Essays: The Prague Spring and the 1968 Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia in an international context

Rick Fawn, Andrea Petö, Zuzana Poláčková and Michal Vít authored, as a follow-up to our conference ''The Prague Spring and the 1968 Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia in an international context'', a series of essays that are now available.

The overcoming of adversity and hope prevailing forms the core of great narratives, be they personal, national or international. The end of World War II and later the Cold War led to the proclamation of “the end of history”, reinforcing the utopian notion that hope had prevailed for good after seemingly endless struggles.

It is easy, even human, to view the trauma of 1968 in then-Czechoslovakia as just another temporary setback in the inexorable and inevitable advance of democracy, freedom, and, more ephemerally, hope.

Yet in 1968, hope died in then-Czechoslovakia. As tanks rolled into Wenceslas square, entire generations watched as their human struggle for independence and freedom was crushed by a superpower to whom fundamental rights, freedom and democracy were anathema. For a long time, entire generations were destined to a life under the yoke of oppression with no prospect of freedom or independence. For a long time, children would grow up in a world devoid of inviolable rights, a world where might made right. It would take more than 20 years until, on the very same square, hope was finally rekindled in the Velvet Revolution.

Since then, the Czech Republic has become an independent country, achieved hitherto unparalleled levels of freedom and prosperity, and developed into a fully- fledged democracy and valuable member of the international community. It is thus unsurprising, even human, that the trauma, hardship and tragedy of 1968 has slowly been relegated to the farthest recesses of our collective memory, its lessons and meaning slowly eroded or even forgotten.

It has been 50 years now since this fateful event. The international world order, to which the Czech Republic is now part of, is once again under threat, this time not only from external adversaries, but even more so from within as many European, primarily former Soviet-bloc, states turn their backs on the hard-won liberal democracy and instead turn to the very authoritarianism that their ancestors fought so bravely and admirably to defeat.

As cultural, societal and political upheaval once again rumbles across Europe, ruminations on the broader European historical contexts of the Prague Spring, and especially the cultural, intellectual, social and political forces driving it, are merited; it cannot and should not be viewed as a singular , national event only , especially given contemporary developments, which concerns us all. This was one of the key goals of this project, which featured both public conferences bringing together experts with various scientific backgrounds from across Europe, as well as four essays written by accomplished scholars and experts on political science and history. They are essential reading for anyone interested in Czechoslovak history as well as transformative reformist movements in general.

Now, more than ever, it is time to reflect on the meaning of 1968 and rediscover the valuable lessons it taught us. Thus, it is our hope that the four publications enclosed within this project will give cause for reflection not only on 1968 but also the future, so that the flame of hope, after decades of subjugation and hardship, may continue to burn bright in the Czech Republic and Europe.

You can download all the essays through the PDF button on the right of this article.

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