's son, Sergei (now in the U.S), who also details the harassment to which his father was
subjected in retirement, and confirms the authenticity of Khrushchev's memoirs as published in the
The First Years of Leonid I. Brezhnev.
Leonid Il'ich Brezhnev (1906-1982) emerged as the General Secretary (title changed from
First Secretary, 1966) and therefore leader of the party at the 23rd Party Congress in April 1966.
He was a metallurgical engineer and had worked closely with Khrushchev from 1938 onward. His
role in promoting the "Virgin Lands" program in Kazakhstan has been noted earlier. In 1960, he
became the President of the USSR - a post without power. He built up his own "Dnieper Mafia" of
engineers and technocrats. (He had worked for a while in Dnepropetrovsk, hence the Mafia name).
By 1971, he had managed to liquidate all real and potential rivals for power. In the meanwhile, he
tolerated Kadar's economic reforms in Hungary, but ordered the Warsaw Pact forces to crush
Alexander Dubcek's liberalization in Czechoslovakia (see below).
In the USSR, Brezhnev adopted a form of modified Stalinism. In 1965, he rehabilitated Stalin
as a great war leader, which is how most Russians saw him. He also repressed Ukrainian intellectuals;
in 1966, they were accused of "bourgeois nationalism." Finally, Brezhnev began to incarcerate
dissidents in mental hospitals (see "Dissent in the Soviet Union," below).
In the economic sphere, Brezhnev at first continued the experimentation begun under
Khrushchev in 1964, which followed the prescriptions of the economist Evsei G. Libermann (1897-1983).Liberman preached socialist profitability, i.e., wage raises and bonuses for sales of products,
and not for fulfilling production quotas with the help of state subsidies. (These were ideas current
among Polish, Hungarian and Soviet economists since the mid-1950s and were partly implemented
in Hungary beginning in 1968) However, the Libermann system was introduced only in some 400
enterprises, while the rest of the economy worked as before. Only in Soviet Estonia did economic
reform make significant progress. Estonia, which already had the highest standard of living in the
USSR, was treated as a laboratory for economic reform, just as it would be in Gorbachev's
"perestroika" some twenty years later. (9)
Libermann's patron, Kosygin, called for a reduction of the party's role in the economy.
However, this idea did not get off the ground because too many party bureaucrats had a vested
interest in keeping their well-paid sinecures (positions requiring no work) in the centralized economy.
Therefore, the reforms decreed in 1965 were not carried out. Gorbachev was to take them up again
in 1987-88. His first chief economic adviser, Abel G. Aganbegyan (b. 1932), had been involved in
preparing the reforms that were aborted by Brezhnev (see ch. 8).
The effects of delaying economic reform were predictable. Industrial production stagnated.
Agricultural yields improved somewhat, but they were still below the planned targets and the USSR
continued to import grain from the United States, Canada, and Argentina. In sum, Brezhnev allowed
stagnation and corruption to continue. As a Soviet joke had it: How would different Soviet leaders
react if the train they were travelling on stalled? Answer: Lenin would persuade the engineer to do
his best to repair the engine and get the train going.Stalin would have the engineer shot and put
another in his place, shot him if he could not do the job, and so on until he found one that could..
Brezhnev would say: "Let's draw the curtains and pretend we're moving."
Brezhnev tried to improve the USSR's position by reviving Khrushchev's policy of detente
(relaxation) with the United States. Indeed, this policy flourished in the 1970s, when Richard M.
Nixon was President (1968-74), and then under Jimmy Carter, until the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan in December 1979 (see ch. 14). We should note that during this period of "detente," the
Soviet Union greatly expanded its armed forces - especially the navy - as well as increased its
influence in the Third World through credits and loans.
Let us now turn to Eastern Europe and discuss the extraordinary developments in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Outline of Chapter Seven
III. Czechoslovakia 1968: "Socialism with a Human Face".
l. The Background.
Despite the Khrushchev thaw in the Soviet Union, the revolution in Hungary and the
liberalization in Poland, Czechoslovakia remained an orthodox Stalinist state. A new, Stalinist-type
constitution was approved in 1960; the school system continued to copy of the Soviet system.
Literature and history were written according to the party line. Thus, the birth of the Czechoslovak
Republic in October 1918 was attributed not to the defeat of the Central Powers and the work of
Thomas G. Masaryk, - but to the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917. (The same distortion of
history was present in all satellite states. A more objective approach was allowed in Poland after
October 1956, but only in specialized historical books and articles generally accessible to professional
historians, not in school textboks. The same was true in Hungary from the mid-1960s onward).
Despite a generally high standard of living, two problems intensified from the early 1960s on:
economic stagnation and the Slovak question. Together, they formed the background of the "Prague
Spring" of 1968. These problems caused ferment among intellectuals in the whole country.
(a) Economic Stagnation.
As we know, the key features of the Stalinist economic model or command economy were:
rigid centralization; unrealistic production targets; lack of any correlation between production costs
and prices; excessive bureaucratization; incompetent management; and lack of incentive due to the
principle of equal wages for blue and white collar workers, also the principle of full employment, i.e.,
no firing of workers (except for political reasons). By the early 1960s, all of these features combined
to produce economic stagnation even in highly developed Czechoslovakia. These problems were
further compounded by aging industrial equipment, most dating back to the interwar period, and
some even to the pre-1914 period.
Although some proposals for a "New Economic Model" were adopted by the Party Central
Committee in 1965, their implementation was poor due to the centralization of the rest of the
economy. Thus, these experimental reforms suffered the same fate as the "Libermann Reforms" in the
USSR. The Czechs joked about their reform, saying: "We noticed that London traffic was well-organized, but we weren't sure the British system would work for us. So we introduced only one
change: buses were to drive on the left, while the rest of the traffic would continue to drive on the
right. The result was chaos."
Czech economists began demanding freedom of speech to allow free discussion of economic
problems and reforms without fear of reprisal. The leader of this trend was the economist Ota Sik.
(We should bear in mind that free discussion of economic reform had taken place in Poland in 1957-58 and was taking place in Hungary since the mid-1960s. The Hungarian "New Economic
Mechanism" was implemented in 1968).
(b) The Slovak Question.
The Slovaks had lost the last vestiges of autonomy in the repressions that followed the
communist seizure of power in February 1948. The communists abolished the strong Slovak
Democratic Party, which had absorbed the Catholic People's Party in 1945 and won the majority of
votes in the next elections. Finally, the Slovak Communist Party was merged with the Czechoslovak
party in 1948, although it retained its regional structure.
It is true that considerable industrial investment was funnelled to Slovakia, increasing industrial growth there sixfold. But this only served to increase the Slovak desire for autonomy.
Thus, it was not surprising that in the mid-1960s Slovak writers preceded their Czech colleagues in
demanding complete freedom of artistic expression. As Laco Novomesky said in 1966, referring to
Soviet literature, but clearly meaning Czechoslovak literature: "Problems cannot be solved just by
quoting Lenin instead of Stalin."
(c) Intellectual Ferment Among the Czechs.
Despite the politically repressive regime in the country, cultural and educational contacts with
the West, especially Western Europe, increased greatly after 1956. It is difficult to say what impact
these contacts had on Czech thinking, or how they should be weighed against the impact of
developments in Poland and Hungary, but it is safe to assume that all these factors had an impact on
As in Poland (Kolakowski), Czech philosophers began to focus on the "young Marx," i.e., his early humanist writings. As in Poland, this led to criticism of dogmatic, Soviet-style Marxism.
Again, as in Poland, a new film school emerged. Its best known director-producer was Milos Forman,
who later emigrated to the United States, where he directed the film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's
Nest (1975 Academy Award). The best known films which he made earlier in Czechoslovakia were
Peter and Pavla, Loves of a Blonde, and Firemen's Ball. Two other Czechoslovak film classics of this
period are Closely Watched Trains, which deals with the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, and
Shop in the Main Street, dealing with the persecution of Jews in wartime Slovakia. The main
character is a dispossessed Jewish shop owner, played by the great Polish-Jewish actress, Ida
Kaminska. The Slovak who takes over her shop tries to hide her so she would not be deported to a
death camp. In the end, he takes his own life.
At this time, in the early sixties, articles published in scholarly journals on history,
jurisprudence and philosophy, began to harken back to the Czechoslovak democratic philosophy of
history, contrasting it with the alienation of leadership from the people in contemporary
Czechoslovakia.The intellectual ferment surfaced at the Congress of the Union of Czechoslovak
Writers in June 1967. The writer Ludvik Vaculik dared to condemn the prevailing apathy and fear.
He said: "I think there are no longer any free citizens left in Czechoslovakia." He blamed the party
leader and President Antonin Novotny (1904-1975) for this state of affairs. He also contrasted
Czechoslovak democracy of the period 1945-48, with the dead hand of Stalinism that prevailed since
that time. Another writer, Milan Kundera, said that Stalinism had corrupted "a great human
movement" (i.e., socialism), and called on Czechoslovak writers to change this situation. These
writers were supported by a member of the Party's Central Committee, Jan Prochazka, who recalled
the democracy of the prewar Czechoslovak republic. He also described the work of Thomas G.
