The Prague Spring and the Soviet-Led Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968: A 50-Year Retrospective

Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 1:00pm to 5:00pm

CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Rooms S354 and S250

PANEL 1, 1:00-2:45 PM / CGIS S354
The Genesis, Progress, and Fate of the 1968 Reforms in Czechoslovakia
Oldřich Tůma, Director, Institute for Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences

The Soviet Union and the Prague Spring
Peter Ruggenthaler, Austrian Academy of Sciences
East Germany, Poland, and the Crushing of the Prague Spring
Douglas Selvage, Senior Researcher, German Federal Commission Overseeing the Former Stasi Records
Chair: Mark Kramer, Program Director, Cold War Studies Program, Davis Center

COFFEE BREAK, 2:45-3:15 PM / CGIS S250

PANEL 2, 3:15-5:00 PM / CGIS S250
Hungary and the Crisis in Soviet-Czechoslovak Relations
Charles Gati, Senior Research Professor of European and Eurasian Studies, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Romania and the Crisis in the Warsaw Pact, 1968
Stefano Bottoni, Senior Researcher, Institute of History, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Bulgaria, the Prague Spring, and the August 1968 Invasion
Nadia Boyadjieva, Professor of International Law and International Relations, Balkan Studies Institute, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Visiting Scholar, Davis Center
Chair: Mark Kramer, Program Director, Cold War Studies Program, Davis Center

Until the late 1980s, the Soviet Union’s determination to preserve Communism in East-Central Europe was not in doubt.  When Communist regimes in Eastern Europe came under violent threat in the 1950s —in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956 — Soviet troops intervened to subdue those challenges.  A very different problem arose in 1968, when Czechoslovakia embarked on a dramatic, but entirely peaceful, attempt to change both the internal complexion of Communism and many of the basic structures of Soviet-East European relations.  This eight-month-long experiment, widely known as the “Prague Spring,” came to a decisive end in August 1968 when hundreds of thousands of Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia.

Neither the Soviet Union nor Czechoslovakia exists any longer, but the legacy of the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion is still being felt.  The reforms that took place in Czechoslovakia in 1968 under the leadership of Alexander Dubček offered the first opportunity for an East European Communist regime to earn genuine popular support.  Moscow’s unwillingness to tolerate those reforms ensured that, from then on, stability in the Eastern bloc could be preserved only by the threat of another Soviet invasion.

That threat sufficed to hold the bloc together for more than twenty years, even when tested by severe crises like the one in Poland in 1980-1981.  But soon after Mikhail Gorbachev came along and was no longer willing to use military force in Eastern Europe, the whole Soviet bloc collapsed.  Because of the legacy of 1968, all the East European regimes still lacked the legitimacy they would have needed to sustain themselves without Soviet military backing.  The invasion of Czechoslovakia saved Soviet-style Communism in Eastern Europe for more than two decades, but it could not forestall the eventual demise of the bloc.

Sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

For more information, please call 617-495-4037.