Československá socialistická republika
Czechoslovak Socialist Republic

Satellite state of the ‌Soviet Union
Flag of the Czech Republic 1968–1990 Flag of the Czech Republic
Flag of the Czech Republic Coat of Arms of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
Pravda vítězí
Kde domov můj
Location Czechoslovakia
Flag of Bohemia
Flag of the Slovak State
Government Socialist republic
- 1968-1975Ludvík Svoboda
- 1975-1990Gustáv Husák
Prime Minister
- 1968-1970Oldrich Cerník
- 1970-1988Lubomír Strougal
- 1988-1990Ladislav Adamec
Legislature Federal Assembly
- Upper houseChamber of Nations
- Lower houseChamber of the People
October 27, 1968Federal Constitution
April 23, 1990Constitutional change
Area127,900 km²
- 199215,600,000
CurrencyCzechoslovak koruna
Flag of the Czech Republic Czechoslovakia Czech & Slovak Flag of the Czech Republic

The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (1968-1990) was a federal socialist republic and a satellite state of the Soviet Union. The creation of the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic was a result of the Prague Spring. In 1989 the communist regime fell and a new democratic constitution was established.

Normalization Edit

Dubcek remained in office only until April 1969. Anti-Soviet demonstrations, following Czechoslovakia's victory over the Soviet team in the World Ice Hockey Championships in March, precipitated Soviet pressures for a KSC Presidium reorganization. Gustav Husak (a centrist) was named first secretary (title changed to general secretary in 1971). Only centrists and the conservatives led by Bilak continued in the Presidium. A program of "normalization"--the restoration of continuity with the prereform period--was initiated. Normalization entailed thoroughgoing political repression and the return to ideological conformity. A new purge cleansed the Czechoslovak leadership of all reformist elements. Of the 115 members of the KSC Central Committee, 54 were replaced.

Reformists were removed from regional, district, and local party branches in the Czech lands and, to a lesser extent, in Slovakia. KSC party membership, which had been close to 1.7 million in January 1968, was reduced by about 500,000. Top levels of government and the leadership of social organizations were purged. Publishing houses and film studios were placed under new direction. Censorship was strictly imposed, and a campaign of militant atheism was organized.

Czechoslovakia had been federalized under the Constitutional Law of Federation of October 27, 1968. The newly created Federal Assembly, which replaced the National Assembly, was to work in close cooperation with the Czech National Council and the Slovak National Council. The Husak regime amended the law in January 1971. Although federalism was retained in form, central authority was effectively restored (see Constitutional Development , ch. 4).

In May 1970, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, which incorporated the principle of limited sovereignty. Soviet troops remained stationed in Czechoslovakia, and the Czechoslovak armed forces worked in close cooperation with the Warsaw Pact command (see Soviet Influence , ch. 5). Soviet advisers supervised the functioning of the Ministry of Interior and the security apparatus (see Internal Security and Public Order , ch. 5). Czechoslovak leaders and propagandists, led by Bilak, became the most ardent advocates of proletarian internationalism.

The purges of the first half of 1970 eliminated the reformists within the party organization. In the fall of 1970, the ex-communist intelligentsia organized the Socialist Movement of Czechoslovak Citizens, a protest movement dedicated to the goals of 1968. Forty-seven leaders of the movement were arrested and tried in the summer of 1972. Organized protest was effectively stilled.[1]

Status Quo Edit

In May 1971, party chief Husak announced at the official Fourteenth Party Congress--the 1968 Fourteenth Party Congress had been abrogated--that "normalization" had been completed and that all that remained was for the party to consolidate its gains. Husak's policy was to maintain a rigid status quo; for the next fifteen years even key personnel of the party and government remained the same. In 1975 Husak added the position of president to his post as party chief. He and other party leaders faced the task of rebuilding general party membership after the purges of 1969-71. By 1983 membership had returned to 1.6 million, about the same as in 1960.

In preserving the status quo, the Husak regime required conformity and obedience in all aspects of life. Culture suffered greatly from this straitjacket on independent thought, as did the humanities, social sciences, and ultimately the pure sciences. Art had to adhere to a rigid socialist realist formula. Soviet examples were held up for emulation. During the 1970s and 1980s, many of Czechoslovakia's most creative individuals were silenced, imprisoned, or sent into exile. Some found expression for their art through samizdat (see Glossary; Dissent and Independent Activity , this ch.). Those artists, poets, and writers who were officially sanctioned were, for the most part, undistinguished. The award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1984 to Jaroslav Seifert--a poet identified with reformism and not favored by the Husak regime--was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak cultural scene.