Masaryk as "gigantic." Indeed, there was a "back to Masaryk" movement in 1967. Many Czech
philosophers now accepted Masaryk's belief that "man is valuable for himself alone." (10).
2. Alexander Dubcek and the Prague Spring, or Socialism with a Human Face.
(a) Alexander Dubcek (1921-1992).
The leader of the Prague Spring was born in the village of Uhrovec, Slovakia, in 1921. His
parents had just returned from working in the United States; they had met in Chicago and his elder
brother, Julius, was born there. Dubcek began life in the same cottage as the father of Slovak national
consciousness, Ludovit Stur (1815-56) , and he believed this had something to do with his own
Dubcek's father, a carpenter, was a left-wing socialist and pacifist. He tried to evade the draft
when the U.S. entered the war in 1917, but was caught and jailed because he could not pay the stiff
fine. After returning to Slovakia with his family, he became a communist. His wife shared his
convictions. It was also difficult to find work in Slovakia. Thus, the Dubceks heeded Moscow's call
for skilled workers to help build the Soviet Union. In March 1925, they and several other idealistic
families left to begin a new life in the USSR.
The family lived in the Soviet Union until November 1938. First, they settled with the other
families in a remote village in Kirghizia in Soviet Central Asia (now Kirghizstan), where they set up
a cooperative farm and workshops producing agricultural implements. In 1933, with the onset of
collectivization, the cooperative was closed down and the family moved to the city of Gorky (Nizhny
Novgorod) in European Russia. Thus, Dubcek received a Soviet education. The family did not seem
to be affected by Stalin's collectivization and the purges; at any rate, their communist faith was
unshaken. They returned to Slovakia in November 1938, after the Soviet government decreed that
foreign workers in the USSR either become Soviet citizens or leave the country. After returning to
Slovakia, Dubcek joined the Communist Party and participated in the communist resistance. He also
fought in the Slovak uprising of October 1944, in which his brother lost his life. His father was
arrested and was imprisoned for a time in the Mauthausen death camp in Germany. (11)
In 1949, Dubcek began his career in the "apparat," i.e., the party bureaucracy. He did so well
that he was selected to attend the Higher Political School of the Central Committee of the CPSU in
Moscow and studied there in 1955-58. He wrote in his autobiography that he was "overwhelmed"
by the events he witnessed in the USSR, i.e., Khrushchev's anti-Stalin speech of February 1956 and
the changes that followed. However, his faith in communism was unshaken. (12)
In 1966, Dubcek became First Secretary of the Slovak wing of the Czechoslovak party. He
cultivated ties with Slovak writers and reform-minded Czech economists. He also supported the
Slovak desire for autonomy. Finally, in 1963, he first used the phrase "socialism with a human face,"
which was to become his trademark in 1968.
In October 1967, the Czechoslovak Party's Central Committee came out squarely for
economic reform and, in a move against Novotny, called for the separation of party and state.
(Antonin Novotny was, for many years, both First Secretary of the party and President of
By this time, Dubcek was the obvious candidate for the post of First Secretary. Novotny
appealed to Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, but, when the latter visited Prague in early December
1967, he did not intervene. He talked with some members of the Presidium, including Dubcek, who
told him that Novotny must go because he opposed necessary change. Perhaps Brezhnev assumed
that Dubcek would be another Kadar, i.e., that he would proceed with economic reform but allow
only limited political liberalization. Whatever the case may be, the Czechoslovak Party's Central
Committee voted in January 1968 that Novotny must give up his post as First Secretary of the Party
and elected Dubcek. (13)
(b) The Prague Spring.
All of a sudden, as if by the wave of a magic wand, people began to speak more freely, to
criticize the past and discuss reform - both economic and political. This stream of free discussion
turned into a flood when censorship disappeared from the media in March 1968. How did this
We know that Dubcek and his supporters wished to allow free discussion of past events,
current problems, and reform. We also know that Novotny's supporters were visiting the factories
and telling the workers that the projected economic reforms meant people would lose their jobs.
There was also a military plot to overthrow Dubcek, but it was nipped in the bud. General Jan Sejna
fled West in February 1968. Whether or not he plotted against Dubcek, his close relations with
Novotny made him a prime suspect. These machinations reinforced Dubcek's belief in the need for
uncensored media, so he allowed censorship to lapse.
Now everyone engaged in political discussion. It even preempted sports on television. Many
of the party's past mistakes and cruelties were revealed. These revelations were, in part, Dubcek's
weapon against the conservatives who opposed reform. (Compare Khrushchev earlier and Gorbachev
later in the USSR). But we know that Dubcek himself now had access to the secret files on the purges
and was deeply upset by what he read. He began the process of rehabilitating the innocent victims of
the purges of 1948-55. This was a process Khrushchev had begun in the USSR; the Polish
Communists carried it out under Gomulka in 1956-58; Zhivkov had partially carried it out in
Bulgaria; and it had also taken place in Romania. There was also a new investigation into the death
of Jan Masaryk (March 10, 1948, see ch. 6).
The Soviet, Polish, and East German party leaders were very worried by the lifting of media
censorship in Czechoslovakia, for they feared repercussions in their own countries. Indeed, Polish
students staged demonstrations in March 1968, demanding the abolition of censorship and
organized sit-ins at the universities. They were beaten up by the police and many were expelled, but
they struck fear in the hearts of party leaders. There were even some small student demonstrations
in East Germany. But above all, it was communist doctrine that the party must control the media, for
this control was a key instrument of communist power. They could not understand Dubcek's belief
that the people of Czechoslovakia would freely support a reforming communist party. No wonder
the Warsaw Pact leaders (except for Ceausescu who had no reason to fear any unrest in Romania,
and Kadar, who had liberalized censorship in Hungary), attacked Dubcek for allowing censorship to
lapse in his country.
In April, the Czechoslovak Party published its reform program, titled The Action Program.
This document rehabilitated Czechoslovakia's "road to socialism," as it existed in 1945-48, i.e.,
political parties and a coalition government, along with relative freedom and the existence of a small
private sector in the econom. It criticized the mistakes and crimes of the past, i.e., Stalinism in
Czechoslovakia. . It spoke of "democratic socialism" and economic reform. On this point, the
program proposed complete decentralization, managerial independence, "flexible market
mechanisms," and the legalization of a small private sector, especially in services. Personal freedom
was to be guaranteed. There was to be respect for the law and court proceedings. People would be
free to travel abroad. Finally, a real federation was to be worked out between Czechs and Slovaks.
The leaders of the Soviet Union, Poland and East Germany had already attacked Dubcek for
"losing control" at a conference held in Dresden in March. They became even more nervous after
reading the Action Program. What is more, Dubcek dismissed many Czech army officers appointed
on Soviet recommendation earlier, and replaced them with officers he trusted -- all this without
asking for Moscow's agreement. This infuriated Brezhnev and the Soviet military brass, who now lost
their agents in the Czechoslovak army.
Moscow now began a policy of bullying and threats. In early May, Marshal Ivan I.
Yakubovsky (1908-1976), head of Warsaw Pact forces, demanded that Warsaw Pact games,
scheduled in Czechoslovakia for September, be held in June. Dubcek agreed - but found out later that
the forces involved in the "games" were much larger than Yakubovsky had proposed and the Czechs
had agreed to. On May 8th, East German, Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian party leaders met with
Soviet leaders in Moscow (Romania was absent). Two days later, Warsaw Pact military maneuvers
began on the Polish-Czechoslovak border.
On May 30th, Antonin Novotny was expelled from the Czechoslovak Communist Party. In
March, he had already been succeeded as President by General Ludvik Svoboda, (1895-1979), the
former commander of Czechoslovak military units in the Soviet Union in World War II and Minister
of Defense in 1945-48.
On June 27th, a manifesto was published titled: Two Thousand Words. This was the most eloquent document of the whole period. Signed by writers, scholars, artists, athletes, workers and farmers, it expressed the strongest condemnation so far of the past practices of the party. The document stated that in the past, the party had been "a power organization . . . attractive to egotists, avid to rule, to calculating cowards and to people with bad consciences." It demanded the resignation of officials who opposed democratization and called for the establishment of "committees for the defense of freedom of expression." Referring to fears of foreign involvement, i.e., Soviet/Warsaw pact intervention, the document said its signatories would back the government with weapons if necessary. At the same time, however, it stated that they would observe Czechoslovakia's alliances, friendships, and trade agreements. (15) We should also mention the rebirth of the Social Democratic Party - whose leaders Dubcek tried and failed to dissuade from this step - and the establishment of several political clubs.
Dubcek and his supporters in the party leadership expressed regret for the publication of the
Two Thousand Words, they proclaimed their loyalty to the Warsaw Pact, and denied any intention
of reestablishing a multiparty system. But they also spoke of making the party more popular and
responsive to the people's wishes. The Soviet leadership was very worried by what was going on
in Czechoslovakia. Its anxiety was increased by the misleading and alarming reports of its agents.
