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Alexander Dubcek      by Bill Harry

The man whose efforts to create “socialism with a human face” in Czechoslovakia resulted in the ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968. Alexander Dubcek was born in Ihrovek, Slovakia on 27th November 1921 and his family emigrated to the Soviet Union when he was four years old, returning to their homeland in 1938. Alexander became Communist Party secretary the following year.
From August 1944 he was a member of the Slovak Resistance and after the war, in 1949, he became a full-time Communist Party official and was sent to Moscow for political education from 1955-1958. On his return to Czechoslovakia he began to rise in the hierarchy, becoming Leader of the Slovakian Communist Party in 1963 and then in 1968, at
the age of 46, he ousted Antonin Novotny and was appointed Czech Party Leader, the first Slovak to hold the post.

That same year saw the introduction of Dubcek’s programme of reforms, which included freedom of speech. Leonid Brezhnev was concerned about the new liberalism in Czechoslovakia and voiced his concern that there were American agents in the country. Dubcek assured the Soviets that his reform programme would not endanger Socialism, but they would not accept what he had to say and, in May 1968, units of the Soviet Army assembled on the Czech border.

By July there were 1,000 tanks and 75,000 troops gathered outside the country and Dubcek met with Soviet leaders on 29th July for talks at Cierna-Nad-Tisou. He once again assured them of Czechoslovakia’s loyalty to their Soviet ally but on 20th August the Soviet Army, with some token Warsaw Pact forces, invaded the country. Dubcek was to say, “How could they do this to me? My whole life has been devoted to co-operation with the Soviet Union. This is my own profound personal tragedy.” (map - Czechoslovakia in 1969)

He was then taken to Moscow and forced to abandon his policies On his return he was compelled to resign as Party Secretary in April and was then made Speaker of the Federal Assembly. In 1970 he was expelled from the Communist Party and soon shuttled off to a minor administrative post in Bratislava, where he spent a total of 20 years as a ‘non person’, harassed by the secret police. He was to say that his spirits remained strong due to the support of his wife and three sons.

He returned to the political limelight in 1988, supporting the dissident playwright Vaclav Haval in November 1989 during what was to be called ‘The Velvet Revolution.’ Dubcek was to witness the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia but, although he became the Chairman of the Federal Parliament, he was politically irrelevant.

In September 1992 he was involved in a serious road accident and the injuries he sustained eventually led to his death on 7th November 1992.


Also see Sixties City: Events 1968

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