Soviet Troops Withdraw from Czechoslovakia Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia reestablished the independence of that nation from Soviet domination.

Summary of Event

In 1955, Czechoslovakia joined the Warsaw Treaty Organization, or Warsaw Pact, Warsaw Pact which provided for a unified military command dominated by the Soviet Union. Warsaw Pact member states were not specifically required to maintain a socialist form of government. The treaty did, however, allow the armies of member states to hold joint maneuvers on one another’s territories. Czechoslovakia;Soviet withdrawal Soviet Union;and Czechoslovakia[Czechoslovakia] [kw]Soviet Troops Withdraw from Czechoslovakia (Feb. 26, 1990) [kw]Troops Withdraw from Czechoslovakia, Soviet (Feb. 26, 1990) [kw]Withdraw from Czechoslovakia, Soviet Troops (Feb. 26, 1990) [kw]Czechoslovakia, Soviet Troops Withdraw from (Feb. 26, 1990) Czechoslovakia;Soviet withdrawal Soviet Union;and Czechoslovakia[Czechoslovakia] [g]Europe;Feb. 26, 1990: Soviet Troops Withdraw from Czechoslovakia[07650] [g]Czech Republic;Feb. 26, 1990: Soviet Troops Withdraw from Czechoslovakia[07650] [g]Slovakia;Feb. 26, 1990: Soviet Troops Withdraw from Czechoslovakia[07650] [c]Independence movements;Feb. 26, 1990: Soviet Troops Withdraw from Czechoslovakia[07650] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Feb. 26, 1990: Soviet Troops Withdraw from Czechoslovakia[07650] Havel, Václav Gorbachev, Mikhail [p]Gorbachev, Mikhail;Velvet Revolution Dubček, Alexander Husák, Gustáv Jakeš, Miloš Adamec, Ladislav Dienstbier, Jiri

In 1968, reformers within the Czechoslovak Communist Party managed to take control of the government. Led by Party Secretary Alexander Dubček and Prime Minister Oldřich Černik, Černik, Oldřich[Cernik, Oldrich">Dubček, Alexander the new government attempted to create “socialism with a human face.” During what became known as the Prague Spring, Prague Spring (1968) the censorship placed on intellectuals, travel restrictions, and centralized control over the economy were all relaxed. Freedom of the press and assembly were both discussed by the Central Committee of the party.

Fearing that the Prague Spring would spread to other satellite nations, the Soviet Union, in cooperation with four other Warsaw Pact countries, invaded Czechoslovakia and seized control of the country. In order to ensure that the Czechoslovakian government would never again stray from orthodox Marxist-Leninism, the Soviets forced Prime Minister Černik to sign a treaty on October 16, 1968, providing for the “temporary” stationing of Soviet troops within his nation. The treaty could be changed only with the agreement of both partners. The Soviet Union maintained approximately 73,500 troops in Czechoslovakia for the next twenty years.

During the process of “normalization” that followed the Soviet invasion, political associations (other than those sanctioned by the Communist Party) were banned, censorship was resumed, and a press law was instituted. Gustáv Husák was chosen to replace Dubček as general secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. He remained the dominant figure in Czechoslovakian politics until he was replaced as secretary in 1987 by Miloš Jakeš. Under Husák’s leadership, the government attempted to discourage popular political activity by diverting the attention of the people with increased amounts of consumer goods.

The economy of Czechoslovakia made steady improvement until 1978. In spite of the relative prosperity of the country in relation to other Eastern Bloc nations, the people of Czechoslovakia refused to accept their domination by the Soviet Union. Even as Soviet tanks had rolled into Prague on August 21, 1968, thousands of young Czechs had taken to the streets in protest. Dissidents removed street signs to create confusion. In some areas, electricity, gas, and water supplies were mysteriously shut down. Young people confronted Soviet soldiers with words rather than weapons.

A spirit of nonviolent resistance to the Soviet-imposed system continued to permeate Czechoslovak society for the next two decades. In early 1969, a group of Czech students decided to protest Soviet occupation through self-immolation. Jan Palach Palach, Jan and Jan Zajíc Zajíc, Jan became national heroes when they publicly turned their own bodies into human torches. To commemorate the first anniversary of the invasion, residents of Prague boycotted all public transportation. A group of intellectuals, led by playwright Václav Havel, also sent a ten-point declaration to the Federal Parliament in which they condemned the Soviet invasion, the government purges, censorship, and the domination of the Communist Party over the lives of citizens.

During the course of the 1970’s, Havel emerged as the dissident voice of the Czech people. The son of a contractor, Havel grew up in a wealthy family and was introduced to Czech intellectuals at an early age. After the Communists seized power in 1948, Havel’s family’s property was expropriated by the state and Havel was denied entry into the upper levels of the educational system because of his middle-class origins. Forced to work at menial jobs during the day, he attended night classes to further his education. By 1968, he had become a well-known poet and playwright, with admirers both at home and abroad. Even though some of his works were banned in his own country, he continued to write; publishing companies in Western Europe disseminated his works.