Moreover, Moscow was egged on by the nervous leaders of Poland and East Germany, so it became
even more critical of Dubcek and his policies.Also, while Czechoslovak reform spokesmen declared
their loyalty to the Soviet Union, some also recalled the "Little Entente" of prewar times, thus hinting
at establishing closer ties with maverick Romania and independent Yugoslavia. To cap it all, some
liberal party leaders advocated closer ties with West Germany and expressed support for the West
German Social Democratic Party.
Here we should emphasize a fact little known in the West at the time, i.e., that Dubcek and
his supporters had only small majorities in the party's key offices: the: Presidium, Central Committee,
and Secretariat. The "hardliners," led by the long time Soviet agent Vasil Bilak, attacked freedom of
the press. They also accused the "liberalizers" of aiming to establish a "bourgeois" type of democracy,
and even of hatching plans to dissolve Czechoslovakia's alliance with the Soviet Union. These
hardliners were Moscow's henchmen inside the Czechoslovak party leadership. It seems that
Brezhnev expected them to outvote Dubcek and his supporters, and then remove them from
power.This would, of course, remove any need for Soviet armed intervention like the one in
Hungary in 1956. At the same time, Dubcek and his supporters simply could not believe that Moscow
would reject their reforms. Finally, they could not believe that the Soviets would use force and
again risk the condemnation of world opinion. In retrospect, Dubcek called his efforts to explain his
policy to Moscow as "talking with the dinosaurs." (16) At the time, however, he pinned his hopes on
In this tense atmosphere, Warsaw Pact maneuvers took place in Czechoslovakia in June and
were extended to July. On July 15th, the East German, Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian party leaders
again criticized the Czechoslovak Party. This time, the Soviet bloc leaders (except for Romania), sent
a very strong letter to the Czechoslovak Party Central Committee. They expressed their anxiety at
the "reactionaries' offensive, supported by Imperialism," which, they said, was endangering "the
interests of the entire Socialist system." They said they did not wish to interfere, but could not allow
"hostile forces" to create the "threat that Czechoslovakia may break away from the Socialist
Commonwealth." Therefore, they concluded ominously: "This is no longer your own affair." (17)
In light of the Warsaw Pact invasion of August 21st, this warning implied readiness to use force.
Indeed, the charges listed in the letter of July 15th, were used later to justify the invasion.
Despite these warnings, the Czechoslovak party leaders worked out new Party Statutes. They
proclaimed loyalty to the USSR, but stressed the national traditions of the Czech and Slovak peoples;
they promised a free exchange of views and proposed that elections to all party organs take place
by secret ballot. Finally, the party was to have two separate organizations: one for the Czech lands,
and one for Slovakia. Of course, hardliners in the leadership informed the Soviet leaders of these
statutes, which were to be submitted to the Extraordinary Party Congress, to be held in early
September, and were bound to be legalized.
The Soviet leaders proposed a meeting with the Czechoslovak leaders in the USSR, but finally
agreed to meet at the Slovak-Soviet border. At the end of July, Brezhnev and Kosygin came by train
to the little Slovak town of Cierna nad-Tisou. (Cherna on the Tisza river). The meetings lasted from
July 29 through August 1st and were held each day at the railway station - after which the Soviets
retired to their train, on their side of the border, for the night.
We now have both Soviet and Czech records of these talks, as well as some personal
reminiscences. Although all of these sources are fragmentary, we can form a good idea of what was
said. As Czech communist Josef Smrkovsky, who was present at the talks, testified later, Brezhnev
urged Dubcek to dismiss the "liberal" party leaders, reimpose censorship, and dissolve "reactionary
organizations." Dubcek insisted in his autobiography that no agreements were made, but he was
vague about the conference and his own personal conversation with Brezhnev. This vagueness is all
the more striking when his account is compared with the Soviet and Czech records. Here we learn,
for example, that Ukrainian Party Secretary Pyotr Shelest stated the impact of the Prague Spring was
felt more strongly in the Ukraine than anywhere else in the USSR, and accused the Czechoslovak side
of "directly hostile, nationalistic and chauvinistic attacks." (This was most likely a reference to
Ukrainian language broadcasts by radio Bratislava for the Ukrainian minority in Slovakia. These
broadcasts, which included readings from Ukrainian poets banned in the Soviet Ukraine, could be
heard in that country). He also accused some Czechoslovak writers of demanding a revision of the
Czechoslovak-Ukrainian frontier in Subcarpathian Ruthenia (or Transcarpathia). As we know, Stalin
annexed it to the Ukraine at war's end. (I heard from a Czech historian, who was involved in working
out the new Czechoslovak federation that in 1968 the people of Transcarpathia wanted to reunite
with Czechoslovakia, and that Soviet authorities had mobilized all men aged 18-50 to for military
service elewhere in the USSR. I have not been able to find confirmation for this).
The Soviet record of the conference has Kosygin and Brezhnev speaking of Soviet national
security. Brezhnev talked of giving Czechoslovakia "help" against the "imperialists," while Kosygin
called Czechoslovakia's borders "our common borders," from which the Soviets would never retreat.
This indicates either a high degree of paranoia, or preparing the ground for justifying the invasion on
the pretext that Czechoslovakia was about to join West Germany, which was, in fact, to be the Soviet
propaganda line when the Warsaw Pact forces moved into Czechoslovakia.
Perhaps Dubcek was right when he said in 1990 that Brezhnev assumed his demands were
accepted, merely because he made them. Brezhnev was, after all, brought up on the Leninist principle
that once the leadership had decided on a course of action, it was automatically accepted by junior
members as a command (democratic centralism and party discipline). This may explain Brezhnev's
later insistence that Dubcek had not carried out the "promises" he made at Cierna. In particular, the
Soviet leaders assumed that Dubcek would re-establish party control over the media. (18)
The Cierna nad Tisou conference was followed by a conference of Warsaw Pact leaders
(again, without Romania), held in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, on August 3rd. As we know from
the records, the communique was worked out by all the participants, including the Czechoslovak
delegation.It did not speak of the situation in Czechoslovakia, but mentioned alleged "imperialist"
threats to socialism, "revanchism" and "neo-Nazism" in West Germany as well as the "threat" from
NATO and the United States. It also spoke of cooperation among socialist countries on the basis of
"the principles of equality, respect for sovereignty and national independence, territorial integrity, and
fraternal mutual aid and solidarity. " (19) As it turned out, "fraternal aid and mutual solidarity" had
nothing to do with equality, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. But, at the time, it looked as if the
other Warsaw Pact leaders had accepted the Czechoslovak reforms, or at least would not try to undo
them by force.
A Personal Recollection: My Visit to Prague, August 9 -15, 1968.
At that time, I was on leave from K.U. and doing research in London. Like many people in
Western Europe, I followed Czechoslovak developments with great interest. Since the International
Slavic Congress was meeting in Prague, I took the opportunity to fly there and take a first-hand look.
On stepping out of the plane, I noticed a red carpet on the ground, extending to the terminal
building. When I asked who it was for, the answer was: "It's for our friend, the mad dog Tito." I
asked: "Why call Tito a mad dog, if he is your friend?" The answer was: "Oh, because that's what our
propaganda called him over the years, so we like to call him that." This was typical of the wry, Czech
sense of humor. And, indeed, Tito did arrive in Prague on the same day. He was followed a few days
later by the Romanian leader, Nicolai Ceausescu. This must have increased Soviet fears of a new
"Little Entente." However, Walther Ulbricht also came from East Germany -- probably to warn
Dubcek against further liberalization. He stayed at the spa of Karlove Vary (Karlsbad).
The scene in Prague was truly fascinating. There were orators on street corners arguing about
Marxism and reform. A long line of women stood in front of an official building; they were waiting
to donate their jewelry, including wedding rings, to the State Treasury because Dubcek had asked
for help with state finances. Students were dancing around the statue of Jan Hus -- the great medieval
rebel against the church of Rome -- to celebrate their new freedom.
A taxi driver, taking me and two of my Polish friends to a reception (all three of us university
professors from the West), heard us speak Polish. Assuming we were from Poland, he praised his
sturdy Polish-made car, a "Warszawa," i.e., Warsaw (pron: Varshavah). He suggested that Poles and
Czechs team up to beat the Russians, just as they had beaten the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of
Grunwald in 1410. We agreed that Polish-Czechoslovak cooperation was desirable, but pointed out
the disparity of the forces involved in 1968. However, this did not dampen his enthusiasm.
At a reception for historians, the head of the Soviet delegation to the Congress (most of its
members were said to be party bureacrats), raised a toast to "Czechoslovak-Soviet Friendship." I
turned away. When a Czech asked me why, I told him that in my view friendship was not expressed
with tanks, meaning the recent Warsaw Pact maneuvers. He appreciated my sentiments. (A Czech
joke had it that when Soviet tourists were told many of the cars in Czechoslovakia were private, they
replied that back home they did their shopping in tanks).
