chapter12

Spring 1968
O
n February 25. 1968, the twentieth anniversary of the Prague Coup, Secretary General Alexander Dubček made the following speech, later broadcast to the whole country:  “The party exists for the working people; it must be neither above, nor outside society, but an integral part of it. Democracy is not simply possession of the rights and means of free expression of opinion, but also the government's attention to the opinion so expressed, and the genuine participation of everyone in the process of decision making.” 

After all the waffle, the KSČ had been dishing out, in a language more akin to Ptydepe than Czech or Slovak, it was a relief to know that there were people with an ounce of common sense  and who used ordinary words. After Dubček's speech, party members were able to say virtually whatever they wanted. Writers could write books without being worried about censorship. Václav Havel was allowed to travel to New York and see his play performed on an American stage. The once side-lined Pavel Kohout was happy to witness the considerable progress of civil freedoms and enjoy an echo of the high level of democracy and freedom enjoyed in Czechoslovakia before the war.  The new press-laws were an improvement on the 1957 ones. Journalist Ludvik Vakulik wrote that 'The Prague Spring turned a herd of faceless terrified subjects into a nation of citizens and the revised constitution was protecting the citizens against abuse of power. Their ideas were an update on the citizens' rights concept formulated by Thomas Mazaryk, the first Czechoslovak president and founder of the Republic. A crowd of people paid tribute to him at Lany Cemetery, on the outskirts of Prague. This felt like a people's revolution, without the violence of 1848.  A new 'Spring of the People'. 'The Prague Spring – Pražské Jaro'. 

In April, I went to see Vaclav Hudecek play a violin concerto during the Prague Spring Festival of Classical Music.  This was the first time that the kiosks on Wenceslas Square were selling newspapers from the West. I recognized the West-German publications 'Der Stern' (The Star) and 'Der Spiegel'(The Mirror) because I had noticed them in Austria. However, I bought Reportèr, my usual weekly. After the concert, I had a meal at the Alfa Hotel-Restaurant and remember reading an article about the assassination of US civil rights activist Martin Luther King in Memphis, USA. I was aware of segregation policies in the land of the free and that the pastor was preaching equal rights for people of all races. It was unbelievable that the USA did not allow people of different races to mix together. At home, the Prague Spring reforms meant that the power of the secret police (Statní Narodní Bespecnoct - SNB) was reduced. According to Reportèr, it was estimated that twenty members of the secret police killed themselves although the official figure was 6. According to rumours, as much as 125 members of the SNB killed themselves. I should have asked the Professor what he had read about me in their files... 


“Socialism cannot mean only liberation of the working people from the determination of exploiting class relations for a fuller life of the personality than any bourgeois democracy. A socialism that corresponds to the historical democratic traditions of Czechoslovakia, in accordance with the experiences of other communist parties.” Yet, Dubček's idea of the KSČ as the only party was challenged. At the Prague University Institute for Chemical Technology - Vysoké Škola Chemicko-technologická (VSCHT), located twenty minutes away from our department, Professor Ivan Sviták created the K.A.N. Club for people outside the Communist Party. He also demanded that the case of Jan Mazarýk death should be re-opened because he suspected that the former Foreign Secretary was murdered by the Secret Services. I applauded the students of Prague University when they marched on May 1st as part of the May Day Parade. Their badges were proudly pinned on their lapels. 

Dubček did not outlaw the K.A.N. His own reforms continued with changing the federal structure of the country by incorporating Moravia with Bohemia and thus forming a Czech region. According to Dubček, the reforms were necessary because the aims of the 1948 Revolution had been achieved: The bourgeois elements of society had been defeated. The economy needed to move away from heavy industry and achieve the scientific-technical revolution to compete with the West. This meant that workers would be paid according to their competence and skills rather than getting a fixed salary according to job title. Important positions should be filled by capable, educated socialist cadres. All these reforms should be leading to a 'socialism with a human face'. 

