50 years after the Prague Spring

On the night of 20 August 1968 the troops of the Warsaw Pact ended the attempts to democratise the communist system in Czechoslovakia, which went down in history as the Prague Spring. According to commentators the consequences of the invasion are still visible today.

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Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

A difficult commemoration

The official commemoration ceremony in front of the Czech Radio Building in Prague was overshadowed by loud whistles of protest aimed at Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. For Hospodářské noviny that wasn't the only setback:

“The remembrance ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the armies of the Warsaw Pact was - to put it mildly - controversial. The president said nothing, so as to curry favour with Russia and the Czech Communists. The keynote speaker was the prime minister, a man who benefited from the regime that was backed by Soviet tanks. No wonder the crowds whistled. Any dignified remembrance of the victims of the occupation was impossible.”

Wedomosti (RU) /

A historical carte blanche

Surveys show that half of Russia's population doesn't know what happened 50 years ago in Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless twice as many respondents believe the invasion was right than believe it was wrong. Opinion researcher Alexei Levinson of the Levada Center explains why in Vedomosti:

“First of all the invasion back then is perceived as a masterfully executed military operation that fulfilled a political mission virtually without bloodshed. Second, the conclusion drawn was that 'they' won't do anything to us no matter what we do in the areas which we regard as 'ours': the success in Prague whispered in our ears that we could invade Afghanistan and then Georgia later on. This was then repeated with Crimea.”

Denník N (SK) /

Czechs and Slovaks have become cynics

The leaden "normalisation" after the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops left a mark on the Czech Republic and Slovakia that still persists today, Dennik N points out:

“To develop in a healthy way, every young generation needs to rebel in one way or another against their elders. That wasn't possible here in the 1970s. ... Our younger generation learned to live two lives, one private and one public. ... This generation is now in power - in a democracy. The Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and the somewhat younger former Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico are typical representatives of this generation. They have no vision and uphold no values: they're nothing but cynical power-mongers. One lesson from 1968 is thus that with its lies and cynicism the 'normalisation' continues to have a ruinous impact on our lives today.”

Právo (CZ) /

The end of the "third way"

With the end of the Prague Spring all hopes of overcoming the shortcomings of capitalism and the limitations of socialism were buried, Právo comments:

“The end of the 'third way' is something that should make us all - including the conservatives and liberals - sad. Not even in theory is there a choice nowadays. But a democracy that doesn't offer such a choice seems tragicomic. The left and right, fighting against each other for power, have more in common than things that make them different from each other. Those who are not happy with this are summarily labelled populists. Anyone who seeks a new 'third way' ends up with this label. But we've known since August 1968 that there is no such way.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Authoritarianism still popular

Unfortunately there are countries in Eastern Europe that evidently learned little from the Prague Spring, Corriere del Ticino sighs:

“Let's look for example at Hungary, where a new and worrying form of authoritarianism began when Prime Minister Orbán came to power in 2010. Orbán has dazzled part of the Hungarian nation with nationalist populist formulas, thus endangering basic freedoms such as the freedom of expression and criticism of those in power. We haven't yet reached the level of stringent newspaper censorship that the Communist regime exercised during the Cold War period, but we're not far off. The methods are less conspicuous than back then, but the result is the same.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Europe's division goes back to 1968

The events of 1968 go a long way towards explaining the rifts that divide Europe today, historian Stéphane Courtois comments in Le Figaro:

“The invasion on August 21, 1968, revealed a major paradox: while Soviet tanks crushed the democratic aspirations in Prague, thousands of politically uneducated students in Prague, Rome and West Berlin sang the Internationale with raised fists. Egged on by Leninist, Trotskyist and Maoist leaders as well as Che Guevara supporters, they called for a communist revolution, unable to recognise its totalitarian character. This rift between a section of the youth in the democratic, prosperous countries and the youth in the countries in which the communists were destroying economic dynamism and freedom is one of the reasons for the current divide in the European Union.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Putin pursuing Brezhnev's doctrine

Moscow's underlying political motives haven't changed all that much since 1968, El Mundo observes:

“They didn't just want to put an end to 'socialism with a human face'. They wanted above all to define its vital space and send a message to future dissident nations. ... Apart from a few obvious historical differences, Putin's policies display similarities with Brezhnev's. Fifty years later, driven by its obsession with recovering the imperial power it has lost, Russia continues to act as if the Soviet zone of influence still existed by hindering the democratisation of many countries and even invading them, as in the case of Ukraine and Georgia.”