But in the midst of rejoicing at the new found freedom, there was an undertow of fear. People
were divided on whether there would be a Soviet military intervention or not. Most persons I talked
with believed this would not happen, because the Soviets would lose even more face than they had
with the invasion of Hungary in 1956. However, I was disturbed by information from Czech specialist
in Slavic literatures, who was the wife of an officer on the Czechoslovak General Staff. She said
opinion there was evenly divided three ways: those who wanted to resist if the Soviets attacked; those
who were opposed; and those who had no opinion at all. Later I learned of Dubcek's assurance to
Brezhnev that Czechoslovak soldiers would never shoot at Soviet soldiers. Perhaps a statement to
the contrary, or at least silence, might have had some deterrent effect on Moscow.
I left Prague with a heavy heart. When I went through passport control at JFK airport in
New York, the officer told me that, as a person without permanent residence in the U.S. (I was then
a resident alien and had to wait another two years to apply for citizenship), I should have obtained
permission from U.S. authorities to visit a "communist country." When I asked him to show me the
appropriate regulation, he could not find it and was annoyed. He asked whether I had had any
conversations with "communists" in Prague? I countered by asking whether he knew what was going
on there? He became even more annoyed and said: "No; I only read the sport pages, but I know it's
a communist country." Indeed, there was very little public interest in the United States in what was
going on in Czechoslovakia. This was not so much because many Americans read only the sport
pages in newspapers and rarely knew where Czechoslovakia was - but above all because the Vietnam
War monopolized the media, especially Television.
When I heard of the invasion, I thought of my Czech friends and wept. Their brief interlude
of freedom, their hopes for a life free of lies and terror, had been shattered. I knew that many of them
would suffer repression. My American and Canadian friends were surprised. They did not realize that
this freedom-loving people was going under again for the third time this century (1938-39, 1948,
1968). I hoped that the situation would change for the better sometime soon. At that time, however,
no one could foresee when communism would collapse in Eastern Europe. One thing was certain --
it could not collapse until the Soviet Union became so weak that it could not crush democratic
movements in the satellite countries. But in 1968, the USSR was still a great power, and seemed
likely to remain so for a long time.
3. The Warsaw Pact Invasion, August 20-21, 1968.
We know that the invasion had been prepared beforehand in the summer of 1968. At that
time, many Soviet "tourists" had come to Prague, and U.S. military intelligence knew they were
soldiers. Also, the Warsaw Pact maneuvers in Czechoslovakia were a "dry run" for the invasion. But
this does not mean that Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders believed it was inevitable. On the contrary,
it seems they saw it as their last and most unwelcome option. After all, they remembered world
opinion condemnation of the USSR for its invasion of Hungary in November 1956.
From the Soviet records made available to the Czech government after the failed Moscow
putsch of August 1991, it is clear that Soviet leaders tried to browbeat Dubcek into giving up his
reform program. To this end, they used military threats. At the same time, they planned to replace
Dubcek and his supporters with their own henchmen, i.e., the "hardliners" in the Czechoslovak party
leadership. The most important were Vasil Bilak, Alois Indra, Drahomir Kolder, Jozef Lenart, Emil
Rigo, and Oldrich Svestka. A few others later joined this group. If these stooges failed to take over
power from the inside, then they were to do so with the help of a Warsaw Pact invasion. Finally,
Moscow wanted to prevent the legalization of the new, liberal, party statutes by the Extraordinary
Czechoslovak Party Congress, due to meet on September 9th.
We should bear in mind that Brezhnev had no reason to fear any military reaction from NATO
and/or the United States. Indeed, NATO Command cancelled its planned maneuvers on the German-Czechoslovak frontier, thus indicating a "hands off" attitude. It was also public knowledge that while
the U.S. government supported Czechoslovak liberalization, it would not risk a war with the USSR
over Prague, just as it had not risked one over Budapest in 1956. Finally, the U.S. was totally
absorbed by the Vietnam War.
We know that the Soviet Politburo took the final decision to invade Czechoslovakia on the
night of August 16-17th, although the final details might have been worked out as late as August
20th. They knew the Czechoslovak Party's Presidium was to meet that day, while the Slovak Party
Congress was due to convene on August 23rd. The latter had to be prevented, for it would be the first
Slovak step to legalize the party statutes. We also know that, at the Bratislava Conference of August
3rd, the hardliners in the Czechoslovak leadership gave Brezhnev a letter, signed by eighteen party
members, asking for Soviet military assistance in staging a coup. They asked for a reply by August
19th. (20) Either they despaired of a peaceful takeover - i.e., of outvoting Dubcek and his group in
the Party Presidium and Central Committee - or they were instructed by Brezhnev to "request"
military aid; perhaps both. Nevertheless, Brezhnev waited for almost three weeks; presumably, he still
hoped that his Czechoslovak henchmen would succeed in getting rid of Dubcek and his supporters
without the need for a Warsaw Pact invasion.
(b) The Invasion; the Kidnapping of the Leaders; the Moscow Negotiations and Czechoslovak
On the night of August 20-21st, Warsaw Pact forces (except Romania) invaded
Czechoslovakia. The official reasons given were - (1) the prevention of a union between
Czechoslovakia and West Germany (!) and (2) the saving of "socialism" in Czechoslovakia. The High
Command also claimed (3) that these forces had come in at the "request" of Czechoslovak party and
state authorities. The first claim was, of course, nonseense. The second was false because
Czechoslovakia was a socialist country. The third was immediately disproved by the declaration of
the Czechoslovak Party Presidium condemning the invasion. But the Presidium also appealed to all
citizens not to resist the armed forces moving in; this was done to avoid charges of an "attack" on
the Warsaw Pact and to avert a bloodbath. Finally, it declared that constitutional officials were to
convene an immediate session of the National Assembly while the Presidium itself was convening
a plenary meeting of the Central Committee to deal with situation. (21)
Later, it became known that the "hardliners" had cast a minority vote against the above
declaration in the Presididum. They then tried and failed to get a majority in the Central Committee
in order to establish a new party leadership. It seems the Soviet leaders had counted on this beimg
done, or that it would be done soon for Soviet KGB officers arrested Dubcek and his key supporters
in the name of "the Workers' and Peasants' Government led by Comrade Indra." The arrested
leaders were also told that in two hours they would be brought before a "revolutionary tribunal"
chaired by Comrade Indra. (22) However, neither the new government nor the tribunal came into
being. Instead, the National Assembly convened, as well as the Extraordinary Party Congress. Both
met in Prague for several days and condemned the invasion. The Party Congress also elected a new
leadership - without the "hardliners."
What happened to the arrested leaders? Dubcek tells us that he was placed in an armored car,
together with Frantisek Kriegel, a member of the Party Presidium, and taken to the airport. Dubcek
was put in a small plane, and left there for several hours. He was then transferred to a larger plane
and flown to the airport of Uzhorod, just across the frontier in Ukraine (former Subcarpathian
Ruthenia). There he was taken to a KGB office where he was contacted by telephone by Nikolai V.
Podgorny (1903-1983), a member of the Soviet Politburo and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet.
Podgorny told Dubcek he would be taken to Moscow for talks. When Dubcek said he must know
where his colleagues were, and that all of them must be together, Podgorny said this would be
arranged. The arrest took place in Prague at 9 A.M. on August 21st - but it was not until 11 A.M.
on August 23rd, that Dubcek found himself facing the Soviet leadership in the Kremlin. They did not
allow him to wash or shave, presumably to humiliate him. (This was standard Soviet procedure with
Dubcek's account of his conversations with Soviet leaders is most illuminating, for it is based
not only on his memories, but also on the Soviet transcript. Brezhnev and his closest cronies, Premier
Aleksei Kosygin, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Nikolai Podgorny, and Gennadi I. Voronov
(b.1919), Premier of the Russian Federation, had decided to find a face saving solution to their
dilemma, that is, the failure of the Czechoslovak hardliners to establish a new party leadership
favorable to Moscow. The Soviet leaders' solution was to have Dubcek and his supporters repudiate
the decisions of the Extraordinary Party Congress, as well as admit there really had been a "counter-revolution" in Czechoslovakia. These statements would be used to justify the Warsaw Pact
The Soviet leaders first spoke separately with each arrested member of the Czechoslovak
leadership. At the same time, they agreed to President Svoboda's request that he come to Moscow -
after he had adamantly refused to recognize a new party-government leadership headed by Indra.
After a while, the Czechs were allowed to meet together, though Dubcek refused at first to be part
of the negotiating team. When he decided to attend the "plenary" meeting with the Soviet leadership,
he took the opportunity to explain and defend his reform program, as well as claim that it did not
threaten either socialism or the Soviet alliance. He said the invasion was a tragedy. They might be
forced to sign the protocol proposed by the Soviet leaders, but this would not solve any problems.