In addition to applying repression, Husak also tried to obtain acquiescence to his rule by providing an improved standard of living. He returned Czechoslovakia to an orthodox command economy with a heavy emphasis on central planning and continued to extend industrialization. For a while the policy seemed successful because, despite the lack of investment in new technologies, there was an increase in industrial output. The government encouraged consumerism and materialism and took a tolerant attitude toward a slack work ethic and a growing blackmarket second economy. In the early 1970s, there was a steady increase in the standard of living; it seemed that the improved economy might mitigate political and cultural oppression and give the government a modicum of legitimacy.

By the mid-1970s, consumerism failed as a palliative for political oppression. The government could not sustain an indefinite expansion without coming to grips with limitations inherent in a command economy. The oil crisis of 1973-74 further exacerbated the economic decline. Materialism, encouraged by a corrupt regime, also produced cynicism, greed, nepotism, corruption, and a lack of work discipline. Whatever elements of a social contract the government tried to establish with Czechoslovak society crumbled with the decline in living standards of the mid-1970s. Czechoslovakia was to have neither freedom nor prosperity.

Another feature of Husak's rule was a continued dependence on the Soviet Union. As of the mid-1980s, Husak had not yet achieved a balance between what could be perceived as Czechoslovak national interest and Soviet dictate. In foreign policy, Czechoslovakia parroted every utterance of the Soviet position. Frequent contacts between the Soviet and Czechoslovak communist parties and governments made certain that the Soviet position on any issue was both understood and followed. The Soviets continued to exert control over Czechoslovak internal affairs, including oversight over the police and security apparatus. Five Soviet ground divisions and two air divisions had become a permanent fixture, while the Czechoslovak military was further integrated into the Warsaw Pact. In the 1980s, approximately 50 percent of Czechoslovakia's foreign trade was with the Soviet Union, and almost 80 percent was with communist countries. There were constant exhortations about further cooperation and integration between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in industry, science, technology, consumer goods, and agriculture. Deriving its legitimacy from Moscow, the Husak regime remained a slavish imitator of political, cultural, and economic trends emanating from Moscow.[2]

Internal Dissent Edit

Through the 1970s and 1980s, the regime's emphasis on obedience, conformity, and the preservation of the status quo was challenged by individuals and organized groups aspiring to independent thinking and activity. Although only a few such activities could be deemed political by Western standards, the regime viewed any independent action, no matter how innocuous, as a defiance of the party's control over all aspects of Czechoslovak life. The regime's response to such activity was harassment, persecution, and, in some instances, imprisonment.

The first organized opposition emerged under the umbrella of Charter 77. On January 6, 1977, a manifesto called Charter 77 appeared in West German newspapers. The document was immediately translated and reprinted throughout the world (see Appendix D). The original manifesto reportedly was signed by 243 persons; among them were artists, former public officials, and other prominent figures, such as Zdenek Mlynar, secretary of the KSC Central Committee in 1968; Vaclav Slavik, a Central Committee member in 1968; and Vaculik, author of "Two Thousand Words." Charter 77 defined itself as "a loose, informal, and open community of people" concerned with the protection of civil and human rights. It denied oppositional intent and based its defense of rights on legally binding international documents signed by the Czechoslovak government and on guarantees of civil rights contained in the Czechoslovak Constitution.

In the context of international detente, Czechoslovakia had signed the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1968. In 1975 these were ratified by the Federal Assembly, which, according to the Constitution of 1960, is the highest legislative organization. The Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Final Act (also known as the Helsinki Accords), signed by Czechoslovakia in 1975, also included guarantees of human rights (see Popular Political Expression , ch. 4).

The Charter 77 group declared its objectives to be the following: to draw attention to individual cases of human rights infringements; to suggest remedies; to make general proposals to strengthen rights and freedoms and the mechanisms designed to protect them; and to act as intermediary in situations of conflict. The Charter had over 800 signatures by the end of 1977, including workers and youth; by 1985 nearly 1,200 Czechoslovaks had signed the Charter.

The Husak regime, which claimed that all rights derive from the state and that international covenants are subject to the internal jurisdiction of the state, responded with fury to the Charter. The text was never published in the official media. Signatories were arrested and interrogated; dismissal from employment often followed. The Czechoslovak press launched vicious attacks against the Charter. The public was mobilized to sign either individual condemnations or various forms of "anti-Charters."

