Dubcek, Alexander (1921–1992)

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Czech politician and reformer.

Alexander Dubček was born in Uhrovec, Czechoslovakia (now in the Slovak Republic). His parents had lived in the United States prior to World War I, in Chicago, Illinois, and in Cleveland, Ohio. Both had been active in the socialist movement of Eugene Debs but had returned to Czechoslovakia after the war. Dubček's father, Stefan, was one of the founders of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. In 1925 Dubček's family moved to Kirghizia (now Kyrgyzstan) to help build socialism in the Soviet Union. They returned to Slovakia in 1938, when Dubček was seventeen, and he promptly joined the illegal Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. During World War II, he was an anti-Nazi guerrilla and participated in the Slovak National Uprising in 1944. After the war he rose rapidly through the ranks of the Slovak Communist Party, becoming a member of the Slovak Party Central Committee in 1951. In 1955 he was sent to study at the Moscow Political College, where he graduated with honors in 1958. In 1962 he was named a full member of the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and later first secretary of the Slovak Communist Party.

In the early 1960s, the country suffered an economic downturn and in 1965 the hard-line first secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, Antonín Novotný, was compelled to introduce a set of measures to decentralize state control over the economy. The Soviet Union refused to support Novotný, largely viewing his policies as ill advised, and aware of the growing disenchantment within the Czechoslovak Communist Party with his leadership. Dubček led a group of reformers who in October 1967 presented a long list of grievances against the government. This was followed later in the fall by popular protests against the Novotný government. In January 1968 the Czechoslovak Party Central Committee ousted Novotný and replaced him with Dubček. A key supporter of Dubček was Gustav Husak, also a Slovak, who was named Dubček's deputy. During the resulting Prague Spring (March to August 1968), Dubček attempted to reform the Communist Party and allow "socialism with a human face."

Dubček announced a series of liberalizations that included the abolition of censorship and the right of citizens to openly criticize the government. As a result, newspapers began publishing stories on official corruption, implicating many Novotný supporters. Further reforms allowed for collective bargaining by trade unions and for farmers to form independent cooperatives. Industrial enterprises were also provided greater freedom to negotiate wages and prices. In April 1968 the Communist Party Central Committee openly criticized the disgraced Novotný for economic mismanagement and launched measures to liberalize the Communist Party itself, proclaiming that members have "not only the right, but the duty to act according to [their] conscience."

Dubček was careful not to antagonize the Soviet Union. Remembering the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, where the reformers under Imre Nagy had sought to take Hungary out of the Warsaw Pact, Dubček made it clear that, despite the internal reforms, he would make no changes in Czechoslovak foreign policy. The country would remain firmly in the Soviet orbit. Nonetheless, the Soviet leadership became increasingly suspicious of the Dubček-led regime and on 21 August 1968 Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia. In order to avoid bloodshed, Dubček ordered the troops not to resist. After the invasion, Dubček and others were subsequently "invited" to meet with Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin in Moscow, after which Dubček announced the end of the reforms. In April 1969 Dubček was replaced as party first secretary by his deputy, Gustav Husak. The following year he was expelled from the party and for the next eighteen years he worked as a forestry official in a lumberyard. He was forbidden to converse with anyone outside his immediate family without permission.

Following the collapse of the communist government after the Velvet Revolution of November 1989, Dubček was rehabilitated. In November 1989 he spoke at a rally in Bratislava and later stood with the newly elected Czechoslovak president Václav Havel in Prague while huge crowds cheered. On 28 December 1989 Dubček was unanimously elected chairman of the Federal Assembly, and he was reelected in 1990. He was awarded the Sakharov Peace Prize in 1989 and he published two books, The Soviet Invasion (which documented the events in 1968) and his autobiography, Hope Dies Last.

Dubček suffered serious injuries in an automobile accident in 1992 and died as a result of those injuries at age seventy, on 7 November 1992.

See alsoBrezhnev, Leonid; Czechoslovakia; Havel, Václav; Nagy, Imre; Prague Spring; Slovakia; Velvet Revolution; Warsaw Pact.


Dubček, Alexander. Hope Dies Last: The Autobiography of Alexander Dubček. New York, 1993.

Golan, Galia. Reform Rule in Czechoslovakia: The Dubček Dubc Era, 1968–1969. Cambridge, U.K., 1973.

Henderson, Karen. Slovakia: The Escape from Invisibility. London, 2002.

Kalvoda, Josef. "The Rise and Fall of Alexander Dubček." Nationalities Papers 8 (1980): 211–217.

Kirschbaum, Stanislav J. A History of Slovakia: A Struggle for Survival. New York, 1995.

Shawcross, William. Dubček. New York, 1971.

John Ishiyama