In the history of Czechoslovakia, the period after the violent suppression of the Prague Spring by the Warsaw Pact armies in August 1968 is called normalization ( Czech normalizace , Slovak normalizácia ) .
At the beginning of this era, the need to “normalize conditions” was the official justification for repressive measures such as renewing censorship , dissolving independent social and political organizations that emerged in the reform year 1968, and “ purges ” in the Communist Party. Critics of the regime were persecuted and imprisoned. However, there were no political show trials with death sentences, as was the case during Stalinism in the 1950s.
In a narrower sense, “normalization” only refers to the period up to the XIV Congress of the Communist Party in May 1971. In a broader sense, the entire twenty-year period from 1969 to 1989 is called that, namely the maintenance of the status quo until the fall of the communist regime.
During this entire period, Soviet occupation forces were stationed on Czechoslovak territory. The last Soviet soldier did not leave the country until June 21, 1991.
The term "normalization" comes from the Moscow Protocol , which the Czechoslovak leadership signed on August 26, 1968. The party document, Lessons from the Crisis, sums up the content of the protocol and the goals of normalization as follows:
“ In this document, the Czechoslovak leaders expressed their determination to normalize the situation in our country on the basis of Marxism-Leninism, to restore the leadership of the party and the authority of the state power of the working class , to ban counter-revolutionary organizations from political life and to strengthen the international relations of the ČSSR with the Soviet Union and with the other socialist allies. … Comrades Ludvík Svoboda , Gustáv Husák , Vasiľ Biľak and other comrades who take clear class internationalist positions were actively involved in the positive results of the Moscow negotiations from the Czechoslovak side. "
Disempowerment of the reformers, withdrawal of the reforms (1969)
The signing of the Moscow Protocol on August 26, 1968 meant the complete surrender of the Czechoslovak reform communists . From then on, the Soviet party leadership determined the country's political and economic development, in keeping with the Brezhnev Doctrine , which did not tolerate the Eastern bloc states' independent path to socialism . Many representatives of the reform course remained in their positions until the end of 1968. But under the growing pressure of the Moscow- loyal neo - Stalinist wing of the party, they gradually had to vacate their positions.
In the fall of 1968, censorship was reintroduced and freedom of association and assembly was abolished. The “Agreement on the provisional stationing of Soviet troops on the territory of the Czechoslovakia” caused great disappointment among the public. The National Assembly ratified it on October 16, 1968. The November meeting of the Central Committee brought about far-reaching personnel changes at the top of the party. Here the neo-Stalinist wing largely prevailed.
The federalization of the state gave rise to personnel changes in the state institutions. On October 27, 1968, two new constituent states, the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic, emerged . Both republics gave up some of their powers in favor of federal bodies. The reorganization was carried out down to the lowest level of administration. Around 18,000 elected representatives had to leave their seats.
The pretext for the most important personnel change at the party leadership was provided in March 1969 by the riots following the victory of Czechoslovakia over the Soviet Union at the ice hockey world championship in Stockholm . The victory was celebrated publicly on the streets of many cities. In Prague, demonstrators ravaged the office of the Soviet airline Aeroflot on Wenceslas Square . These riots were provoked by the State Security. Brezhnev made Alexander Dubček responsible for the anti-Soviet mood in society. In April 1969 Dubček had to resign. The leadership of the party took over Gustáv Husák, who got the support a few days beforehand at a secret meeting with Brezhnev.
Resistance to normalization
In January 1969 the student Jan Palach burned himself to death on Wenceslas Square in Prague. He wanted to protest against the occupation of Czechoslovakia and shake up the citizens. Palach's funeral at the end of January turned into a big rally against the Soviet occupation and Husák's normalization. Tens of thousands of people took part in the silent funeral march through downtown Prague.
On August 21, 1969, the first anniversary of the Soviet invasion, mass demonstrations against the presence of Soviet troops and the policy of normalization took place in many cities. The police and the military cracked down hard, several deaths and several thousand arrests. On the very next day, the Federal Assembly passed a law on "some transitional measures to protect public order", which allowed for faster and more severe punishment of those who "have violated the socialist order". It was popularly known as the “ stick law” (Czech pendrekový zákon ). The fact that, unlike the invasion a year earlier, this time it was the own police and military units that had struck, caused great bitterness among the population. It was also disappointing that Ludvík Svoboda, Alexander Dubček and Oldřich Černík signed this law. In 1968 you were still among the leading representatives of “ socialism with a human face ”.
Political Purges (1970-1971)
Immediately after taking power, Husák began with the so-called "consolidation of relations in society". Its goals were to restore the Communist Party's sole rule, repeal all reform laws of 1968 and liquidate the independent political and cultural organizations that had emerged in 1968. Husák's leadership began with rigorous "purges". Real or supposed representatives of the reform course were gradually removed from leadership positions in the mass media, in the army and judiciary, as well as in universities and scientific institutions. The purges began with the top management level and then expanded to include all employees in positions of responsibility. Around a third of radio and 70% of television employees were given notice, around 90,000 professionals had to leave universities, and entire university institutes were closed.
