GUEST COLUMN

August '68 - then and now

Thirty years ago, on August 21st, the Soviet Red Army together with soldiers from other socialist countries - the People's Republic of Poland, the German Democratic Republic, the People's Republic of Hungary and the People's Republic of Bulgaria - invaded the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. At that time, the country was experiencing its 'Pražská jar' (Prague Spring) period, which tried to reform hard-line socialism into "socialism with a human face" under the leadership of Alexander Dubček, a Slovak by birth.
The Presdium of the Communist party told all citizens of the Czechoslovak Republic to "remain peaceful and not resist the invading armies." The invaders stayed for over 20 years.
In August 1968, a new period began in the Czechoslovak Republic, and nothing was ever the same again. A long period of 'normalization' began, under the hard-line Communist leader Gustáv Husák. Below, politologist Samuel Abraham, Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar, the daily Czech newspaper MladaFronta Dnes and Slovak opposition leader Milan Ftáčnik give their views of what happened in 1968 and what it means in 1998.

Thirty years ago, on August 21st, the Soviet Red Army together with soldiers from other socialist countries - the People's Republic of Poland, the German Democratic Republic, the People's Republic of Hungary and the People's Republic of Bulgaria - invaded the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. At that time, the country was experiencing its 'Pražská jar' (Prague Spring) period, which tried to reform hard-line socialism into "socialism with a human face" under the leadership of Alexander Dubček, a Slovak by birth.

The Presdium of the Communist party told all citizens of the Czechoslovak Republic to "remain peaceful and not resist the invading armies." The invaders stayed for over 20 years.

In August 1968, a new period began in the Czechoslovak Republic, and nothing was ever the same again. A long period of 'normalization' began, under the hard-line Communist leader Gustáv Husák. Below, politologist Samuel Abraham, Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar, the daily Czech newspaper MladaFronta Dnes and Slovak opposition leader Milan Ftáčnik give their views of what happened in 1968 and what it means in 1998.

No spring for Slovakia

"Following 1968, the Czechs followed the path of democracy, while the biggest concern of the Slovaks was the federal arrangement of the country.

The normalization period had catastrophic effects on the population. People suffered from depression, isolation, alcoholism and from the regime itself. People were afraid to express their political opinions. They had to support the communist party just to keep their jobs.

Thirty years later, where is Slovakia now? To a great extent, it seems to resemble the Czech lands in the 1970's, when disparity and division became at same time frozen into the structure of society. In other words, what didn't happen in Slovakia in 1968 and 1969 during normalization, as a product of different developments between the Czech and Slovak models, is happening today at an accelerated pace. Society is in crisis, and stands at the crossroads. It is so divided and polarized that there is no room for anyone who holds a neutral position. Citizens don't have a large choice, and must decide between just two sides. And to be apolitical today consists largely in finding alibis."

- Samuel Abraham is a politologist, and contributed the article from which this excerpt came at a conference named "Czecho-slovakia's 1968 spring" in Paris, June 1998.

Slovakia doesn't need foreign 'help'

"It is impossible to find an analogy between 1968 and today according to what has happened. At that time, it was all about establishing a society on a socialist basis, but now it is about a totally new type of society. Some of the ideas and experiences from that period can be applied even today... Instead of coming together politically in the interest of the country, for certain reasons back then politicians were divided, and those who felt threatened asked for help from foreign countries. This help came to protect their positions, but also to frustrate the interests of the country and its people, and this lasted for twenty years... Any attempt to solve internal conflicts that leads to outside interference automatically means interference with internal politics. So even today's politicians who get involved in conflicts and look for help from foreign countries threaten the sovereignty of the state, as this foreign help could arrive in a form that would lead to a model which nobody wants. As this help was once given in the name of socialism, now it could be rendered in the name of democracy."


Extracted from an interview given by Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar for the state press agency TASR

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