Image via WikipediaAs the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia approaches on 21 August, one wonders what the political map of Europe would look like, had the Prague Spring reforms been allowed to reach fruition.
Among the proposed reforms in the Action Programme of April, 1968 were freedom of expression, a federalised system, secret ballots, term limits and a sharing of power by the Communist Party. An Extraordinary Party Congress, set for 9 September of that year, would have debated the plan but this was pre-empted by the Soviet-led invasion, which toppled party secretary Alexander Dubček and crushed the Prague Spring. The reforms lay in tatters, leaving one to ponder what this democratic socialist state would have looked like.
Eduard Goldstücker, who had been a member of the Czech National Council, was one of the architects of the reforms. In an interview conducted on 16 August 1988 in London during his exile, he discussed his hopes for the Prague Spring and the promise it offered.
What political system did you envisage and what difficulties did you foresee?
We did not have at that time in mind the creation of a multi-party system on Western models, because our society in 1968 was completely different from western societies and we tried to create a participatory system, a democratic system on the basis of the society as it was, namely on the basis of the freedom to voice and to defend group interests and to harmonise these interests. That was an attempt. Whether that is possible at all or not is inconclusive, so far--whether it is possible to create a system which is democratic but in which one party has the leading role.
Would that be your ideal system?
In that stage in which we were that was the necessary step. Where that would have led we don't know and we will never know.
Wasn't the leadership thinking about it?
Of course they were. The key lies in the change of the Communist Party's position vis-a-vis society, that the Communist Party should give up its position as a mentor of society, ordering society. I called it a command system. The Stalinist system is a system in which society is being commanded as if it were an army unit on permanent alert or in battle conditions. There is the commander--Stalin or Little Stalin--who commands and says to every citizen, "You must do that and you are forbidden to do that". The Action Programme contains very important proposals of changing the Communist Party's position in society. They were not presented because the congress did not take place. They were taken out secretly after the invasion.
What kind of leader was Alexander Dubček?
The Stalinist system does not have a set-down order of succession and does not educate successors. The successors are chosen from those who there are at the moment. When [party leader Antonin] Novotný was deposed, there were various thoughts but Dubček emerged at the end of that discussion, and he was, under the given conditions, the best candidate and he really became that symbol of the great movement of democratisation which he is until today, in the eyes of many people.
For me, Dubček became characteristic... I was one of the vice-rectors of Prague University and as soon as he was elected I wrote a letter congratulating him and expressing our satisfaction that at last something is happening. And he immediately invited us for a talk and received us in his office and in the conversation--he was the first high party official able to poke fun at himself, to be ironic toward himself.
He said, "Oh, you see, I am here only by chance. And I know it. See, those who were here before me were trying to persuade you all the time how much you need them. As long as I will be here, I'll try to persuade you that I need you more than you need me." That was the difference. Then he appeared on television after all those heroical, triumphant people of steel and so on--a man, an ordinary citizen with a long nose, with spectacles which slipped on his long nose all the time, who read his speech and misread every fifth word and had to repeat it, a human man, like us. Everybody could identify with him. And he brought something which allowed people to take a deep breath and think, "At last, something decent is returning to our lives."
Image: courtesy of Rawac, Wikipedia