At the beginning of 1970, the Central Committee of the KSČ decided to exchange party ID cards. On this occasion, all members had to appear before cadre commissions made up of the so-called “healthy Marxist-Leninist core” of the party. In order to pass the cadre test, the members had to give their consent to the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops and to Husák's policy of normalization.
Lessons from the crisis , a document adopted by the party in December 1970, played a central role in the tests of opinion . It postulates that Czechoslovakia was in a serious crisis in 1968. The invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops was a “fraternal aid” of the socialist allies against the impending “counter-revolution”. Those who refused to consent to this document risked professional disadvantages, job loss or further sanctions against their family members. It could e.g. B. mean that one's own children have been denied access to a university. Political trials were staged against some opponents of the regime, but these no longer ended with executions as in the 1950s. Other members of the opposition were under surveillance by the secret police, were banned from professions and were only allowed to engage in low-level activities.
Husák's leadership has also reinstated state control over the economy. Companies that gained economic independence during the reform period had to submit to central government control again and meet planned quotas. The isolation of Czechoslovakia from other countries played an important role during this period. Travel opportunities, especially to capitalist countries, were severely restricted. In the field of culture and science, there were no more new impulses from abroad - the censors strictly controlled translations of foreign-language literature, concerts by foreign music groups were mostly limited to interpreters from other socialist countries.
In May 1971 Husák was able to inform the delegates of the 14th party congress that the normalization process had been successfully completed and that Czechoslovakia was ready to take further steps towards building socialism.
A great wave of exiles hit the country. After August 1968 around 127,000 citizens emigrated to the West, mainly to Germany and the USA.
Maintaining the status quo (1970s and 1980s)
For almost two decades, the regime managed to maintain the status quo in Czechoslovakia. Gustáv Husák was able to restore almost complete control of the Communist Party over society. He tried to meet all Soviet requirements as faithfully as possible. By reprisals and the suppression of all opposition, he wanted to prevent a repetition of the events of 1968 and thus a new military intervention by the Soviet Union. In these twenty years there have been only minimal changes in government personnel. Husák himself remained at the head of the party until 1987. In 1975 he took over the office of President from Ludvík Svoboda .
The moderate economic upswing of the 1970s helped stabilize the regime. Private prosperity increased and people were more willing to accept the restrictions on their personal freedoms and the ubiquitous surveillance. It was enough for the regime if the citizens only faked their loyalty to the outside world. Many therefore lived a double life and had two different opinions - one officially and one privately. “This schizophrenic duality was undoubtedly one of the defining features of everyday life in normalized society”. It led to a flight into private life and a general disinterest in political events.
The Charter 77 petition appeared in January 1977 . Its authors and first speakers included the writer and later President of Czechoslovakia Václav Havel and the philosopher Jan Patočka . The signatories referred to the Helsinki Final Act , which Czechoslovakia had also signed, and compared the freedoms promised there to reality. Charter 77 drew attention to violations of human rights in Czechoslovakia and developed into a gathering movement of various opposition groups. It also got a lot of feedback in the western press. Their signatories have been harassed, arrested and banned from their profession. Václav Havel spent several years in prison. Jan Patočka died as a result of the police being ill-treated during hours of interrogation.
Foreign radio stations such as Radio Free Europe , Voice of America , BBC and Radio Vatican played an important role at this time , and they often featured Czechoslovak emigrants. They made it possible to receive uncensored information from abroad. The state tried to counteract this with jammers. Information could also be disseminated past the official censorship using samizdat scripts.
In the 1980s, the frozen neo-Stalinist system was exposed to increasing internal and external pressures. The economic situation in the country deteriorated. The state-controlled planned economy was no longer able to satisfy growing private consumption. The technological gap compared to its Western European neighbors grew rapidly. At the end of the 1980s, the foreign policy situation changed, and in November 1989 the communist regime fell.
“Perestroika” and the end of communism
The election of Mikhail Gorbachev as general secretary of the CPSU in 1985 was not only a turning point in the history of the Soviet Union, it also weakened the position of Moscow-loyal communists in Czechoslovakia. The outdated Czechoslovak government, incapable of reforms, met his policy of perestroika and glasnost with uncertainty and distrust. She feared that the Soviet reformer might commit himself to the legacy of 1968 and to “socialism with a human face”. This would have lost its legitimacy.
Encouraged by Gorbachev's reforms and the events in the neighboring socialist countries, criticism of the economic and political conditions in Czechoslovakia grew in 1988 and 1989. Fear of a new military intervention by the Soviet Union diminished. On November 17, 1989, the 50th anniversary of the closure of the universities by the Nazis , and in memory of the death of Jan Opletal , a student rally was held in Albertov, Prague. Many citizens joined. There were spontaneous protests against the communist regime and after the event, thousands moved towards the city center. The demonstration was brutally suppressed by the police. This date is considered to be the beginning of the so-called Velvet Revolution .
On the following days, large demonstrations with several hundred thousand participants took place in Prague. A two-hour general strike was called on November 27 in all major cities in Czechoslovakia, in which around half of all workers took part. The communist regime could no longer hold out. The previous government resigned and on December 29, Václav Havel was elected as the first non-communist President of Czechoslovakia since 1948.
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