In the streets of Prague and in the United Nations headquarters in New York City, Czechs protest against the Soviet invasion of their nation. The protests served to highlight the brutality of the Soviet action and to rally worldwide condemnation of the Soviet Union.
On the night of August 20, 1968, more than 200,000 troops of the Warsaw Pact crossed into Czechoslovakia in response to democratic and free market reforms being instituted by Czech Communist Party General Secretary Alexander Dubcek. Negotiations between Dubcek and Soviet bloc leaders failed to convince the Czech leader to back away from his reformist platform. The military intervention on August 21 indicated that the Soviets believed that Dubcek was going too far and needed to be restrained. On August 22, thousands of Czechs gathered in central Prague to protest the Soviet action and demand the withdrawal of foreign troops. Although it was designed to be a peaceful protest, violence often flared and several protesters were killed on August 22 and in the days to come. At the United Nations, the Czech delegation passionately declared that the Soviet invasion was illegal and threatened the sovereignty of their nation. They called on the U.N.’s Security Council to take action. The Council voted 10 to 2 to condemn Russia’s invasion; predictably, the Soviet Union vetoed the resolution.
The 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia severely damaged the Soviet government’s reputation around the world, and even brought forth condemnation from communist parties in nations such as China and France. Nonetheless, Dubcek was pushed from power in April 1969 and the Czech Communist Party adopted a tough line toward any dissent. The “Prague Spring” of 1968, when hopes for reform bloomed, would serve as a symbol for the so-called “Velvet Revolution” of 1989. In that year, Czech dissidents were able to break the Communist Party’s stranglehold on their nation’s politics by electing Vaclav Havel, the first noncommunist president in 40 years.