The Polish March and the Prague Spring, 40 Years Later

Adam Next week, or August 21st to be precise, will mark the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the end of the Prague Spring. Adam Michnik on the anniversary in the Guardian:

In August 1989, I proposed in the Polish diet a draft resolution apologising to the Czechs and Slovaks for Polish involvement in the 1968 invasion. I felt that a historical circle was being closed: the ideas of the Polish March and the Prague Spring, the ideas of our mountain meetings, were becoming political facts. Three months later, the Velvet Revolution began in Prague.

The main difference between the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution was that the former was mostly the work of Communist party members and others who wanted to bring about “socialism with a human face.” As a result, some people nowadays dismiss the Prague Spring as a power struggle between communists. But there were many roads to – and through – communism, and many of them converged with national traditions.

Indeed, communism was attractive for many reasons, including the idea of universal justice and humanised social relations; a response to the great spiritual crisis after the first world war and, later, to the Nazis’ genocide; and the conviction that western dominance of the world was nearing its end. Finally, in a world divided by Yalta, communism was, for some, the only realistic choice for central Europe.

In Czechoslovakia in 1968, communist reformers appealed to democratic ideals that were deeply rooted in the country’s pre-second world war past. Alexander Dubcek, the leader of the Czechoslovak communists and the symbol of the Prague Spring, personified hope for democratic evolution, real pluralism, and a peaceful way to a state governed by law and respectful of human rights.

By contrast, in Poland, which had witnessed its own tentative opening in the March student movement, a nationalist-authoritarian faction exploited all that was intolerant and ignorant in Polish tradition, employing xenophobia and anti-intellectual rhetoric. Mieczyslaw Moczar, the Polish interior minister and leader of the nationalist faction, combined communist rhetoric with a language proper to fascist movements in order to mobilise the masses against the “cosmopolitan-liberal intelligentsia.”

Those who read German may also want to take a look at this conversation between Jirí Dienstbier, Jirí Grusa, Lionel Jospin, Adam Michnik, Oskar Negt and Friedrich Schorlemmer im Gespräch on 1968 and 1989, in Eurozine.