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The Contemporary World

1945 to the present


After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



Eastern and Central Europe

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, BulgariaRomania, Albania


After the end of World War II, the states of Eastern and Central Europe came under the communist control of regimes loyal to the Soviet Union. After the formation of popular front governments, power was taken over by the Communist party, whose rule was secured and protected by the Red Army. The economies of these so-called vassal states were geared to the requirements of the Soviet Union as were their political decisions. When the USSR was forced to carry out reforms in its own country and the regime could no longer find support within its sphere of influence, the regimes collapsed.


Czechoslovakia and the Czech and Slovak Republics since 1945

The "Prague Spring" reform experiment of Czechoslovakia's government was forcibly crushed. The "Velvet Revolution" of 1989-1990 led to the country's division three years later.


In 1945, Czechoslovakia, which had been dismantled by the Nazi regime, was restored to its previous borders with the exception of the region of Carpathian Ruthenia (Carpatho-Ukraine).

The expulsion of the 2 German and Hungarian minorities at the end of the war proved a long term economic loss.

2 Germans who were expelled from
Czechoslovakia have retained their
traditions and in some cases their
claims to land, 2004

In 1947, the Soviet Union forced Czechoslovakia to reject the assistance offered by the Marshall Plan. In the meantime, the Communists under Klement Gottwald seized the key positions in the state. President Edvard Benes resigned in protest, and the non-Communist ministers stepped down in June 1948.

Klement Gottwald became the new president and formed a Communist government.

In 1949, Czechoslovakia joined the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon). In 1952, the country was shaken by show trials and the subsequent executions of prominent Communists.

3 Alexander Dubcek was elected the new state and party head in 1968.

4 During a communist-organized rally, posters of Klement Gottwald and Joseph Stalin are carried through the streets, Prague, 1948

3 Alexander Dubcek, 1968

He wanted to liberalize the system and implement "socialism with a human face."

The Soviet Union was unable to stop the reforms through diplomatic political means, so on August 21, 1968, 1 troops from the Warsaw Pact marched into the capital of the country and crushed the "Prague Spring."

1 The tanks of the intervention troops are surrounded and blocked by the population during the "Prague Spring," 1968

Under the new party leader, Gustav Husak, Czechoslovakia became one of the Communist states most loyal to the Soviet Union party line. Nonetheless, in 1976-77 a new opposition group, Charter 77, developed in the wake of the final resolution of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Helsinki in 1975.

After the end of the Cold War, the effects of the process of change were evident in the entire Eastern bloc, including Czechoslovakia. The Communist Party's dictatorship was ended by the peaceful "Velvet Revolution" in 1989-1990.

Dramatist and civil rights champion 5 Vaclav Havel was elected president in 1990, and Dubcek was elected chairman of the Federal Assembly.

The socialist state was on its way to becoming a federal state, but Slovakia, under its emergent leader 6 Vladimir Meciar, sought independence.

Since no agreement could be reached, the country was divided into two sovereign states on January 1, 1995. In 2004, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were accepted as EU members.

5 Vaclav Havel, 2004

6 Vladimir Meciar, 2004



Prague Spring, 1968

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Prague Spring, 1968

The Prague Spring (Czech: Pražské jaro, Slovak: Pražská jar) was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Slovak Alexander Dubček came to power, and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and members of its Warsaw Pact allies invaded the country to halt the reforms.

The Prague Spring reforms were an attempt by Dubček to grant additional rights to the citizens in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and democratization. The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel. Dubček also federalized the country into two separate republics; this was the only change that survived the end of the Prague Spring.

The reforms were not received well by the Soviets who, after failed negotiations, sent thousands of Warsaw Pact troops and tanks to occupy the country. A large wave of emigration swept the nation. While there were many non-violent protests in the country, including the protest-suicide of a student, there was no military resistance. Czechoslovakia remained occupied until 1990.

After the invasion, Czechoslovakia entered a period of normalization: subsequent leaders attempted to restore the political and economic values that had prevailed before Dubček gained control of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). Gustáv Husák, who replaced Dubček and also became president, reversed almost all of Dubček's reforms. The Prague Spring has become immortalized in music and literature such as the work of Karel Kryl and Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.


