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29-1-2020, 02:17 UTC

The intervention

Dubcek and his government couldn't believe that outside military intervention was possible in what they considered to be an entirely internal matter. Having failed to convince Czechoslovakia, the Kremlin leaders drew up the first plan of invasion, set for July 29th. This, however, was postponed as on that date, the top communist leadership of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union met in the Slovak town of Cierna nad Tisou, where Brezhnev tried one last time to warn Alexander Dubcek of the consequences the new political course would have for Czechoslovakia. Brezhnev demanded the re-introduction of media censorship, the abolition of the new political organisations KAN and K 231, and the replacement of key politicians by Communist hard liners.
ubcek was forced to promise the changes, but he was in no hurry to implement them, hoping that the 14th Congress of the Communist Party, scheduled for September, would approve the new political line. Only a few days after the meeting in Cierna nad Tisou, another session was held in Bratislava, with the participation of the Communist leadership of Bulgaria, Hungary, Eastern Germany, Poland, and of course the Soviet Union. This meeting stressed the duty of all socialist countries to defend the socialist cause around the world. It is widely believed that it was during this meeting that the secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, Vasil Bilak, handed over to Brezhnev the infamous letter of invitation. This was a document signed by several hard line communists, asking the Warsaw allies for military help to prevent what was described as a counter-revolution in Czechoslovakia. It has also often been speculated that a similar document had been handed to Brezhnev during the earlier meeting in Cierna nad Tisou by another hard liner, Antonin Kapek.
After the inconclusive meeting in Bratislava, the Soviet politburo and the Warsaw allies decided that unless Czechoslovakia demonstrated a convincing adherence to the Soviet demands, the intervention would go ahead. From then on, the hard liners in Czechoslovakia were constantly out to prove to the Kremlin that Dubcek wasn't keeping his promises, while the KGB, the Communist parties of the 'brother' countries and the Soviet embassy in Prague stepped up their campaign of hatred, trying to make Brezhnev act.
Alexander Dubcek and Leonid Brezhnev, photo: CTKAlexander Dubcek and Leonid Brezhnev, photo: CTK
In several telephone conversations Brezhnev had with Dubcek between August 9 and 13, Dubcek refused to accept Brezhnev's conditions, apparently still unaware of the military preparations taking place outside the country's borders. It's hard to believe that Czechoslovak intelligence knew nothing about the armies gathering in East Germany and Poland, yet, it seems to be the case. At that time, Czechoslovak intelligence was oriented towards the West, and although it did notice the sudden concentration of forces near the borders, it was thought to be just part of the general political pressure. Meanwhile, the concerned Czechoslovak population was reassured by solidarity statements coming from Poland, as well as by the signing of international agreements with Bulgaria and Hungary, and diplomatic visits from Yugoslavia and Romania. But the atmosphere was tense.
During the night of August 17, the final decision was made by the Soviet Politburo - the attack would be carried out at midnight on August 20. The Czechoslovak hard liners proposed the next scenario to the Kremlin: at the party session on August 20, they would express a vote of no confidence in the reform wing, and while the armies rolled in later that night, the conservatives would take over power. An extraordinary plenary session would than be called for the following day, which would declare support for the conservatives and officially agree with the appeal to the Warsaw countries for help. The plan included taking over newspapers, radio and television, as well as telephone and wire exchanges. It also intended to prevent people from seeking asylum at foreign embassies in Prague.
Prague, August 1968, photo: CTKPrague, August 1968, photo: CTK
It is 11 p.m. on August 20, and while most Czechoslovak citizens are ready to go to bed, the 200,000 strong army of five Warsaw pact countries crosses the Czechoslovak borders. Later, their number will increase to 800,000. At its emergency session two hours later, the Communist Party Committee, with the exception of the hard liners, issues a declaration to the Czechoslovak people, stating that the intervention is taking place without their consent, and that it is a violation of socialist principles and of international law. The declaration appeals to people to stay calm and not resist the invaders, as the Czechoslovak army had been given orders by the Defence Minister, Martin Dzur, not to act against the aggressor.
At two a.m., Soviet military planes started landing at Prauge's Ruzyne airport at one minute intervals. Despite the attempts by the secret services to silence Czechoslovak radio and take control of its broadcasting, as the scenario anticipated, it went on air as usual at 4.30 a.m. informing about the events and rallying behind the shocked nation. The secret services only managed to put into operation a pro-invasion broadcasting station called Vltava. A network of regional broadcasting stations was quickly established, opposing the occupation, to ensure the country's contact with the rest of the world.
Prague, August 1968, photo: CTKPrague, August 1968, photo: CTK
The first tanks arrived at the building of Czechoslovak Radio near Wenceslas Square at a quarter to eight, in the morning of August 21. Meanwhile, the Soviet press agency, TASS, issued a statement saying that unnamed Czechoslovak politicians had turned to the Soviet Union for help against counter-revolutionary forces in their country. Dubcek and his government colleagues went missing, and only three days later was it announced they had been flown to Moscow - with the assistance of the KGB and StB - the Czechoslovak secret police - to receive a good telling off. Although the UN Security Council met on August 23 to discuss the invasion issue, and various countries expressed their outrage, little could be done in the days of fragile cold-war relations between the USA and the Soviet Union.
But the straightforward coup scenario, written by the communist hard liners, wasn't that easy to carry out. The conservatives didn't manage to get the majority vote at the extraordinary Party Congress, as they had promised Brezhnev, and they therefore couldn't legally take over power. The Party Congress proclamation stated that there had been no counter revolution in Czechoslovakia and that the country wasn't going to accept the occupation forces and the government of traitors. President Ludvik Svoboda, as well as the defence minister Dzur, the traitors Bilak and Indra, and the future president Husak, flew to Moscow, where the Dubcek government had already been held for three days. Before his departure for Moscow, President Svoboda assured the nation that the situation was only temporary, that there had been a misunderstanding which would be explained, and that the armies would leave.
However, on its return from Moscow on August 27, the government had to inform the nation that according to the so called Moscow Protocol, the occupation forces were to remain in Czechoslovakia until the situation returned to normal: in other words, until the conservatives seized power eight months later. Alexander Dubcek was replaced by the ambitious, pro-Brezhnev politician Gustav Husak, and the infamous twenty-year period of 'normalisation' began.

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