On August 1, 1975, the Soviet Union and the Western powers signed the Helsinki Accords, Helsinki Accords (1975) establishing specific rights that should be guaranteed to all peoples and providing a review process for the agreement. Czechoslovakia signed the pact the following year. In response to this international agreement, a group of Czechoslovak intelligentsia drew up a list of grievances known as Charter 77. Charter 77[Charter seventy seven] That document demanded that the Czechoslovakian government comply with the Helsinki Accords and listed the areas in which it was not in compliance. Havel, Jan Patočka, Patočka, Jan and Jiří Hájek Hájek, Jiří were named as spokespersons for the group, the members of which became known as Chartists. The document was eventually signed by more than one thousand people. Havel was arrested for subversion based on his Chartist activities; he was convicted and sentenced to four and one-half years in prison.

Government repression in Czechoslovakia was so extensive that it even included an attempt to control popular music. Viewing rock music as a challenge to its authority, the government banned many recordings. By 1983, thirty-five “New Wave” bands were not allowed to perform in Czechoslovakia. In response to this action, young Czechs and Slovaks illegally circulated homemade tape recordings of the music. In 1984, the Ministry of Culture banned the Jazz Section of the Union of Czech Musicians, but some members of the section defied the government and remained active. Several were arrested for distributing prohibited material.

As the Czechoslovakian economy began to stagnate during the 1980’s, dissatisfaction with the Husák regime began to become widespread. When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the concepts of perestroika Perestroika (restructuring of the economy) and glasnost Glasnost (openness) in the Soviet Union, many in Czechoslovakia hoped that their government would imitate such reforms. In 1987, Jakeš replaced Husák as general secretary, but Husák retained his position as president of the republic. Jakeš made few changes in the economy and resisted any attempt to share power with non-Communist groups.

On January 16, 1989, a group of students gathered at the base of the statue of King Wenceslas in Prague to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Jan Palach’s death. Police quickly moved in to disperse the crowd with tear gas. Havel was arrested and sentenced to nine months in prison.

Encouraged by Soviet tolerance of liberalization in Hungary and Poland, Czech dissenters became increasingly active during 1989. When 50,000 students marched in Prague to commemorate the slaughter of their countrymen by the Nazis, the demonstration quickly turned into an antigovernment rally. Helmeted police beat the students with rubber clubs. The shock of the force used against the demonstrators rekindled memories of the Soviet invasion. The student leaders quickly found allies for their cause among Prague’s community of writers, actors, and artists, many of whom had been active in the Chartist movement. On November 19, 1989, dissidents gathered together at a theater in Prague called the Magic Lantern and formed an organization known as Civic Forum. Civic Forum The following day, 200,000 people crowded into the main street of the capital to participate in an antigovernment rally. Jakeš threatened to take action if the demonstrations continued, but Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec assured the leaders of Civic Forum that martial law would not be imposed.

Civic Forum received an emotional boost on November 24 when Alexander Dubček journeyed to Prague from Bratislava to join in the demonstrations. After meeting with the crowd assembled in Wenceslas Square, Dubček conferred with rulers of the Communist Party. Later that same evening, Jakeš and the entire Politburo of the Czechoslovak Communist Party resigned. Jakeš was replaced by Karel Urbanek, Urbanek, Karel a little-known functionary.

By the time of Dubček’s arrival, Civic Forum had formulated an impressive series of demands. Among them were an investigation of police brutality against demonstrators, freedom for political prisoners, and the resignation of public officials associated with the 1968 Soviet invasion. Civic Forum demonstrated the popularity of its cause by organizing a general strike on November 27. Much to everyone’s surprise, the strike was effective throughout the entire country. Even the government-controlled media covered the event.

On December 6, Adamec announced the formation of a new government with five cabinet positions being granted to non-Communists. Civic Forum rejected this compromise and Adamec was forced to resign the following day. Three days later, a new government was formed with a non-Communist majority. Soon after, Havel replaced Husák as president of the republic, concluding the so-called Velvet Revolution. Velvet Revolution (1989) Marián Calfa Calfa, Marián was named the new prime minister, and he immediately pledged to hold free elections in June, 1990. Jiri Dienstbier, a well-known dissident, was named foreign minister.

Within days, the Havel government began negotiations with the Soviet Union regarding the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia. Deputy Foreign Minister Evzen Vacek Vacek, Evzen shocked his Soviet counterpart by demanding that all Soviet troops leave his nation prior to the June, 1990, elections. On February 26, 1990, Soviet leader Gorbachev and President Havel signed an agreement providing for the phased withdrawal of Soviet troops over a period of sixteen months. A Soviet tank division departed from Frenštát pod Radhoštêm, Czechoslovakia, that very day. By May 31, 1990, more than half of the 73,500 Soviet troops were out of the country. On June 30, 1991, the last of the Soviet occupation force left the republic.

Significance

The elevation of Václav Havel to the presidency of Czechoslovakia was more than a personal triumph. Havel’s success in gaining the evacuation of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakian soil led to renewed faith in the power of democratic action, both in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. The confidence engendered by this victory of the popular will against a regime kept in power by a foreign army allowed Czechoslovakia to move rapidly toward democratization of its society.