The process of de-Stalinization in Czechoslovakia had begun under Antonín Novotný in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but had progressed slower than in most other socialist states of the Eastern Bloc. Following the lead of Nikita Khrushchev, Novotný proclaimed the completion of socialism, and the new constitution, accordingly, adopted the name Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The pace of change, however, was sluggish; the rehabilitation of Stalinist-era victims, such as those convicted in the Slánský trials, may have been considered as early as 1963, but did not take place until 1967. As the strict regime eased its rules, the Union of Czechoslovak Writers cautiously began to air discontent, and in the union's gazette, Literární noviny, members suggested that literature should be independent of Party doctrine.

In June 1967, a small fraction of the Czech writer's union sympathized with radical socialists, specifically Ludvík Vaculík, Milan Kundera, Jan Procházka, Antonín Jaroslav Liehm, Pavel Kohout and Ivan Klíma. A few months later, at a party meeting, it was decided that administrative actions against the writers who openly expressed support of reformation would be taken. Since only a small part of the union held these beliefs, the remaining members were relied upon to discipline their colleagues. Control over Literární noviny and several other publishing houses was transferred to the ministry of culture, and even members of the party who later became major reformers—including Dubček—endorsed these moves.

In the early 1960s, Czechoslovakia, then officially known as the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR), underwent an economic downturn. The Soviet model of industrialization applied poorly to Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was already quite industrialized before World War II and the Soviet model mainly took into account less developed economies. Novotný's attempt at restructuring the economy, the 1965 New Economic Model, spurred increased demand for political reform as well.

By 1967, president Antonín Novotný was losing support. First Secretary of the regional Communist Party of Slovakia, Alexander Dubček, and economist Ota Šik challenged him at a meeting of the Central Committee, and Dubček invited Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev to Prague that December. Brezhnev was surprised at the extent of the opposition to Novotný and supported his removal as Czechoslovakia's leader. Dubček thus replaced Novotný as First Secretary on 5 January 1968. On 22 March 1968, Novotný resigned his presidency and was replaced by Ludvík Svoboda, who later gave consent to the reforms.

Liberalization and reform

The Czechoslovak public knew nothing of the political infighting, and early signs of change were few. When the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) Presidium member Josef Smrkovský was interviewed in a Rudé Právo article, entitled "What Lies Ahead", he insisted that Dubček's appointment at the January Plenum would further the goals of socialism and maintain the working-class nature of the Communist Party.

On the 20th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s "Victorious February", Dubček delivered a speech explaining the need for change following the triumph of socialism. He emphasized the need to "enforce the leading role of the party more effectively" and acknowledged that, despite Klement Gottwald's urgings for better relations with society, the Party had too often made heavy-handed rulings on trivial issues. Dubček declared the party's mission was "to build an advanced socialist society on sound economic foundations ... a socialism that corresponds to the historical democratic traditions of Czechoslovakia, in accordance with the experience of other communist parties ..."

In April, Dubček launched an "Action Program" of liberalizations, which included increasing freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of movement, with economic emphasis on consumer goods and the possibility of a multiparty government. The program was based on the view that "Socialism cannot mean only liberation of the working people from the domination of exploiting class relations, but must make more provisions for a fuller life of the personality than any bourgeois democracy." The program would limit the power of the secret police and provide for the federalization of the ČSSR into two equal nations. The Program also covered foreign policy, including both the maintenance of good relations with Western countries and cooperation with the Soviet Union and other communist nations. It spoke of a ten year transition through which democratic elections would be made possible and a new form of democratic socialism would replace the status quo.

Those who drafted the Program, however, were careful not to criticize the actions of the post-war communist regime, only to point out policies that they felt had outlived their usefulness. For instance, the immediate post-war situation had required "centralist and directive-administrative methods" to fight against the "remnants of the bourgeoisie." Since the "antagonistic classes" were said to have been defeated with the achievement of socialism, these methods were no longer necessary. Reform was needed, stated the Program, for the Czechoslovak economy to join the "scientific-technical revolution in the world" rather than relying on Stalinist-era heavy industry, labor power, and raw materials. Furthermore, since internal class conflict had been overcome, workers could now be duly rewarded for their qualifications and technical skills without contravening Marxist-Leninism. The Program suggested it was now necessary to ensure important positions were "filled by capable, educated socialist expert cadres" in order to compete with capitalism.

