Czechoslovakia, Invasion of

views updated


Late in the evening of August 20, 1968, Czechoslovakia was invaded by five of its Warsaw-Pact allies: the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria. The invasion force, which eventually totaled around half a million soldiers, 6,300 tanks, and 800 airplanes, targeted its entry from the north, northwest, and south to quickly neutralize the outnumbered Czechoslovak army. The immediate objective of the invasion was to prevent any resistance to the seizure of power by collaborators in the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ), who had signaled their agreement with Soviet disapproval of First Secretary Alexander Dubčček's reform program and leadership style. Although it caused the deaths of around 100 civilians and is often credited with putting an end to the "Prague Spring," the invasion failed in many political and logistical respects, and its larger aims were met only months later by other means.

The possibility of military intervention in Czechoslovakia had been entertained in the Brezhnev Politburo from at least as early as March 1968, only weeks after Dubcček had risen (with Soviet blessing) to the top of the KSCČ. At first, the majority of Soviet leaders preferred to pressure DubcČek into reimposing censorship over the mass media, silencing critical intellectuals, and removing the bolder reformers within the party. His repeated promises to restore control temporarily prevailed over the demands of Polish, East German, and Bulgarian leaders for Soviet-led military action. The Politburo was also restrained by its lack of personal contacts with, and trust in, other Czech and Slovak functionaries, to whom power would have to be entrusted.

By mid-July 1968, Soviet patience with DubcČek had been exhausted, and alternative leaders had

been identified. Under the cover of war games in and around Czechoslovakia, twenty divisions moved into striking position. After the failure of several last attempts to persuade DubcČek to take the initiative in reversing his reforms, the Politburo concluded on August 17 that military intervention was unavoidable. The Czech and Slovak collaborators, however, botched their bid to seize power, and the invading armies' overextended supply lines broke down, forcing soldiers to beg for food and water from a hostile populace engaging in highly effective, nonviolent resistance. In Moscow, the Soviet powers decided to bring DubcČek and his closest colleagues to the Kremlin. After three days of talks, a secret protocol was signed that committed the KSCč leadership to the restoration of censorship and a purge of the party apparatus and government ministries. DubcČek remained at the helm of the KSCč until April 1969, when Moscow-fueled intrigue led to his replacement by the more amenable Gustáv Husák.

See also: brezhnev doctrine; czechoslovakia, relations with


Dawisha, Karen. (1984). The Kremlin and the Prague Spring. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Kramer, Mark. (19921993). "New Sources on the 1968 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia." Cold War International History Project Bulletin, 23.

Williams, Kieran. (1997). The Prague Spring and its Aftermath: Czechoslovak Politics, 19681970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kieran Williams

About this article

Czechoslovakia, Invasion of

Updated About content Print Article