August 21, 1968: Warsaw Pact troops crush the Prague Spring.

The short-lived “Prague Spring” (a period in Czechoslovakia during which the country underwent liberal reforms and democratization) began on January 5, 1968, when Alexander Dubček became leader of the country’s Communist Party. His reforms, which were carried out over the following months, sought to create “socialism with a human face”. These included an expansion of individual rights (like freedom of speech and press) and a reduction of the totalitarian aspects of the Party. Despite these reforms, Czechoslovak officials attempted to reassure a concerned Moscow of their loyalty to the Warsaw Pact. Following Hungary’s lead in its bloody 1956 revolution would have been unwise. The United States, still bogged down in Vietnam and unwilling to damage relations with the Soviet Union further by supporting the Prague Spring, remained neutral in the affair.  

Unsure of Dubček and his reformers’ true intentions, the Soviet Union led hundreds of thousands of troops from Warsaw Pact countries, plus thousands of tanks, into Czechoslovakia on the night of August 20, 1968. Over a hundred were killed resisting the invasion (despite Dubček’s urges to civilians not to resist). Others resisted Soviet occupation more peacefully - denying food and water to the troops, graffitiing denunciations of the invaders and declaring support for the reformers, etc. However, protests and resistance lasted for only a week before fizzling out, although the invasion was criticized around the world, even by the people of the Soviet Union.

Dubček, meanwhile, was arrested between August 20 and 21, but he was temporarily allowed to keep his position - until April 1969, when he was replaced (and his policies reversed). He was elected Chairman of the Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia twenty years later. 

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