Although the Action Program stipulated that reform must proceed under KSČ direction, popular pressure mounted to implement reforms immediately. Radical elements became more vocal: anti-Soviet polemics appeared in the press (after the formal abolishment of censorship on 26 June 1968), the Social Democrats began to form a separate party, and new unaffiliated political clubs were created. Party conservatives urged repressive measures, but Dubček counseled moderation and reemphasized KSČ leadership. At the Presidium of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in April, Dubček announced a political program of "socialism with a human face". In May, he announced that the Fourteenth Party Congress would convene in an early session on 9 September. The congress would incorporate the Action Program into the party statutes, draft a federalization law, and elect a new Central Committee.

Dubček's reforms guaranteed freedom of the press, and political commentary was allowed for the first time in mainstream media. At the time of the Prague Spring, Czechoslovak exports were declining in competitiveness, and Dubček's reforms planned to solve these troubles by mixing planned and market economies. Within the party, there were varying opinions on how this should proceed; certain economists wished for a more mixed economy while others wanted the economy to remain mostly socialist. Dubček continued to stress the importance of economic reform proceeding under Communist Party rule.

On 27 June Ludvík Vaculík, a leading author and journalist, published a manifesto titled The Two Thousand Words. It expressed concern about conservative elements within the KSČ and so-called "foreign" forces. Vaculík called on the people to take the initiative in implementing the reform program. Dubček, the party Presidium, the National Front, and the cabinet denounced this manifesto.

Prague Spring, 1968

Soviet reaction

Initial reaction within the Communist Bloc was mixed. Hungary's János Kádár was highly supportive of Dubček's appointment in January, but Leonid Brezhnev and others grew concerned about Dubček's reforms, which they feared might weaken the position of the Communist Bloc during the Cold War.

At a 23 March meeting in Dresden, leaders of "Warsaw Five" (USSR, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and East Germany) questioned a Czechoslovak delegation over the planned reforms, suggesting any talk of "democratization" was a veiled critique of other policies. Władysław Gomułka and Janos Kádár were less concerned with the reforms themselves than with the growing criticisms leveled by the Czechoslovak media, and worried the situation might be "similar to the prologue of the Hungarian counterrevolution". Some of the language in April's KSČ Action Program may have been chosen to assert that no counterrevolution was planned, but Kieran Williams suggests that Dubček was perhaps surprised at, but not resentful of, Soviet suggestions.

The Soviet leadership tried to stop or limit the changes in the ČSSR through a series of negotiations. The Soviet Union agreed to bilateral talks with Czechoslovakia in July at Čierna nad Tisou, near the Slovak-Soviet border. At the meeting, Dubček defended the program of the reformist wing of the KSČ while pledging commitment to the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. The KSČ leadership, however, was divided between vigorous reformers (Josef Smrkovský, Oldřich Černík, and František Kriegel) who supported Dubček, and conservatives (Vasil Biľak, Drahomír Kolder, and Oldřich Švestka) who adopted an anti-reformist stance. Brezhnev decided on compromise. The KSČ delegates reaffirmed their loyalty to the Warsaw Pact and promised to curb "anti-socialist" tendencies, prevent the revival of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, and control the press more effectively. The Soviets agreed to withdraw their troops (still in Czechoslovakia after maneuvers back in June) and permit the 9 September party congress.

On 3 August representatives from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia met in Bratislava and signed the Bratislava Declaration. The declaration affirmed unshakable fidelity to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism and declared an implacable struggle against "bourgeois" ideology and all "anti-socialist" forces. The Soviet Union expressed its intention to intervene in a Warsaw Pact country if a "bourgeois" system—a pluralist system of several political parties representing different factions of the capitalist class—was ever established. After the Bratislava conference, Soviet troops left Czechoslovak territory but remained along its borders.


As these talks proved unsatisfactory, the Soviets began to consider a military alternative. The Soviet Union's policy of compelling the socialist governments of its satellite states to subordinate their national interests to those of the "Eastern Bloc" (through military force if needed) became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine. On the night of 20-21 August 1968, Eastern Bloc armies from four Warsaw Pact countries — the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary—invaded the ČSSR.

That night, 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 2,000 tanks entered the country. The troops first occupied the Ruzyně International Airport, where air deployment of more troops was arranged. The Czechoslovak forces were confined to their own barracks and were surrounded until the threat of a counter-attack was assuaged. By the morning of 21 August Czechoslovakia was occupied.