Brezhnev's reply to Dubcek is key to understanding the Soviet leaders' perception of the
Czechoslovak leader and his supporters. As Dubcek tells it::
He said that since the end of the last war, Czechoslovakia had been a part
of the Soviet security zone, and that the Soviet Union had no intention of
giving it up. What had worried the Soviet Politbureau most about Prague
had been our tendency toward independence: that I did not send him my
speeches in advance for review, that I did not ask his permission for perso-
nnel changes. They could not tolerate this, and, when we had not submi-
tted to other forms of pressure, they had invaded the country. (24)
Brezhnev made it clear that the Soviet leadership had seen their loss of total control over the
Czechoslovak party, government, and military forces, as leading the way to that country's exit from
the Warsaw Pact. From other statements made by Brezhnev and his colleagues, it is also clear that
they perceived the democratization of the Czechoslovak party, and in particular, the lack of media
censorship, as leading to a "bourgeois democracy." In their eyes, this was a deadly threat to the
Soviet brand of socialism and to the Warsaw Pact.
But the Czechoslovak leaders had the moral support of their people. For seven days, the
people put up a magnificent passive resistance. They certainly saved their country from a bloodbath.
They also gave the lie to the Soviet claim that the Warsaw Pact forces were welcome in their country
and they helped save the lives of their leaders. Here we should note that Czechoslovak radio -- long
prepared for underground action in case of a NATO invasion (!) -- stayed on the air guiding passive
resistance. Finally, some Western reporters recorded the extraordinary situation. So did Czech TV
cameramen, whose films were later smuggled out to the West. Most Western governments and even
most western communist parties protested the invasion.
So why did the Czechoslovak leaders sign the Moscow Protocol? They did not do so to save
their own skins, for their lives were no longer in danger. They all signed - except for Frantisek Kriegel
- because they feared that further delay would increase the chances of a serious clash between their
people and the Warsaw Pact troops thus a bloodbath. Indeed, we know that thevarious commanders
had orders to crush any overt resistance.
In the Moscow Protocol, the Czechoslovak leaders agreed to delegalize the Extraordinary
14th Party Congress; to impose controls on the media; and accept the presence of Warsaw Pact
troops in Czechoslovakia "until the threat to Socialism in the CSSR and to the security of the
countries in the socialist community has passed." (This was the best they could get in reply to their
demand for the withdrawal of the Warsaw Pact troops). They also had to agree to retain in their posts
those party workers and officials who had "supported socialism and friendship with the USSR", i.e.,
the hardliners. Finally, the Czechoslovak protest against the invasion, made in the U.N., was to be
withdrawn. But Dubcek and his supporters succeeded in removing from the text any admission of
"counter-revolution," and thus the key justification for the invasion. The text of the protocol was
to be kept secret, but its main features leaked out soon enough. (25)
It took eight months for Dubcek to be replaced as head of the party by another Slovak,
Gustav Husak, who like Kadar in Hungary, had been a victim of the purges. In 1970, Husak initiated
a period of brutal repression. (He remained head of the party until 1988, then became President, and
resigned from this post in late December 1989. His last function was to swear in the new non-communist government headed by Vaclav Havel).
Dubcek was first sent as ambassador to Turkey - where Czechoslavk security agents tried to
persuade him to go into exile. After returning home, he was expelled from the party. He was kept
under house arrrest for a while, then employed by the Slovak Forestry service as a mechanic in charge
of maintaining machinery. He was under constant police supervision and his house was bugged.
However, in 1988, he was allowed to travel to Italy, where he received an honorary doctorate from
the University of Bologna and made a strong defense of his reform program. He also met with Pope
John Paul II. In spring 1989, Dubcek was allowed to visit Prague and meet with the leading Czech
dissident, the playwright Vaclav Havel. When communism was collapsing in Czechoslovakia, Dubcek
appeared side-by-side with Havel in Prague, on November 26, 1989. He was elected Chairman
(speaker) of the National Assembly and devoted the last years of his life to working for Czechoslovak
democracy and unity. He was severely injured in a car accident on September l, 1992, and died nine
When looking at Dubcek's career, it is natural to ask: how was it possible for a party
bureaucrat, and in addition, one raised in the USSR, to work for the democratization of the party,
and to believe that Moscow would tolerate it? The scholar who worked with Dubcek on his
autobiography, Professor Jiri Hochman of Ohio State University (a supporter of the Prague Spring,
who left his country and settled in the U.S.), attempted to answer these questions in his" afterword"
to Dubcek's autobiography.
Hochman writes that Dubcek was a deeply moral man, raised in his family's Lutheran
tradition. He was always truthful and personally honest. He believed deeply in social equality and
justice and his parents had raised him to work for "a fair deal for all." Dubcek's understanding of
freedom began in the socialist-communist mold. Here, it meant freedom from fascism and poverty;
the right to free medical care, employment, and social security. He then progressed to the idea of
democracy in a free society. (26) It was Dubcek's sincere belief that democratization would bring
free and full support for his reform program in a communist Czechoslovakia.
Did he have plans to re-introduce a multi-party system, i.e., full democracy? This seems unlikely, though he might have hoped it would come in time. He told Hochman during their collaboration on his autobiography, sometime between April and August 1990: "I was not so naive as not to see that it would only take time before the changes we made yielded to a full multiparty democracy. I knew that, and Brezhnev knew that of course. So why won't the critics see it?" (27) But if this is what he thought - why was he surprized at Soviet opposition and armed intervention? Perhaps, from the perspective of a free Czechoslovakia in 1990, he was trying to claim a conscious effort to bring it about in 1968? It is more likely he meant that his reforms would bring about complete democracy over many years' time and that Brezhnev would not allow this process to begin for fear it would spread to the rest of the bloc. In fact, Dubcek's reform efforts in 1968 did wake the Czechoslovak peoples from a long period of political passivity, inspired some to dissent, and thus sowed the seeds from which freedom would grow 21 years later.
What was the long range impact of the Prague Spring? Western observers, focusing
their attention primarily on Russia, often assume that all inspiration for East European reforms came
from Moscow. This is a misperception, for reforms in what is now called Central Europe (Poland,
Czechoslovakia, Hungary), even if at first permitted by Moscow, went much further than those in the
USSR. This can be said of Imre Nagy's "New Course," in Hungary in 1953-55; of Wladyslaw
Gomulka's liberalization in Poland in 1956-57; of Kadar's political and economic liberalization in
Hungary after 1961 and, of course, of the Prague Spring. Finally, communism was to collapse in
Eastern Europe in 1989, two years before its demise in the USSR.
Indeed, the Prague Spring not only inspired a new movement of secular dissent in
Czechoslovakia and in the USSR but also provided inspiration for Mikhail S. Gorbachev and his
supporters two decades later. On the eve of Gorbachev's visit to Czechoslovakia in 1988, Dubcek
claimed that Gorbachev's program of "perestroika" was the same as his own in 1968. Indeed, when
Gorbachev's spokesman, Genadii Gerasimov was asked, during the visit, what was the difference
between Dubcek's program and "perestroika" he answered: "twenty years." Of course, it was not as
simple as that. Gorbachev thought he could introduce and control a limited democratization in the
USSR. He had no intention of introducing a multi-party system or a free market economy. He wanted
to save "socialism" and the Soviet empire, not destroy them. But this does not contradict the fact that
he and his supporters looked to Dubcek's 1968 reform program as a possible model for the USSR
and for its satellites in Eastern Europe. (28) As it turned out, in 1989-91 Gorbachev's attempt to
adapt this model to the new situation led to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the
collapse of the USSR.
Returning now to 1968, we should note that the Soviet Union suffered a great loss of face.
The invasion sparked the emergence of "Eurocommunism", i.e., the doctrine that communists should
come to power only through the ballot box. (This doctrine was first formulated in the late 19th
century by the German socialist, Edward Bernstein, but was condemned by Lenin as "revisionism,"
see ch. 1). The Italian Communist Party was the first to distance itself from Moscow, while the
Spanish party's leaders first came out for "Eurocommunism." In Western Europe, only the French
party leaders stayed loyal to Moscow. The result was that they lost much of the support they had
in their own country.
The Czechoslovak people adapted themselves as best they could to the shattering of their
dream of freedom. Many intellectuals fled to the West. Those who stayed lost their jobs, and many
were imprisoned. Most could only find blue collar jobs, and were lucky if they were allowed to work
at all; otherwise, they had no medical coverage for themselves and their families. A Czech historian
I know had to earn his living for a while as a streetcar conductor. Others had to do manual work such
as tending boilers etc. Many High School teachers were sent to work on collective farms or in
factories. This repression affected tens of thousands of people.
In 1977, a few brave souls drew up and signed the document called Charter 77. Its signatories
demanded respect for human rights on the basis of the Helsinki Agreements of summer 1975 (29)
and for civil rights as guaranteed in the Czechoslovak constitution. They were in touch with the
Polish "Committee for the Protection of Workers" (KOR), which came into being in summer 1976,
and demanded respect for these rights in Poland (see ch. 8). Vaclav Havel and other signatories of
the charter suffered imprisonment and/or loss of jobs. But they persisted and became the core of the
new Czechoslovak government formed and headed by Havel as President in late December 1989.
