From Prague Spring to Velvet Revolution

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.

These encounters were an extension of the climate of the Prague Spring. We all felt that we were creating something new, something that might, one day, turn out to be an important component of democracy in our countries.