Neither Romania nor Albania took part in the invasion, the latter having withdrawn from the Warsaw Pact in 1962. During the attack of the Warsaw Pact armies, 72 Czechs and Slovaks were killed (19 of those in Slovakia), 266 severely wounded and another 436 were lightly injured. Alexander Dubček called upon his people not to resist. Nevertheless, there was scattered resistance in the streets. Road signs in towns were removed or painted over—except for those indicating the way to Moscow. Many small villages renamed themselves "Dubcek" or "Svoboda"; without navigational equipment, the invaders were often confused.

Although on the night of the invasion the Czechoslovak Presidium declared that Warsaw Pact troops had crossed the border without the knowledge of the ČSSR government, the Soviet Press printed an unsigned request, allegedly by Czechoslovak party and state leaders, for "immediate assistance, including assistance with armed forces". At the 14th KSČ Party Congress (conducted secretly, immediately following the intervention), it was emphasized that no member of the leadership had invited the intervention. More recent evidence suggests that certain conservative KSČ members (including Biľak, Švestka, Kolder, Indra, and Kapek) did send a request for intervention to the Soviets. The invasion was followed by a wave of emigration, unseen before, which stopped shortly after. An estimated 70,000 fled immediately, and the total eventually reached 300,000.

The Soviets attributed the invasion to the "Brezhnev Doctrine" which stated that the U.S.S.R. had the right to intervene whenever a country in the Eastern Bloc appeared to be making a shift towards capitalism. There is still some uncertainty, however, as to what provocation, if any, occurred to make the Warsaw Pact armies invade. The days leading up to the invasion was a rather calm period without any major events taking place in Czechoslovakia.

Prague Spring, 1968

Reactions to the invasion

In Czechoslovakia, popular opposition to the invasion was expressed in numerous spontaneous acts of nonviolent resistance. On 19 January 1969, student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague's Wenceslas Square to protest against the renewed suppression of free speech. The generalized resistance caused the Soviet Union to abandon its original plan to oust the First Secretary. Dubček, who had been arrested on the night of 20 August was taken to Moscow for negotiations. There, he and several other leaders signed, under heavy psychological pressure from Soviet politicians, the Moscow Protocol and it was agreed that Dubček would remain in office and a program of moderate reform would continue.

On 25 August citizens of the Soviet Union who did not approve of the invasion protested in Red Square; eight protesters opened banners with anti-invasion slogans. The demonstrators were arrested and later punished; the protest was dubbed "anti-Soviet".

A more pronounced effect took place in Communist Romania, where leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, already a staunch opponent of Soviet influences and a self-declared Dubček supporter, gave a public speech in Bucharest on the day of the invasion, depicting Soviet policies in harsh terms. In Finland, a country under some Soviet political influence, the occupation caused a major scandal. Like the Italian and French Communist Parties, the Communist Party of Finland denounced the occupation. Nonetheless, Finnish president Urho Kekkonen was the very first Western politician to officially visit Czechoslovakia after August 1968; he received the highest Czechoslovakian honors from the hands of president Ludvík Svoboda, on October 4, 1969. The Portuguese communist secretary-general Álvaro Cunhal was one of few political leaders from western Europe to have supported the invasion for being counterrevolutionary. along with the Luxembourg party and conservative factions of the Greek party.

Western countries offered only vocal criticism following the invasion. The night of the invasion, Canada, Denmark, France, Paraguay, the United Kingdom and the United States requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. At the meeting, the Czechoslovak ambassador Jan Muzik denounced the invasion. Soviet ambassador Jacob Malik insisted the Warsaw Pact actions were "fraternal assistance" against "antisocial forces". The next day, several countries suggested a resolution condemning the intervention and calling for immediate withdrawal. Eventually, a vote was taken. Ten members supported the motion; Algeria, India, and Pakistan abstained; the USSR (with veto power) and Hungary opposed it. Canadian delegates immediately introduced another motion asking for a UN representative to travel to Prague and work toward the release of the imprisoned Czechoslovak leaders. By 26 August another vote had not taken place, but a new Czechoslovak representative requested the whole issue be removed from the Security Council's agenda. Shirley Temple Black visited Prague in August 1968 to help set up a Czechoslovak branch of the International Multiple Sclerosis Society and she was part of a U.S. Embassy-organized convoy of vehicles that evacuated Americans from the country after the August 21 invasion. In August 1989, she returned to Prague as U.S. Ambassador, three months before the Velvet Revolution that ended 41 years of Communist rule.


In April 1969, Dubček was replaced as first secretary by Gustáv Husák, and a period of "normalization" began. Dubček was expelled from the KSČ and given a job as a forestry official.

