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Czechoslovakia Table of Contents



Geopolitical Considerations

Lying between the Germans and the Russians, the Czechoslovak state has had its political life in modern times determined, to a considerable extent, by geopolitical factors. In the 1980s, Czechoslovakia continued to demonstrate subservience to the policies of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in domestic and especially in foreign affairs.

Czechoslovakia's political alignment with the Soviet Union began during World War II. In 1945 it was the Soviet Red Army that liberated Prague from the Nazis. The continued presence of the Red Army in Czechoslovakia until 1946 facilitated the communists' efforts to reorganize local government, the militia, and the Czechoslovak army and to place communists in key positions. Following the February 1948 coup d'etat in which the communists seized power, Soviet influence over Czechoslovakia grew markedly. It was abetted through formal alliances, such as the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) and the Warsaw Pact, and through direct intervention, in the 1968 invasion (see Intervention , ch. 1).

In the immediate post-World War II period, many Czechoslovak citizens supported the alliance with the Soviet Union. They did not anticipate, however, the rigidities of the Stalinist rule that followed. The people of Czechoslovakia had known authoritarian rule and a lack of civil rights during centuries of domination by the Hapsburgs and under Nazi rule during the war. But the extent of the repression during the early years of the rule by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Komunisticka strana Ceskoslovenska--the KSC) was unprecedented. In the early 1950s, some 900,000 persons were purged from the ranks of the KSC; about 100,000 were jailed for such political crimes as "bourgeois nationalism." Antonin Novotny became first secretary of the KSC in 1953, the year of Stalin's death, and continued to rule in Stalin's rigidly authoritarian style for fifteen years. In practice (though not in rhetoric), Novotny ignored Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin and made no attempt to imitate the Soviet Union's decentralization of communist party rule. A considerable portion of the party hierarchy did take note of the Soviet decentralization, however. In 1968 they removed Novotny from power and initiated the Prague Spring (see The Prague Spring, 1968 , ch. 1).

Data as of August 1987