The Czechoslovak Experiment 1968-1969
Prague Notebook: The Strangled Revolution
A Year Is Eight Months: Czechoslovakia 1968
Czechoslovakia Since World War II
Journal d'un contre-révolutionnaire (to be published in November by McGraw-Hill as Diary of a Counter Revolutionary, translated by Ruth Willard (256 pp., $6.95))
Stalinism in Prague: The Loebl Story
The Czechoslovak Political Trials, 1950-1954: The Suppressed Report of the Dubcek Government's Commission of Inquiry, 1968
Few people have the sickening privilege of assisting at their own exhumation. But this privilege has been granted to the Czech and Slovak political exiles who left their country after August, 1968. The historical pathologists of Western universities and newspapers poke about in the great mud moraine in which the Czechoslovak experiment in socialist humanism lies buried. Here emerge the stumps of half-completed structures, hastily dug foundations whose purpose and origin today provide matter for invigorating controversies. There lie the contorted shapes of personalities and their utterances, caught in strange and often contradictory attitudes.
Many of these personalities stand along the edge of the excavation, giving advice: turn over this clod and find me saying something different; that shapeless lump which you have thrown aside is a night meeting which seemed at the time to be decisive, with all of us in our shirt-sleeves and several of us weeping. Their recollections and interpretations are respected. But, at the same time, they cannot control and sometimes cannot entirely recognize the preliminary judgments which “history” is beginning to pass.
How important, for example, was the military intervention? As an episode that will mark the consciousness of those who lived through the last week of August for the rest of their lives, its importance cannot be exaggerated. But, after a colder look at the evidence, one feels justified in raising the question of its political importance. Military invasion was only the penultimate deterrent; the final sanction was that the foreign forces now on the streets should install a regime of direct military-police terror and transport every dissident in the land into labor camps. The tanks and the troops, though they occupied public buildings and private offices, did not do this. They stood in Prague and Bratislava as a monstrous warning: if our demands are not fulfilled, then we shall carry out the ultimate measures.
Seen in this way, the actual move across the frontiers has less political importance. It was a theatrical heightening of the threat which was already posed by the massing of the armies around the frontiers. Similarly, the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s course of trying to stave off the threat by political concessions actually began before August 21 (witness the Presidium’s secret decision in late July at Cierna And Tisou to impose controls on the press, after Brezhnev had threatened to use force), so that the “Moscow Compromise” after the invasion |did not itself initiate the process of the surrender of liberties in exchange for dishonored promises to withdraw the troops, a process which in effect still goes on.
Other questions of this order, and much more disconcerting ones, are raised by Mr. Shawcross in his biography of Dubcek. Mr. Shawcross, a young British journalist, has produced a useful and well-written book which contains—and the author did most of the research in the difficult conditions of 1969—much information about Dubcek’s years in Slovakia which will be new to an English reader. It is a book about factual matters rather than…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.