Husák reversed Dubček's reforms, purged the party of its liberal members, and dismissed from public office professional and intellectual elites who openly expressed disagreement with the political transformation. Husák worked to reinstate the power of the police authorities and strengthen ties with other socialist nations. He also sought to re-centralize the economy, as a considerable amount of freedom had been granted to industries during the Prague Spring. Commentary on politics was disallowed again in mainstream media and political statements by anyone who was not considered to have "full political trust" were also banned. The only significant change that survived was the federalization of the country, which created the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic in 1969.

In 1987, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged that his liberalizing policies of glasnost and perestroika owed a great deal to Dubček's "socialism with a human face". With the fall of socialism in 1989, Dubček became chairman of the federal assembly under the Havel administration. When asked what the difference was between the Prague Spring and Gorbachev's own reforms, a Foreign Ministry spokesman replied, "Nineteen years."

After Communism fell in Czechoslovakia in the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Dubček was elected the Speaker of the Federal Assembly, a position he held until June 1992. He eventually would lead the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia, and spoke against the dissolution of Czechoslovakia prior to his death in November 1992.

Cultural impact

The Prague Spring deepened the disillusionment of many Western leftists with Marxist-Leninist views. It contributed to the growth of Eurocommunist ideas in Western communist parties, which sought greater distance from the Soviet Union, and eventually led to the dissolution of many of these groups. A decade later, a period of Chinese political liberalization became known as the Beijing Spring. It also partly influenced the Croatian Spring in Yugoslavia. In a 1993 Czech survey, 60% of those surveyed had a personal memory linked to the Prague Spring while another 30% were familiar with the events in some other form.

The event has been referenced in popular music, including the music of Karel Kryl, Luboš Fišer's Requiem, and Karel Husa's Music for Prague 1968. "They Can't Stop The Spring", a song by Irish journalist and songwriter John Waters, represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007. Waters has described it as "a kind of Celtic celebration of the Eastern European revolutions and their eventual outcome", quoting Dubček's alleged comment: "They may crush the flowers, but they can't stop the Spring."

The Prague Spring has also appeared in literature. Milan Kundera set his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being during the Prague Spring. It follows the repercussions of increased Soviet presence and the dictatorial police control of the population. A film version was released in 1988. The Liberators, by Viktor Suvorov, is an eyewitness description of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, from the point of view of a Soviet tank commander. Rock 'n' Roll, a play by award-winning playwright Tom Stoppard, references the Prague Spring, as well as the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Heda Margolius Kovály also ends her memoir Under a Cruel Star with a first hand account of the Prague Spring and the subsequent invasion, and her reflections upon these events.

Other than the film adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, there is also the movie Pelíšky from director Jan Hřebejk and screenwriter Petr Jarchovský, which depicts the events of the Prague Spring, albeit it is more about the period of normalization. The Czech musical film, Rebelové from Filip Renč, also depicts the events, the invasion and subsequent emigration wave.

The number 68 has become iconic in the former Czechoslovakia. Hockey player Jaromír Jágr wears the number because of the importance of the year in Czechoslovak history. A former publishing house based in Toronto, 68 Publishers, that published books by exiled Czech and Slovak authors, took its name from the event.


Koudelka Josef

(b Boskovice, nr Brno, 10 Jan 1938).

Czech photographer of Moravian birth. He graduated from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the Czech Higher Institute of Technology in Prague (1961) and became an engineer of aircraft engines. He began to photograph as an amateur at the age of 14. In 1961, with the encouragement of the photographer and critic Jiri Jenícek (1895–1963), he held his first exhibition, at the popular Prague theatre Semafor. He was also influenced by the theorist Anna Fárová. From 1962 he worked as a photographer for the journal Divadlo and from 1965 for the avant-garde Theatre behind the Gate (Divadlo za Branou), led by the director Otomar Krejca, which enabled him to become professional. In 1965 he was accepted as a member of the Photography Section of the Association of Czech Artists, and in 1967 he left his job as an engineer to dedicate himself to photography.


Koudelka Josef


Koudelka Josef
Russian Tank in Prague, 1968


Koudelka Josef
Russian Tank in Prague, 1968



Alexander Dubcek

Alexander Dubcek

Slovak statesman

born Nov. 27, 1921, Uhrovec, Czech. [now in Slovakia]
died Nov. 7, 1992, Prague, Czech. [now in Czech Republic]

first secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Jan. 5, 1968, to April 17, 1969) whose liberal reforms led to the Soviet invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.