Meanwhile, as we shall see, the "Prague Spring" and Czechoslovak "socialism with a human
face," led to a new form of dissent in the Soviet Union.
1. Dissent in the Soviet Union Before 1968.
In most cases religious and national dissent went hand in hand, but for the sake of clarity they
will be treated separately here. It is important to note that religious dissent often paved the way for
secular and national dissent.
(a) Religious Dissent.
Before 1968, most dissent was religious. The Russian Orthodox Church was persecuted until
the Soviet government legalized its existence under state control (see ch. 3). During the Second
World War, the church gained more leeway for it was allowed to support the war effort. Still, church
leaders were under the absolute control of the authorities and acted as their spokesmen, just as in
Tsarist times. It was not until Gorbachev came to power that the church was set free. In 1988, he
allowed the public celebration of the one thousandth anniversary of the conversion of Russia, and the
state began returning churches to the faithful.
When the Soviet Union annexed western Ukraine (East Galicia) from Poland in September
1939, the NKVD deported the priests of the Ukrainian Catholic Church (also known as the Greek
Catholic or Uniate Church). It recognized the Pope as its head, but had a Slavic liturgy.
We know that both before and during the war there was a Ukrainian National Movement in
western Ukraine (East Galicia), which aimed to establish an independent Ukrainian state. Although
the Germans refused to do so, some Ukrainians continued to support them in the hope that a
German victory over Soviet Russia would finally realize this goal. Some Ukrainians served in the
German army, and there was a Ukrainian SS division, "The SS. Galizien." However, the independent
Ukrainian Insurgent Army, (Ukrainian acronym: UPA) opposed both the Germans and the Russians.
Some of its units also carried out massacres of the Polish population in former East Galicia and
Volhynia so as to prepare the way for a homogenous Ukrainian state. This is now called "ethnic
cleansing." The Polish Home Army tried to protect the Polish population wherever it could, so it also
killed Ukrainians. On the whole, however, most of the victims in these areas were Poles; Polish
sources estimate that 60-80,000 Poles were killed. This does not mean that most Ukrainians
supported these massacres; some helped their Polish friends. But they feared reprisals if they did not
show support, or were at least passive. .
When the Red Army again entered western Ukraine in summer 1944, the territory was
reannexed to the Soviet Ukrainian Republic. The Red Army hunted down both UPA soldiers and the
priests of the Ukrainian Church. In 1946, the Ukrainian church was absorbed forcibly into the
officially recognized Russian Orthodox Church, as had been the case in Tsarist times. The Ukrainian
Metropolitan Iosyf Slipyj, Archbishop of Lv'iv succeeded Andrei Sheptytskii on the latter's death
in in November 1944. Slipyj was deported and spent many years in a Siberian labor camp before
Khruschchev released him and sent him to Rome. Nevertheless, an underground Ukrainian Church
continued to exist in the western Ukraine.  It would re-emerge in the late 1980s.
Other religions subjected to persecution were the Reformed Baptists and Pentecostals. Pastor
Georgii Vins of the Reformed Baptist Church in Kiev was persecuted for opposing the official, state-controlled Baptist church and branding it a tool of the Soviet regime. His father had died in a labor
camp in 1943; he also spent years in labor camps, but was finally allowed to emigrate to Canada. As
late as 1978, some Pentecostal families sought refuge in the U.S. embassy in Moscow. They spent
6 years there before being allowed to go back to their homes in 1984. Later, they were allowed to
When preponderantly Catholic Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in summer 1940,
many priests were deported to Soviet labor camps, along with politicians, intellectuals, wealthy
farmers, including members of the Polish minority, and other "enemies of the people." This, in turn,
led to executions of many communists in Lithuania after it came under German occupation in
summer 1941. The Germans also killed most of Lithuania's Jews, in some cases with active Lithuanian
help. After the reannexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in 1944, there was a new wave of
deportations, which again included many priests. The new communist authorities set out to erase the
Catholic Church. However, in the 1970s a Catholic-National movement came into being. This was
partly the result of the release by Khrushchev in the late 1950s of some former Catholic and political
leaders who had survived Soviet labor camps. In 1973, an underground Catholic periodical began to
appear; this was The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania.Popular pressure as well as the
Nixon-Carter-Brezhnev detente led to a more tolerant treatment of Catholic priests from the mid-1970s on. However, persecution of lay Catholic leaders continued. In fact, just as in Poland so in
Lithuania, the issue of Catholicism was bound up with nationalism. Therefore, the Soviet government
refused to allow Pope John Paul II to visit Lithuania.  (For the Lithuanian independence
movement of the late 1980s and independence, see ch. 8).
(b) Secular National Movements.
In the Khrushchev "thaw" of the late 1950s and early 1960s, nationalism reappeared in Soviet
Ukraine. A group of writers, poets, actors, and historians began to stress Ukrainian national history
and traditions. They did this with the official support of the Ukrainian Communist Party, then led by
First Secretary Pyotr Y.Shelest. (1908-?) However, this process was brutally interrupted in August
and September 1965, (almost a year after Brezhnev came to power), when over twenty Ukrainian
intellectuals were arrested. In the public trials which took place in 1966, the defendants were accused
of "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.".
Despite, or perhaps because of the fact that the accused were very popular (they were even
cheered in the courtroom), they were all declared guilty and received sentences ranging from a few
months to 6 years in labor camps. In May 1972, Pyotr Shelest was dismissed from his post on charges
of "promoting the national movement in Ukraine." He was replaced by the old Stalinist, Vladmir
V. Scherbitsky (1908-1990), and in the purge that followed 25% of all party officials were either
demoted or dismissed altogether.
Some of the Ukrainian intellectuals were incarcerated in mental hospitals, e.g., the
cyberneticist, Leonid I. Plyushch (b. 1939).. He was later released and allowed to emigrate to the
West, where he published a book about his experiences. The same treatment was meted out to Petro
G. Grigorenko (1907-1986), a Soviet general of Ukrainian origin, who became a member of the
Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights in the USSR, of which more will be said later.
Grigorenko was later released and allowed to visit his son in the U.S. When his citizenship was
revoked, he remained there and published his memoirs. They are most instructive, for they show how
a Soviet-educated general became a dissident, and how he was treated. (32)
In Lithuania, secular dissent was led by the Lithuanian Helsinki Watch Committee, founded
in late 1976. As elsewhere in the Soviet Union, this committee worked to document the violation of
human rights, which were officially recognized by the Soviet government at the Helsinki Conference
of July-August 1975. Other national movements included the Estonian National-Democratic
Movement; the Latvian Democratic-National Movement, and a Georgian National Movement. An
Armenian National Movement emerged in 1988 (for national movements since 1980, see ch. 8).
For many years there was a protest movement by Crimean Tatars, who were deported by
Stalin. They demanded permission to return to their homes in Crimea. This would, however, mean
the displacement of many Russians and Ukrainians, who settled in the Crimea after 1945, and the
problem has not been resolved to this day (see also ch. 8).
Finally, there were two major emigration movements, i.e., Soviet Jews and Soviet Germans.
Brezhnev allowed the immigration of a few thousand Soviet Jews, but this ceased when relations with
the United States returned to a state of Cold War after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in
December 1979. The emigration was to increase greatly under Gorbachev.
Volga Germans, deported by Stalin in 1941-42, were allowed to leave beginning in the
Khrushchev era, and many of their descendants emigrated to West Germany. This emigration was to
increase drastically in 1987-88.
In 1980, there were some 40 million Soviet citizens of the Moslem faith in the USSR, or about
one-fifth of the total population. No unified Moslem movement existed, but Soviet authorities always
feared such a possibility and did all they could to prevent it. They isolated their Moslems from Iran,
particularly after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power there in early 1979, and established a
fundamentalist, Shiite Islamic state. (33) Despite Soviet efforts the future would show that among
Soviet Moslems religion went hand-in-hand with nationalism (see Azerbaijan in ch. 8).
2. Secular, Supranational Soviet Dissent.
The first such dissent emerged during the Khrushchev era. It was led by writers. The most
prominent was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had spent many years in Stalin's labor camps. In 1961,
when Khrushchev launched another attack on Stalinism, he personally approved the publication of
Solzhenitsyn's novel, set in a labor camp, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
As noted earlier, when Leonid Brezhnev came to power in October 1964, he began to
rehabilitate Stalin. This was in response to the resentment of party bureaucrats and Soviet war
veterans against Khrushchev's attacks on the Stalin myth in 1956 and 1961. The new policy also
meant a crackdown on dissident writers. The first to be tried were Yuli Daniel (pseudonym: Nikolay
Arzhak) and Andrei Sinyavsky (pseudonym: Abram Tertz), one of whose books was published in
the West. Their trial took place in 1966; they were sentenced to labor camps for "slandering" the
The first open dissent, though confined to a small group, surfaced in October 1967. At that
time, Pavel Litvinov, grandson of the prewar Soviet Foreign Commissar, Maxim Litvinov, distributed
printed leaflets with the trial statement of the poet Vladimir Bukovsky. He, in turn, had been
arrested for protesting against the trial and sentencing of Daniel and Sinyavsky. In January 1968,
came the trial of the writer, Alexander Ginzburg, who had published a White Book about that trial.