On June 8-9, 1990, Czechoslovakia held its first free election in forty-one years. Twenty-three political parties qualified to participate in the election, although most seats were won by five major political organizations. Civic Forum-Public Against Violence won 48 percent of the vote and emerged as the largest party in the Czechoslovakian parliament.

The Czechoslovakian revolution was one of idealism but not ideology. Freedom of expression reemerged throughout the country. Bookstores replaced stale Marxist literature with a wide range of titles by authors from throughout the world. Rock music began to be played openly in Prague’s Wenceslas Square and along Charles Bridge. The new government ended restrictions on the practice of religion. Havel and Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier also hoped to bring about a revolution in the power structure of European politics. Havel proclaimed willingness to grant both the United States and the Soviet Union a role in future European development, but he rejected the idea that any nation should dominate the continent. Czechoslovakia could emerge as a broker in any new European security arrangement.

The withdrawal of Soviet troops proved to have some costs for Czechoslovakia. The Soviets once maintained 132 bases in that nation, and they proved to be poor stewards of the land they occupied. The Ministry of the Environment estimated that the Soviets polluted five thousand to eight thousand square miles of land. Diesel oil, toxic chemicals, live ammunition, land mines, and chemical weapons were all left behind by the Soviet military. The Czechoslovaks estimated that it would cost $125 million to restore the land. Given that the Soviets were also withdrawing from other nations at the time, it appeared unlikely that they would be able to contribute to any cleanup effort.

The Czechoslovakian economy was also a major concern. After years of mismanagement under the Husák regime, factories faced difficulties competing against other industrialized nations for markets. Czechoslovakia was still dependent on the Soviet Union for petroleum and as a market for its manufactured goods. German investment and American aid were expected to help the Czechoslovaks move from a state-controlled to a market-based economy, but the transition nevertheless led to unemployment and instability of the currency.

Freed from the hand of Soviet domination, Czechs and Slovaks could reassert their democratic heritage, but they decided to do so separately. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two nations: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Velvet Divorce (1993) Both began working to clean the rust from their economic engines in the years following their breakup in an effort to reestablish the industrial status they had enjoyed as one nation before Communist rule. Their new strategy of liberalization included pursuit of full integration into the Western economy and political system, goals eventually achieved with their entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO; the Czech Republic in 1999 and Slovakia in 2004) and the European Union (both in 2004). Czechoslovakia;Soviet withdrawal Soviet Union;and Czechoslovakia[Czechoslovakia]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bugajski, Janusz. The Washington Papers. Vol 125 in Czechoslovakia: Charter 77’s Decade of Dissent. New York: Praeger, 1977. One of the best English-language texts available on the Chartist movement. Presents a history of Chartist activities and short biographical sketches of leaders within the movement. Includes a summary of Charter 77 documents.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cipkowski, Peter. Revolution in Eastern Europe: Understanding the Collapse of Communism in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the Soviet Union. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1991. Volume aimed at young readers gives a short summary of the revolutionary movements in each of the Eastern Bloc nations. Includes a selected bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dowling, Maria. Czechoslovakia. London: Hodder Arnold, 2002. Concise history covers the major events in Czechoslovakia from 1918 to the splitting of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Includes maps, suggestions for further reading, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dubček, Alexander, with Andras Sugar. Dubček Speaks. New York: I. B. Tauris, 1990. Transcription of Sugar’s 1989 televised interview with Dubček that helped the revolutionary forces in Czechoslovakia gain momentum.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Garton Ash, Timothy. The Uses of Adversity: Essays on the Fate of Central Europe. New York: Random House, 1989. Collection of thoughtful essays, originally published as magazine articles, each focusing on one of the Eastern Bloc nations. Includes index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gati, Charles. The Bloc That Failed: Soviet-East European Relations in Transition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. One of the best analyses available concerning the impact of Gorbachev’s reforms on the former Eastern Bloc. Asserts that Gorbachev’s efforts to encourage mild economic restructuring in Eastern Europe led to unanticipated consequences. Includes annotated bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gwertzman, Bernard, and Michael Kaufman, eds. The Collapse of Communism. New York: Times Books/Random House, 1990. Compilation of newspaper articles from The New York Times reporting on the revolutions of 1989. Gives a flavor of the press coverage of the events while they were happening.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Havel, Václav. Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Hvizdala. Translated by Paul Wilson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. Based on an interview conducted in 1985, this work serves as the principal biography of Havel’s life prior to his involvement in Civic Forum. Includes glossary and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Havel, Václav, et al. The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1985. Collection of eleven essays by leading Czech dissidents written prior to the revolution. Gives good insight into the hopes and dreams of the people who later emerged as leaders during the revolutionary movement. Includes the text of the Charter 77 declaration.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Renner, Hans. A History of Czechoslovakia Since 1945. London: Routledge, 1989. Presents a broad outline of Czechoslovak history from the Communist takeover in 1948 to the rise of Miloš Jakeš as general secretary. Particularly informative regarding the rule of Gustáv Husák. Includes bibliography and name index.

Poland Forms a Non-Communist Government

Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia

Czechoslovakia Splits into Two Republics

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