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Citizens of Czechoslovakia awoke to find that the Soviet Union and its main allies in the Warsaw Pact – (Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, and Poland) had invaded overnight in order to crush Prime Minister Alexander Dubček’s Prague Spring political liberalisation reforms.

Hundreds of people were killed or wounded and several members of the liberal Czechoslovak leadership were arrested, including Prime Minister Dubček.

The Soviet news agency, Tass, claimed that “assistance” was requested by members of the Czechoslovak Government and Communist party leaders to fight the “counter-revolutionary forces” of Dubček and his allies.

But in a secret radio address, Czechoslovak President Ludvik Svoboda condemned the occupation by Warsaw Pact allies as illegal and committed without the government’s consent.

US President Lyndon Johnson said the invasion was a clear violation of the United Nations Charter and that the excuses offered by the Soviet Union were “patently contrived”.

“It is a sad commentary on the communist mind that a sign of liberty in Czechoslovakia is deemed a fundamental threat to the security of the Soviet system,” he said.

Czechoslovakia’s abortive path to freedom began when Mr Dubček, a Slovak, became Communist Party leader in January of that year and introduced a programme of wide-ranging democratic reforms which had been gathering pace in the face of Soviet disapproval and the rebirth of social and political freedom became known as the “Prague Spring”.

Following the invasion, Mr Dubček and others were banned from office and replaced with a famously repressive communist regime. All the reforms were annulled or abandoned.

The invasion drew condemnation from across the globe. Significantly many western communist parties and communist Yugoslavia and Romania dissociated themselves from the USSR’s actions.

As with Hungary in 1956, the West took no action. The Soviet defence minister is said to have recommended invading even if it meant third world war. Moreover, the US was in the middle of a presidential election campaign and entrenched in Vietnam.

The Communists were finally ousted on 24 November 1989 and Mr Dubček made a triumphant return to Prague. He became chairman of the new post-Communist administration in what became known as the “Velvet Revolution”.

Category: Historic Events

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