On April 30, 1968, the first issue of The Chronicle of Current Events appeared in Moscow.
It was an underground publication, the first of the "Samizdat," or self-publications (i.e., without
official permission), which became characteristic of the new dissent and survived for 10 years. The
Chronicle was typed on a typewriter; readers made extra copies and passed them along.
The first public demonstration of dissent took place in Moscow's Red Square on August 22, 1968. It was a protest against the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Again, Pavel Litvinov took part. He was sentenced to several years in a labor camp.
The Prague Spring inspired many new protest groups. Thus, open protest began against
judicial malpractice, i.e., the misuse of the law to suppress dissent. This led to the organization of The
Russian Democratic Movement which had about 2,000 members, mostly intellectuals living in
Moscow and Leningrad. In May 1969, the first human rights association was formed in Moscow,
called The Initiative Group to Defend Human Rights in the USSR. They appealed to the U.N. against
Soviet violations of human rights and their first publication dealt with the persecution of members of
national movements in Ukraine and the Baltic republics. They also protested the persecution of
Soviet Jews who wanted to emigrate; of leaders of the Crimean Tartars who were demanding the
right to return to the Crimea; and of religious dissidents. Similar protests were made by the Moscow
Human Rights Committee, established in 1970.
With the coming of detente (relaxation) in Western-Soviet relations, under Brezhnev and
Nixon, then Carter in the 1970s, dissidents in Moscow and Leningrad were able to inform the
Western world of repression in the Soviet Union through Western journalists. However, the Soviet
government cracked down on dissidents in 1971. Two years later, in August 1973, there was a rigged
trial of two prominent dissidents, Victor Krassin and Pyotr Yakir, who were forced to admit their
"guilt" for passing "anti-Soviet" material to the West.
At this time, two well-known dissidents came to the fore -- the writer, Alexander
Solzhenitsyn, and the physicist, Andrei Sakharov. In August 1973, Solzhenitsyn, who had been
awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, invited Western journalists to his apartment and
proposed Sakharov as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. That same year, part of Solzhenitsyn's
work on the Stalinist labor camps, Gulag Archipelago, was published in English translation in the
West. The Soviet government reacted by having Solzhenitsyn forcibly deported to West Germany.
He lived for a while in Switzerland, where he was joined by his family. Shortly thereafter, they
emigrated to the United States and settled in Vermont. (In 1994, Solzhenitsyn left the United States
and returned to Russia in July that year. He landed in Vladivostok and travelled thence by train to
European Russia. He was rather disappointed that people did not treat him as a prophet returned from
exile, and as someone that they wanted to hear).
Andrei Sakharov was involved in the development of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. At first he
believed that "loyal opposition" would lead to the reform of socialism in the Soviet Union and to
demilitarization. He thought the U.S. and Soviet systems would "converge" and supported detente.
However, he changed his mind in 1973, when Brezhnev's crackdown on Soviet dissidents showed
no sign of relaxing. He then concluded that the Soviet system had nothing in common with the
essence of socialism and that reform of Soviet life could only take place under Western pressure.
In July 1973, Sakharov said that detente without Soviet democratization was dangerous for
the West. In September 1974, he wrote an "Open Letter to the Congress of the United States,"
supporting the Jackson Amendment, i.e., that the U.S. government not grant MFN (most-favored
nation status in trade) to the USSR, unless it allowed those citizens who wished to emigrate, to do
so. (At the time, this concerned mostly Soviet Jews, since the Soviet authorities generally refused to
consider applications from members of other national groups, making rare exceptions only for the
reunification of families).
In 1975, Sakharov published a book entitled My Country and the World, appealing for
mankind to save itself from thermonuclear war. He was then awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
However, since the Soviet government told him he would not be allowed to return if he went to
receive it, his wife, Yelena Bonner, received it for him. Sakharov lost his job and his membership in
the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He and his wife then devoted themselves to collecting evidence on
the violation of human rights in the Soviet Union. They tried to attend all the trials and advised the
families of dissidents on obtaining legal help.
Brezhnev finally had enough and exiled the Sakharovs from Moscow to the city of Gorky,
where they were subject to constant harassment. Yelena Bonner was allowed to go abroad twice for
heart and eye operations, but Sakharov, who was also sick, was not allowed to leave Gorky. The
same policy was followed by the next two party leaders, Iuri V. Andropov (1914-1984, head of party
1982-84) and Konstantin U. Chernenko (1911-1985, head of party 1984-85). Finally, in 1987,
Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931, head of party 1985-91) allowed the Sakharovs to return to Moscow
without any conditions. Sakharov supported Gorbachev's reform program, but often criticized him.
He was a delegate to the Supreme Soviet in 1989, where he called for a multi-party system. He died
of a heart attack in December 1989.
There were also some small movements of dissent among Soviet workers. Interestingly enough, the first group, calling itself a "Free Trade Union," appeared in February 1978, i.e., at about the same time that the first underground free trade union appeared in Poland (see ch. 8).
1. See David Childs, The GDR. Moscow's German Ally, London, 1983, chaps. 1-2; also A. James
McAdams, East Germany and Detente. Building Authority After the Wall, Cambridge, England, and
New York 1985, chaps. 1-2; see also Robert M. Slusser, The Berlin Crisis of 1961. Soviet-American
Relations and the Struggle for Power in the Kremlin, June-November 1961, Baltimore, Maryland,
1973. On the Rapacki Plan see Piotr S. Wandycz, "Adam Rapacki and the Search for European
Security," ch. 10 in The Diplomats 1939-1979, edited by Gordon A. Craig and Francis L.
Loewenheim, Princeton, N.J., 1994, pp. 289-317.
2. See Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, 3 vols., Oxford 1978, reprint 1982.
3. See Charles Gati, Hungary and the Soviet Bloc, Durham, North Carolina, 1986, ch. 7; Bennett
Kovrig, Communism in Hungary: From Kun to Kadar, Stanford, California, Hoover Institution Press,
1979; for a detailed, earlier study, see William F. Robinson, The Pattern of Reform in Hungary: A
Political, Economic, and Cultural Analysis, New York, 1973.
4. See Stephen Fischer-Galati, 20th Century Rumania, New York, 1970, revised edition, 1991,
5. See J. F. Brown, Bulgaria under Communist Rule, New York, 1970, ch. 11; R. J. Crampton, A
Short History of Modern Bulgaria, Cambridge, England and New York, 1987, ch. 4.
6. See Fred Singleton, A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples, Cambridge, England and New York,
1985, chaps. 11-14; Dennison Rusinow, The Yugoslav Experiment, 1948-1974, New York, 1977;
Duncan Wilson,Tito's Yugoslavia, Cambridge, England and New York, 1979. For books on Tito, see
bibliography, ch. 5, also: Richard West, Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia, New York, 1994.
7. On the "Virgin Lands" program in Kazakhstan, see Martha Brill Olcott, The Kazakhs, Stanford,
California, Hoover Institution Press, 1987, ch. 10.
8. On Khrushchev's policies, see Fedor Burlatskii,Khrushchev and the First Russian Spring. The Era
of Khrushchev in the Eyes of an Adviser, New York, 1991; B. A. Chotiner, Khrushchev's Party
Reform, Westport, Connecticut, 1984; Khrushchev Sergei, Khrushchev Remembers, Boston, 1974;
Roy and Zhores Medvedev, Khrushchev: The Years in Power, New York, 1978. On Khrushchev's
fall, see W. Hyland and R. Shyrock, The Fall of Khrushchev, New York, 1969, and Anthony
d'Agostino, Soviet Succession Struggles. Kremlinology and the Russian Question from Lenin to
Gorbachev, Boston, 1988, ch. 8; Martin McCauley, ed., Khrushchev and Khrushchevism,
Bloomington, Indiana, 1987, and Khrushchev on Khrushchev. An Inside Account of the Man and His
Era by His Son, Sergei Khrushchev, edited and translated by William Taubman, Boston, Toronto and
London, 1990. (Deals with K's fall and life in retirement).
9. See Toivo U. Raun, Estonia and the Estonians, Stanford, California, Hoover Institution Press,
1987, ch. 13; also revised edition of same.
10. See Josef Korbel, Twentieth Century Czechoslovakia, pp. 272-82.
11. For Dubcek's childhood and youth, also World War II, see Hope Dies Last. The Autobiography
of Alexander Dubcek, edited and translated by Jiri Hochman, New York, Tokyo, and London,
Kodansha International, 1993, chaps. 1-5.