Closely associated with Charter 77, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (Vybor na obranu nespravedlive stihanych--VONS) was formed in 1978 with the specific goal of documenting individual cases of government persecution and human rights violations. Between 1978 and 1984, VONS issued 409 communiques concerning individuals prosecuted or harassed.

On a larger scale, independent activity was expressed through underground writing and publishing. Because of the decentralized nature of underground writing, it is difficult to estimate its extent or impact. Some observers state that hundreds of books, journals, essays, and short stories were published and distributed. In the mid-1980s, several samizdat publishing houses were in operation. The best known was Edice Petlice (Padlock Editions), which had published more than 250 volumes. There were a number of clandestine religious publishing houses that published journals in photocopy or printed form.

The production and distribution of underground literature was difficult. In most cases, manuscripts had to be typed and retyped without the aid of modern publishing equipment. Publication and distribution were also dangerous. Mere possession of samizdat materials could be the basis for harassment, loss of employment, and arrest and imprisonment.

Independent activity also extended to music. The regime was particularly concerned about the impact of Western popular music on Czechoslovak youth. The persecution of rock musicians and their fans led a number of musicians to sign Charter 77. In the forefront of the struggle for independent music was the Jazz Section of the Union of Musicians. Initially organized to promote jazz, in the late 1970s it became a protector of various kinds of nonconformist music. The widely popular Jazz Section had a membership of approximately 7,000 and received no official funds. It published music and promoted concerts and festivals. The regime condemned the Jazz Section for spreading "unacceptable views" among the youth and moved against its leadership. In March 1985, the Jazz Section was dissolved under a 1968 statute banning "counterrevolutionary activities." The Jazz Section continued to operate, however, and in 1986 the government arrested the members of its steering committee.

Because religion offered possibilities for thought and activities independent of the state, it too was severely restricted and controlled. Clergymen were required to be licensed. In attempting to manipulate the number and kind of clergy, the state even sponsored a pro-regime organization of Catholic priests, the Czechoslovak Association of Catholic Clergy (more commonly known as Pacem in Terris). Nevertheless, there was religious opposition, including a lively Catholic samizdat. In the 1980s, Frantisek Cardinal Tomasek, the Czech primate, adopted a more independent stand. In 1984 he invited the pope to come to Czechoslovakia for the 1,100th anniversary of the death of Methodius, the missionary to the Slavs. The pope accepted, but the trip was blocked by the government. The cardinal's invitation and the pope's acceptance were widely circulated in samizdat. A petition requesting the government to permit the papal visit had 17,000 signatories. The Catholic Church did have a massive commemoration of the 1,100th anniversary in 1985. At Velehrad (the site of Methodius's tomb) more than 150,000 pilgrims attended a commemorative mass, and another 100,000 came to a ceremony at Levoca (in eastern Slovakia).

Unlike in Poland, dissent, opposition to the government, and independent activity were limited in Czechoslovakia to a fairly small segment of the populace. Even the dissenters saw scant prospect for fundamental reforms. In this sense, the Husak regime was successful in preserving the status quo in "normalized" Czechoslovakia.

The selection of Mikhail Gorbachev as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on March 11, 1985, presented the Husak regime with a new and unexpected challenge to the status quo. Soon after assuming office, Gorbachev began a policy of "restructuring" (perestroika) the Soviet economy and advocated "openness" (glasnost') in the discussion of economic, social, and, to some extent, political questions. Up to this time, the Husak regime had dutifully adopted the programs and slogans that had emanated from Moscow. But, for a government wholly dedicated to the preservation of the status quo, subjects such as "openness," economic "restructuring," and "reform" had been taboo. Czechoslovakia's future course would depend, to a large extent, on the Husak regime's response to the Gorbachev program.[3]


  • Ludvík Svoboda () (October 27, 1968 - May 29, 1975)
  • Gustáv Husák () (May 29, 1975 - April 23, 1990)

Prime Minister

  • Oldrich Cerník () (October 27, 1968 - January 28, 1970)
  • Lubomír Strougal () (January 28, 1970 - October 11, 1988)
  • Ladislav Adamec () (October 11, 1988 - April 23, 1990)


Czechoslovakian Polities

Neighbouring Nations


  1. The Library of Congress: Czechoslovakia - A Country Study, Chapter 1
  2. The Library of Congress: Czechoslovakia - A Country Study, Chapter 1
  3. The Library of Congress: Czechoslovakia - A Country Study, Chapter 1

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