Dubček received his early education in Kirgiziya (Kyrgyzstan) in Soviet Central Asia, where his father, Stefan Dubček, a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, had settled. The family returned to Czechoslovakia in 1938. During World War II, Dubček took part in the underground resistance to Nazi occupation and after the war rose steadily in Communist Party ranks, becoming in 1958 chief secretary of the regional committee in Bratislava and a member of the central committees of both the Slovak and the Czechoslovak Communist Parties. In 1962 he became a full member of the Central Committee’s Presidium.

In October 1967, at a Central Committee meeting in Prague, Dubček rallied the support of party and economic reformers, as well as Slovak nationalists, against the leadership of Antonín Novotný. Novotný was forced to resign as first secretary on Jan. 5, 1968, and Dubček replaced him. During the early months of 1968 the Czechoslovak press was granted greater freedom of expression, and victims of political purges during the Stalin era were rehabilitated. On April 9 a reform program called “Czechoslovakia’s Road to Socialism” was promulgated that envisaged economic reforms and a wide-ranging democratization of Czechoslovak political life. The trend of developments aroused concern in the Soviet Union. From July 29 to August 2, the top leaders of the two countries conferred at the Slovak town of Cierna; their deliberations concluded with only minor compromises by Dubček. Still dissatisfied with developments in Czechoslovakia and fearful of the implications of liberalization, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded the country the night of August 20–21. Dubček and five other Presidium members were seized and taken to Moscow, where the Soviets wrested major concessions from them. On his return to Prague Dubček gave an emotional address to his countrymen, requesting their cooperation in the curtailment of his reforms.

Dubček was in a weak position. Gradually, his more progressive aides were removed, and in April 1969 he was demoted from first secretary of the party to president of the Federal Assembly (the national parliament). In January 1970 he was appointed ambassador to Turkey, but, after being expelled from the party, he was made an inspector of the forestry administration, based in Bratislava.

Dubček returned to prominence in Czechoslovakia’s national affairs in December 1989 after the country’s Communist Party had given up its monopoly on power and agreed to participate in a coalition government. On December 28 he was elected chairman of the Federal Assembly, and by 1992 he had become the leader of Slovakia’s Social Democrats. He died of injuries suffered in an automobile accident.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Charter 77

The name of the most famous opposition movement in the Eastern bloc referred to the demand for civil rights in the final resolution of the CSCE. The charter quickly gained more than 800 signatories, including the writers Vaclav Havel and Pavel Kohout.

They highlighted human rights violations in regular publications. The leading members became national political figures in the years of upheaval following 1989.

Vaclav Havel (left) in a discussion with
other dissidents in his apartment in Prague,




Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel

president of Czech Republic

born October 5, 1936, Prague, Czechoslovakia [now in Czech Republic]

Czech playwright, poet, and political dissident, who, after the fall of communism, was president of Czechoslovakia (1989–92) and of the Czech Republic (1993–2003).

Havel was the son of a wealthy restaurateur whose property was confiscated by the communist government of Czechoslovakia in 1948. As the son of bourgeois parents, Havel was denied easy access to education but managed to finish high school and study on the university level. He found work as a stagehand in a Prague theatrical company in 1959 and soon began writing plays with Ivan Vyskočil. By 1968 Havel had progressed to the position of resident playwright of the Theatre of the Balustrade company. He was a prominent participant in the liberal reforms of 1968 (known as the Prague Spring), and, after the Soviet clampdown on Czechoslovakia that year, his plays were banned and his passport was confiscated. During the 1970s and ’80s he was repeatedly arrested and served four years in prison (1979–83) for his activities on behalf of human rights in Czechoslovakia. After his release from prison Havel remained in his homeland.

Havel’s first solo play, Zahradní slavnost (1963; The Garden Party), typified his work in its absurdist, satirical examination of bureaucratic routines and their dehumanizing effects. In his best-known play, Vyrozumění (1965; The Memorandum), an incomprehensible artificial language is imposed on a large bureaucratic enterprise, causing the breakdown of human relationships and their replacement by unscrupulous struggles for power. In these and subsequent works Havel explored the self-deluding rationalizations and moral compromises that characterize life under a totalitarian political system. Havel continued to write plays steadily until the late 1980s; these works include Ztížená možnost soustředění (1968; The Increased Difficulty of Concentration); the three one-act plays Audience (1975), Vernisáž (1975; Private View), and Protest (1978); Largo Desolato (1985); and Zítra to Spustíme (1988; Tomorrow).

