Czech RepublicsipkaHistory CZsipkaCold War Era

Following the defeat of Germany in 1945, Czechoslovakia was reestablished with its pre-1938 borders, except for RUTHENIA (Carpatho-Ukraine), which was ceded to the USSR. Eduard Benes, who had led the Czechoslovak liberation movement abroad during the German occupation, was allowed to resume his position as head of state. Czechoslovakia had been liberated in large part by Soviet troops, and Soviet influence was strong in the postwar period. The Communists won 38 percent of the vote in the 1946 elections, and held many of the most important posts in the government. Many political groups agreed that it was necessary to have a special relationship with the USSR. In February 1948 the Communists provoked a crisis in the government and formed a new one in which they were clearly dominant. President Benes resigned and was replaced by Communist party leader Klement Gottwald.

The country's new leaders created a system modeled on Soviet political institutions and practices. Although other political groups were allowed to exist, the only real political force was the Communist party. The legal system and judiciary were subordinated to political ends and opposition to the government was prevented by the secret police. Show trials of party leaders accused of being enemies of the system were held in the 1950's, and many were imprisoned or executed. A centrally planned economy was established: agriculture was collectivized, and almost all private ownership was eliminated. Unified mass organizations dominated by the party replaced the wealth of voluntary associations and interest groups that had existed previously. An effort was made to politicize all areas of life, including education, culture, the arts, science, and leisure time.

In the late 1960s, intellectuals and party leaders, including Slovak Communist Alexander Dubcek, tried to reform the Communist system in what came to be known as the "Prague Spring", or "socialism with a human face". This effort was partly motivated by a desire to improve the performance of the economy and also reflected Slovak demands for greater recognition of their needs in the common state. The reforms, an attempt to create a form of socialism more suited to a developed, European country, included an end to censorship, greater intellectual freedom, and allowing non-Communist groups a greater role in public life. The economy was also to be decentralized. The USSR and its allies feared that the reform would spread to their countries, and Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia on Aug. 21, 1968.

In April 1969, Gustav Husak replaced Dubcek as head of the Communist party. Husak set about eliminating all traces of the reforms. This process, which came to be known as "normalization", ushered in nearly 20 years of political stagnation. Many who had supported reform lost their jobs, and most people lost interest in politics. Certain individuals, however, continued to oppose the regime. Clustered around groups like Charter 77 and VONS (The Committe to Defend the Unjustly Persecuted), they called on the leadership to respect human rights and allow more freedom.

Support for the Communist system decreased in Czechoslovakia during the 1980's. Poor economic performance caused a decline in the standard of living, and in the late 1980's, liberalization in other Communist countries led more Czechs and Slovaks to join the ranks of the dissidents.

Museum of Communism in Prague - articles, pictures, virtual tour, location and opening hours

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