Antonin Novotny, the Stalinist ruler of Czechoslovakia, is succeeded as first secretary by Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak who supports liberal reforms. In the first few months of his rule, Dubcek introduced a series of far-reaching political and economic reforms, including increased freedom of speech and the rehabilitation of political dissidents. 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 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 Dubcek’s reforms were repealed, and the leader himself was replaced with the staunchly pro-Soviet Gustav Husak, who re-established an authoritarian Communist regime in the country.
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.
Also on this Day
On this day in 1976, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot announces a new constitution changing the name of Cambodia to Kampuchea and legalising its Communist government. During the next three years his brutal regime sent the nation back to the Middle Ages and was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1 to 2 million Cambodians. Pol Pot, who was born Saloth Sar in 1925 to a relatively well-off Cambod... Read more >
French officer Alfred Dreyfus, condemned for passing military secrets to the Germans, is stripped of his rank in a humiliating public ceremony in the courtyard of Paris' Ecole Militaire. The Jewish artillery captain, convicted on flimsy evidence in a highly irregular trial, began his life sentence at Devil's Island Prison four months later. The case demonstrated the anti-Semitism permeating Fra... Read more >
On this day, 23-year-old Alexandre Dumas fights his first duel. He sustains no serious injury, although his pants fall down in the fight. He’ll later fill his romantic works, including The Three Musketeers, with duels, battles, and daring escapades. Dumas was the son of one of Napoleon’s generals, but his family struggled financially after his father’s death in 1806. Dumas went to Paris t... Read more >