When massive antigovernment demonstrations erupted in Prague in November 1989, Havel became the leading figure in the Civic Forum, a new coalition of noncommunist opposition groups pressing for democratic reforms. In early December the Communist Party capitulated and formed a coalition government with the Civic Forum. As a result of an agreement between the partners in this bloodless “Velvet Revolution,” Havel was elected to the post of interim president of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989, and he was reelected to the presidency in July 1990, becoming the country’s first noncommunist leader since 1948. As the Czechoslovak union faced dissolution in 1992, Havel, who opposed the division, resigned from office. The following year he was elected president of the new Czech Republic. His political role, however, was limited, as Prime Minister Václav Klaus (1993–97) commanded much of the power. In 1998 Havel was reelected by a narrow margin, and, under his presidency, the Czech Republic joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999. Barred constitutionally from seeking a third term, he stepped down as president in 2003.

Havel’s first new play in more than 20 years, Odcházení (Leaving)—a tragicomedy that draws on his experiences as president and presents a chancellor leaving his post while grappling with a political enemy—premiered in 2008.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania, 1945 to the Present

The authoritarian Communist state systems of these three Balkan states collapsed in 1989. Despite their transition to democracy, these countries remain among the poorest in Europe.


After the end of World War II, the Communist Party in Bulgaria, led by its general secretary 8 Georgi Dimitrov, began building up a Soviet-style "people's democracy."

The opposition was violently eliminated.

11 Todor Zhivkov was first secretary of the Communist Party from 1954 to 1989.

Between 1962 and 1971, he held the office of prime minister, and in 1971-1989 he was chairman of the council of state. Attempts to "Bulgarianize" the large Turkish minority after 1984 caused a mass exodus. The political upheaval of 1989 destabilized the government. An economic crisis in 1996-1997 led to major unrest.

The parliamentary elections of 2001 were won by the party of the former king, 9 Simeon II, who had promised an improvement in living standards.

9 Simeon Sakskoburggotski,
former king

In 1944, Communist partisans led by 7 Enver Hoxha took power in Albania.

As head of the party, he ruled autocratically and brutally eliminated any opposition. At first he turned toward Yugoslavia, then China from 1961 to 1977, and finally he completely isolated the country internationally. His successor, Ramiz Alia, cautiously began to open up the country to the outside world in 1985. The process of reform accelerated after 1989, and the first multiparty elections were held in 1991. After 1995, governments came and went in rapid succession. In 1997, hundreds of thousands lost what little money they had in a stock investment scam. In the subsequent disturbances, barracks were stormed and large numbers of weapons were stolen.

Since 1989 peopie have been 14 emigrating on a large scale.

14 Albanian refugees at a port in
the Italian city of Bari, 1991

Today poverty and corruption rates are high, while the relationship to the Albanian majority in Kosovo remains contentious.

Romania lost Moldavia to Ukraine after 1945 but gained Transylvania and with it a German and Hungarian minority. The Stalinist Communist Party head, Georghe Gheorghiu-Dej, made the country a part of the Eastern bloc, but after 1960, he sought greater independence from Moscow.

His successor as state and party head after 1965, 10 Nicolae Ceausescu, continued this policy and received 12 Western aid for breaking with the Soviets; however, the aid did not go toward alleviating the misery of the 13 starving population.

12 Ceausescu wasted economic aid on costly, prestigious buildings such as the "People's House" in Bucharest

13 A group of Roma carriages on a road near the
Romanian capital of Bucharest, 2001

His regime was primarily supported by the Securitate, the secret police. With its help, minorities were brutally resettled. Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989 and executed. In 1991 opposition demonstrations were crushed by pro-government coal miners and the security forces. Although governments have alternated rapidly, the pace of reform has increased since 1997.

All three countries were accepted into the NATO Partnership for Peace program. Bulgaria and Romania are expected to become EU members in 2007.

8 Joseph Stalin with Georgi Dimitrov, 1936

11 General Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist party, Todor Zhivkov, 1987

7 The Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha

10 Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu,


In December 1989, Romania's communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu
was overthrown in a violent revolution and fled from the capital, Bucharest.
Three days later, he and his wife Elena were executed.


see also: United Nations member states -
Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, BulgariaRomania, Albania



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