The legacy of 1968 fifty years on

Student and civil rights movements came to a head in many countries 50 years ago in 1968. In Western Europe the so-called "68ers" championed democracy, social freedom, emancipation, the environment. During the Prague Spring in the Czech Republic, civil rights activists seeking to make the communist system more democratic were forced to capitulate in the face of Soviet tanks.

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Právo (CZ) /

Anti-communism blocking historical reassessment

In the debate about the Prague Spring it's often forgotten that back then a liberal civil society emerged in the East Bloc, Právo criticises, noting that such one-sidedness hinders a true culture of remembrance:

“Prague Spring is always mentioned in the same breath as the rest of the communist era, and that's how research on it is carried out as well. However, the attempt to treat it like any other period in the era of totalitarianism represents a mistake on the part of political anti-communism in the Czech Republic, which paints only a black-and-white picture of history. How are teachers supposed to explain to their pupils how it was possible that there was such lively intellectual discussion back then, so many brilliant works of literature, film and other art forms which are still hugely relevant today, if things were all so black and white?”

Financial Times (GB) /

Extremists are always doomed to fail

The preoccupation with the Prague Spring is an indication of the kind of resistance today's authoritarian politicians could face, the Financial Times comments:

“There are still lessons to be learnt from the Prague Spring. The first is that doctrinaire ideologies and political practices, whether they be 1960s-style communism or the intolerant dogmas of today's radical right and left, contain the seeds of their own downfall. They propose inadequate solutions to the complex problems of modern societies. They bully critics, deride experts and degrade reason. In so doing, they generate economic inefficiency, social tension and political discontent.”

El País (ES) /

The second people's spring

El País points out that 1968 wasn't just the year of the student movements in Western Europe but also the year in which the Prague Spring was crushed:

“Some scholars draw parallels between 1848 and 1968. There were rebellions in various places in Europe, a series of revolts against absolutism and authoritarianism that were apparently unconnected but displayed many similarities. Marx tried to prove that the processes in the first of those two years fit into a common pattern and that this was a kind of 'people's spring'. After the Czech experiment of socialism with a human face, the magic year of 1968 was not yet over. Just weeks later, in a place far removed from the European scenario, the rebelling Mexican students were massacred.”

Birgün (TR) /

First seeds of rebellion sown in the US

The left-wing paper Birgün looks back at the events that culminated in the protests of 1968:

“The first seeds of the 1968 generation were already sown back in the 1940s in the US. The first student protests that dominated the 1960s began at a time when the blacks were moving from the countryside to the cities. A generation of students proved that you could defy the established order not just on the streets, but also at the social and political level. People vented their anger against the existing hierarchies, authority, cold rationality and the society in which they lived: a society that ignores the poverty, inequality and injustice it has created.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

New right as a reflection of the 1968 protesters

There are parallels between the 1968 generation and today's new right, NRC Handelsblad argues:

“For instance the call for more democracy. As a result of multiculturalism and the EU we have less and less say in the future of our country, it claims. ... It attaches great importance to the 'voice of the people' and less to the rule of law: right-wing populist Geert Wilders, for example, wants to abolish religious freedom in the Netherlands and Viktor Orbán, much admired by many new-right politicians, is trying to curb press freedom. ... The call for democracy is related to the battle for freedom which the new right claims to be waging. In the 1960s freedom had to be wrested from the hands of the conservative and authoritarian elites. The new right is leading its protest against the European Union, Islam and left-wing institutions.”

Politis (FR) /

The battle lines were clearer back then

The continued enthusiasm for the events of 1968 is above all a result of their historical context, writes Denis Sieffert, editor-in-chief of Politis:

“The fascination exerted by 1968 has to do with the fact that back then there were clear antagonisms that you could position yourself in relation to. ... It was easier to take a stand on the Vietnam War than on the chaos in Syria today. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the Internet, globalisation, climate change and the hysterical greed of the financial world have upended our vision of the world and transformed the context of social combat.”

El País (ES) /

Spain's feminism stronger than ever

Fifty years after 1968 Spain's women's movement is stronger than ever, El País comments jubilantly:

“A particular characteristic of Spain's feminism is its ability to form inter-generational alliances. Young women are demonstrating for freedom when they go home alone in the evening, middle-aged women are demanding an end to the pay gap and the glass ceiling. Older women are watching the protests with a mixture of enthusiasm and melancholy, because they see the same placards as 40 years ago. ... The traditional agents would do well to see this feminist moment as an instrument for their political actions. Healthy institutions should be able to channel and accommodate these demands. ... At a time when our parties seem paralysed by all the strategising this social impulse offers them the opportunity to take up the demands and turn them into public policies that construct a more just world for more than half of the population.”

Magyar Hírlap (HU) /

The 68ers are still among us

The protagonists of the 1968 protests are still fighting for their cause today, writes János Rácz, a researcher at the pro-government historical research institute Veritas, in Magyar Hírlap:

“What is the legacy of 1968? Student revolt, the new left, liberalism, criticism of the consumer society, cultural and sexual revolution? Perhaps all of that, perhaps something else. But no matter how we answer this question, 1968 was without doubt a challenge, and it is important to know what went on back then. Particularly since the world and Europe have changed radically in the meantime. What's more, the same protagonists from back then are still among us - but now they're fans of globalism. And like in 1968 they oppose conservatism and traditions - just in a different place, and with other slogans.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Protests in today's France pale in comparison

In France the trade unions and students taking part in the ongoing protests are citing May 1968 but today there is no movement that can compare with that in 1968, writes Deutschlandfunk:

“The trade unions are competing with each other, and couldn't even agree on joint demonstrations on May 1. ... The fact that university faculties were occupied made headlines in the news for a while, but only a few hundred students and youths were involved, and their demands were vague and failed to generate a public debate. When the police cleared the university buildings there was no response whatsoever: by then at the latest it was clear that - despite all claims to the contrary - not even a smidgeon of the glorious spirit of the 1968 revolts is to be found in France right now.”