Alexander Dubček, the communist leader who launched a broad program of liberal reforms in Czechoslovakia, is forced to resign on this day, April 17 1969, as first secretary by the Soviet forces occupying his country. The staunchly pro-Soviet Gustav Husak was appointed Czechoslovak leader in his place, reestablishing an authoritarian communist dictatorship in the Soviet satellite state.
The trend toward liberalization in Czechoslovakia began in 1963, and in 1968 reached its apex after Dubcek replaced Antonin Novotny as first secretary of the party. He introduced a series of far-reaching political and economic reforms, including increased freedom of speech and an end to state censorship. Dubček’s effort to establish “communism with a human face” was celebrated across the country and the brief period of freedom became known as the “Prague Spring.”
However, on August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union answered to the reforms with the invasion of Czechoslovakia by 600,000 Warsaw Pact troops. Prague was not eager to give way, but scattered student resistance was no match for Soviet tanks. As a result, Dubček’s reforms were repealed, and the leader was replaced with the staunchly pro-Soviet Gustav Husak, who reestablished an authoritarian communist regime in the country.
Years later, in 1989, as communist governments folded across Eastern Europe, Prague again became the scene of demonstrations for democratic reforms. In December of that year, Husak’s government conceded to demands for a multiparty parliament. Husak resigned, and for the first time in two decades Dubček returned to politics as chairman of the new parliament, which subsequently elected playwright Vaclav Havel as president of Czechoslovakia. Havel had come to fame already during the Prague Spring, and after the Soviet crackdown his plays were banned and his passport confiscated.