12. See Ibid., ch. 9.
13. For the years 1958-68, see Ibid., chaps. 10-15.
14. For the text of the Action Program, see Paul Ello, ed., Czechoslovakia's Blueprint for Freedom,
Washington, D.C., 1968; also Hope Dies Last, pp. 287-335; extracts in Mastny, East European
Dissent, vol. 2, pp. 75-77, R. V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism, vol. 2,
Communism and the World, revised edition, Hanover, New Hampshire and London, 1984, pp. 328-336.
l5. For the Warsaw letter of July 1968, see Mastny, East European Dissent, vol. 2, pp. 79-80; Jiri
Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968. Anatomy of a Decision, 2drevised edition,
Baltimore, Maryland and London, 1991, pp. 63 ff; Dubcek, Hope Dies Last, pp. 163-64.
16. See the title of Chapter 20, Ibid.
17. For the Warsaw Letter, see note 15 above.
18. For the Cierna nad Tisou Conference, see Valenta, Soviet Intervention, ch. III, also pp. 169-173;
Dubcek, Hope, pp. 167-169.
19. See Ibid., pp. 169-171 and Valenta, Soviet Intervention, pp. 86, 88-89.
20. See Valenta, Ibid., pp. 173-176.
21. See Dubcek, Ibid., pp. 180-181.
22. See Ibid., p. 183.
23. See Ibid., pp. 183-186.
24. See Ibid., p. 212.
25. Text, Ibid., pp. 336-339.
26. Ibid., p. 277.
28. For a discussion of the Prague Spring as the precursor of perestroika, see Valenta, Soviet
Intervention, pp. 200-211.
29. The Helsinki Agreements of August 1975, signed by all European states, USSR, USA and
Canada, recognized both the postwar borders of Europe and Human Rights. The Final Act stated:
"The participating states will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of
thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or
religion." See Vojtech Mastny, ed., Helsinki. Human Rights and European Security. Analysis and
Documentation, Durham, North Carolina, 1986.
30. On wartime Ukraine, see Orest Subtelny, Ukraine. A History, Toronto, Buffalo, New York and
London, 1988, ch. 25; in more detail, see John Armstrong, Ukrainian Nationalism, 1939-1945, New
York, 1955, and later editions.
31. See Ludmilla Alexeeva, Soviet Dissent. Contemporary Movements for National, Religious, and
Human Rights, Middletown, Connecticut, 1987, pt. IV. "The Movements for Religious Liberty."
32. See Alexeeva, Soviet Dissent, pt. I, ch. 1, "The Ukrainian National Movement"; P. Grigorenko,
Memoirs, New York, 1982.
33. See Alexeeva, Soviet Dissent, chaps. 3 through 10.
The most detailed and authoritative studies of Czechoslovakia in 1968 are:
H. Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia's Interrupted Revolution, Princeton, New Jersey, 1976.
Galia Golan, The Czechoslovak Reform Movement: Communism in Crisis, 1962-1968, Cambridge,
Galia Golan, Reform Rule in Czechoslovakia: The Dubcek Era 1968-1969, Cambridge, 1973.
Jiri Valenta, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968. Anatomy of a Decision, Baltimore,
Maryland and London, 1991 (new documentary material).
(see also Dubcek, under "Memoirs").
E. J. Czerwinski and Jaroslaw Piekalkiewicz, eds., The Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia: Its Effects
on Eastern Europe, New York, 1972.
Vladimir V. Kusin, ed., The Czechoslovak Reform Movement 1968, London, 1973.
Vladimir V. Kusin, The Intellectual Origins of the Prague Spring, London, 1971.
Jaroslaw Piekalkiewicz, Public Opinion Polling in Czechoslovakia, 1968-69: Results and Analysis of
Surveys Conducted During the Dubcek Era, New York, 1972.
Josef Smrkovsky, "How They Crushed the Prague Spring of 1968," in Tariq Ali, ed., The Stalinist
Legacy. Its Impact on 20th Century Politics, Pelican Books, England, 1984, pp. 385-434.
Pavel Tigrid, Why Dubcek Fell, London, 1971.
Z. A. B. Zeman, Prague Spring: A Report on Czechoslovakia 1968, Harmondsworth, 1968.
Documents in English.
Robert V. Daniels, ed., A Documentary History of Communism, vol. 2, Communism and the World,
revised edition, Hanover, Vt., and London, 1984, vol. 2, pp. 328-338; 3rd ed., 1994, pp. 235-242.
Paul Ello, ed., Czechoslovakia's Blueprint for Freedom: April Action Program, Washington, D.C.,
1968. Also in: Hope Dies Last. The Autobiography of Alexander Dubcek, London, New
York, 1993, pp. 287-335.
Vojtech Mastny, ed.,East European Dissent, vol. 2, pp. 73-116.
Vojtech Mastny, ed., Czechoslovakia: Crisis in World Communism, New York, 1972.
Andrew Oxley et al., eds., Czechoslovakia: The Party and the People, London, 1973.
Robin A. Remington, ed., Winter in Prague: Documents on Czechoslovak Communism in Crisis,
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969.
For the Moscow Protocol, See Hope Dies Last, pp. 336-340.
". . . Ot razkrytiia arkhivov po 'prazhskoi vesne' nikuda nie uitii . . .," (new Soviet documents on
events in Czechoslovakia, 1968), Otechestvennye Arkhivy, no. 3, 1993, pp. 85-113.
Jaroslav Brodsky, Solution Gamma, Toronto, 1971.
Alexander Dubcek, Hope Dies Last. The Autobiography of Alexander Dubcek, edited and translated
by Jiri Hochman, New York, London and Tokyo, 1993.
Pavel Kohout, From the Diary of a Counter-Revolutionary, New York, 1972.
Eugen Loebl, Stalinism in Prague: The Loebl Story, New York, 1969.
Eugen Loebl, My Mind on Trial, New York, 1976.
Artur London, The Confession, New York, 1970.
Zdenek Mlynar, Night Frost in Prague: The End of Humane Socialism, London, 1980.
Ladislav Mnacko, The Seventh Night, New York, 1969.
Josefa Slanska, Report on My Husband, London, 1969.
Marian Slingova, Truth Will Prevail, London, 1969.
(see bibliography in note 8 to text of this chapter).
Ludmilla Alexeeva, Soviet Dissent. Contemporary Movements for National, Religious, and Human
Rights, Middletown, Connecticut, 1987.
Stephen F. Cohen, ed., An End to Silence: Uncensored Opinion in the Soviet Union, New York,
Roy Medvedev, On Soviet Dissent. Interviews with Piero Ostellino, New York, 1980, 1985.
Pedro Ramet, Cross and Commissar. The Politics of Religion in Eastern Europe and the USSR,
Bloomington, Indiana, 1987.
George Saunders, ed., Samizdat. Voices of the Soviet Opposition, New York, 1974.
Rudolf E. Tokes, ed.,Dissent in the USSR, Baltimore, Maryland, 1975.
Andrei Amalrik, Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?, New York, 1970, and later editions,
especially the revised and expanded edition, New York, 1980.
Andrei Amalrik, Notes of a Revolutionary, New York, 1982.
Petro G. Grigorenko, Memoirs, Trans. Thomas P. Whitney, New York, London, 1982.
Andrei Sakharov, edited by Harrison Salisbury, Sakharov Speaks, New York, 1974.
Andrei Sakharov, My Country and the World, New York, 1975.
Andrei Sakharov, Memoirs, translated from the Russian by Richard Lourie, New York, 1990.
Natan Scharansky, Fear No Evil, New York, 1988.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward, London and New York, 1968.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, In the First Circle, London and New York, 1968.
David Burg and George Feifer, Solzhenitsyn, New York, 1972.
Leopold Labedz, ed., Solzhenitsyn. A Documentary Record, London, 1970, and later editions.
Harvey Fireside, Soviet Psychoprisons, New York, 1979.
Tatyana Khodorovich, ed., The Case of Leonid Plyushch, Boulder, Colorado, 1976.
Zhores and Roy Medvedev, A Question of Madness. Repression by Psychiatry in the Soviet Union,
New York, 1971.
Alexander Podrabinek, Punitive Medicine, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1980.
Alexander Bennigsen, The Islamic Threat to the Soviet State, New York, 1983.
Helene Carrere d'Encausse, Decline of an Empire. The Soviet Socialist Republics in Revolt, New
Ivan Dziuba, Internationalism or Russification?, London, 1968.
Victor Kozlov, The Peoples of the Soviet Union, Bloomington, Indiana, 1988 (by the most prominent
ethnographer of the former USSR).
Bohdan Nahaylo and Victor Swoboda, Soviet Disunion. A History of the Nationalities Problem in
the USSR, New York, 1989.
George Simmonds, ed., Nationalism in the USSR and Eastern Europe in the Era of Brezhnev and
Kosygin, Detroit, Michigan, 1977.
Vojtech Mastny, ed., Helsinki, Human Rights, and European Security. Analysis and Documentation,
Durham, North Carolina, 1986.