Czechoslovakia Table of Contents
In 1948 there were 6,000 to 7,000 clubs and societies in Czechoslovakia; these had long been integral to social life and national aspirations. The right to form associations was first won in 1848, although the Hapsburgs, realizing that they had opened a Pandora's box in their ethnically diverse empire, revoked it soon thereafter. The Czech lands regained this freedom in 1867. Sokol clubs (gymnastic organizations), cultural groups, savings and loan cooperatives, and a host of other clubs proliferated in the Czech lands and anywhere Czech emigrants clustered. Turn-of-the-century Vienna (with more than 100,000 Czechs) had Czech theaters, clubs, newspapers, and banks. The Hungarians, however, offered more concerted opposition to Slovak efforts to organize. Slovak emigres formed organizations wherever they went, and these associations agitated for Slovakia's inclusion in the First Republic.
A 1951 law gave the Ministry of Interior jurisdiction over associations, and in the 1960s there were only a few hundred societies still in existence. The right to form associations was limited, and the associations themselves were under strict KSC control. Cultural organizations operated under official auspices. Friendship leagues were particularly encouraged: Bulgarian-, Polish-, or Hungarian-Czechoslovak friendship societies could easily receive official approval. The regime particularly favored the Czechoslovak-Soviet Friendship League, though its rank-and-file membership declined as a result of a surge of anti-Soviet sentiment after the 1968 invasion. There was official sponsorship for "Circles of Creativity" and "Houses of Enlightenment." Cultural societies for German or Hungarian minorities were acceptable, but religious organizations faced significantly greater restrictions. Any association that might play a role in politics or the economy (that could however remotely or tenuously be construed to threaten KSC domination) was out of the question.
The Prague Spring reinforced this mania for control over associations. The reform movement's potential was nowhere more threatening to the hegemony of the party than in the population's persistent demands for more truly representative organizations in every area of life. That the KSC membership was underrepresented in the popularly elected leadership of such organizations confirmed the conservatives' worst suspicions: this was a reform movement whose popular manifestations would prove difficult to control. The regime's response was to restrict associations still more.
Data as of August 1987