When censorship was abolished on June 26., newspapers and magazines were able to publish opinions and comments on political events. The magazine Literarny Noviný (New Literature) was renamed Literarný Listy (Literary Papers) because Edvart Goldstucker, the new editor-in-chief said that the old name reminded everyone of the corruption that existed under Novotny. With a circulation of 300.000 copies, this was a very popular magazine. There were no repercussions against' Literarn
ý Listy' nor Goldstucker therefore the people were now convinced that Dubček was sincere about his 'Socialism with a human face' and that he had enough power to ensure that it was here to stay. Goldstucker and the Writer's Union set out to form a committee to investigate the persecution of writers under Gottwald and Novotny's regimes and rehabilitate them. This committee was headed by the poet Jaroslav Seiffert. I still did not have a television so I did not see the debates featuring Goldstucker, Kohout, Jan Prochatzka, Parliamentary Assembly Chief Josef Smrkovsky and Gustav Husak. Anti-Soviet polemics appeared in the press and the Munich-based Radio Free Europe accelerated its US propaganda. The CIA believed that the Cold War would be won ideologically. The Social-Democrats revived their party. Now KSČ conservatives such as Vasil Bilak were urging Dubček to regain control of the situation.



The Koblars in Kostelec did not share my enthusiasm for the Prague Spring movement. By now, Cousin Rudolf was a private music tutor in Krumlov living in genteel poverty and devout about his religion. As he played his cello, he told me how he still felt penalized by the regime and stated that for all its merits 'Socialism with a Human Face' was still Marxist and the essence of Marxism was not compatible with the Christian faith. Karl Marx did not write about humanist values, far from it, he wrote that 19th C social reformers such as Auguste Comte and Robert Owen were 'middle-class daydreamers'.

“How can Dubček carry a KSČ card and not be aware of that?” I asked 
“He is probably aware of that. I know that in Dubček's peaceful mind, it is possible to be both a Catholic and a Communist. The priest who officiated at his wedding was a comrade in arms in the anti-Nazi Resistance. Dubček doesn't see any problem with being a Communist and having a Catholic wife. But to me, this is as irrational as someone who tries to be a Christian and a Muslim at the same time. The problem is that Marxism-Leninism has become a religion. It transcends political issues and permeates private life." 
"Please explain."
"The problem with 'Marxist-Leninism' is that if you have a one party dictatorship then you must infiltrate the party, empty it of its inhuman essence and put the humanist ideals back. So the future of the KSČ is to wither and die at the hands of reform. Perhaps it will be reborn as a Social-Democratic Party similar to the one led by Milada Horakova fifteen years ago. I can see a dialogue between the Left and Christians. For example, this is what Pastor Luki Hromacka is doing within the Christian Peace Council. But how will hardliners in the KSČ and Warsaw Pact states react to these perspectives? The old Comintern parties were never keen on Social-Democrats which they regarded as bourgeois.”

Although, Cousin Rudolf's words made sense, I also believed that it was possible for the KSČ to find its own way. Like Dubček, myself and others, party members already engaged in dialogue with friends and families who had different beliefs in order to maintain a human relationship. As for the Warsaw Pakt, surely it was possible for our country to decide about its own policies?   Dubček was talking about our country being a neutral window. I could see how this might work: Tito was doing the same thing in Yugoslavia. Only protectorates and colonies such as Tibet or Martinique,  do not have the power of political autonomy. 

The Party continued its reforms by dismissing Novotny from his post as President of the ČSSR. His appointed successor was General Ludvik Svoboda, who in 1943 was in charge of the Jan Žižka brigade. The general was nicknamed 'Father Christmas' and the clue about his bearing gifts was in his name. 'Svoboda' means 'Freedom'.

At the swanky art-déco Hotel Alcron on Wenceslas Square, the foreign correspondents were waiting for a denouement of the Czechoslovak drama. They were feeding their papers with true and untrue facts and often gave their sanctimonious opinions such Czechoslovakia being westernized and all that nonsense. Of course I did not socialize with any of them, so I cannot be sure. However,  I could not help but imagining them writing articles in the same vein as Beilermann and Leuchtengruber or Radio Free Europe who feel nothing but contempt for Eastern-European countries. In my opinion, we need to stay neutral, I don't want to see us becoming a capitalist country.
Comments