From Prague Spring to Velvet Revolution

The Prague Spring embodied the great illusion that it might be possible to outfox the Soviet Union and move painlessly from communism to democracy. This belief was naïve, but it also underpinned a national awakening in which the potential for freedom found its voice.

WARSAW – What was the Prague Spring, or the events of 1968 more generally? Their meaning, it seems, has become more, not less, debatable with the passage of time.

My generation was forged by protests and police truncheons, by the hopes generated not only by the Prague Spring, but also by the Polish student movement that March, the Paris events of May, and the first signs of Russian democracy voiced in the early books of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn. For those of us imprisoned in Poland, the Prague Spring was a harbinger of hope. Even Poland’s communist newspapers, read behind bars, somehow conveyed news of the great changes taking place in our neighbor to the south.

So I remember my shock when I learned about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August, and the trauma that lingered long after. On the tenth anniversary of that invasion, Václav Havel, Jacek Kuron, and I, along with other dissidents, met on the Czech-Polish border. There is a photograph of that occasion: future presidents, ministers, and parliamentarians who were at that time pursued by the police like common criminals.

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