Alexander Dubcek, former Czechoslovak leader and architect of the “Prague Spring,” is elected chairman of the new multiparty Czechoslovak parliament. It was the first time Dubcek held public office since being deprived of Communist Party membership in 1970.
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. Dubcek’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.”
On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union answered Dubcek’s 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. Dubcek’s reforms were repealed, and the leader was replaced with the staunchly pro-Soviet Gustav Husak, who reestablished an authoritarian communist regime in the Soviet satellite state.
In 1989, as communist governments folded across Eastern Europe, Prague again became the scene of demonstrations for democratic reforms. In December 1989, Husak’s government conceded to demands for a multiparty parliament. Husak resigned, and for the first time in two decades Dubcek returned to politics as chairman of the new parliament, which subsequently elected playwright Vaclav Havel as president of Czechoslovakia. Havel had come to fame during the Prague Spring, and after the Soviet crackdown his plays were banned and his passport confiscated.