… says Czech Ambassador H.E. Jiri Sitler and Slovak Ambassador H.E. Jan Gabor, representing their countries in Bucharest.
1968 was a remarkable year for Europe – a year full of expectations, enthusiasm and ambition. There was an evident drive towards an exchange of generations on our continent. Young Europeans might remember horrors of WWII but because of their age they did not participate actively in that cataclysm. They would blame their fathers for all the evils of the first half of the 20th century.
Division of Europe was one of the most visible consequences of WWII. Despite this, the desire for change was felt on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Czechs and Slovaks, the two nations living together in one state, very soon realized that one totalitarian regime in our region represented by Hitler was replaced by a new one, this time led by Stalin, that the defeated brown evil was replaced by the red one – in the heart of Europe. Nevertheless, based on their own accumulated democratic traditions from the inter-war period and relying upon the new fresh air in Europe, Slovaks and Czechs started to believe that they would be able to influence their destiny on their own.
A young politician, named Alexander Dubcek, appeared on the political scene with his typical smile and replaced the stiff faces of the old guard. „Do as you say“– was his very simple but in practice extremely convincing policy. Dubcek, only 46 years old, moved from Bratislava to Prague in order to take over the leadership of the Communist Party, the only political organization that was allowed to operate in then Czechoslovakia. The new leader of the party, together with other enthusiastic and pro-democratic politicians, including former Czechoslovak Ambassador in Bucharest Cestmir Cisai, launched unprecedented changes. Rehabilitation of political prisoners, real implementation of freedom of press and opinion throughout the whole country brought an immediate relief to all Czechs and Slovaks. No other communist party leader before enjoyed such popularity in the country like Dubcek. Soon, the grassroots movement even crossed the lines of the official communist party program – awakening of the civil society resulted in establishing non-communist organizations and an attempt to revive the multiple-party democracy, which caused a negative reaction in Moscow. Supported by the whole society of Czechoslovakia and relying upon the sympathy of the democratic leaders in the world, Dubcek tried to negotiate a deal with the boss of Kremlin.
However, interests of Moscow and the global political context did not allow for freedom in Central Europe, and to accept the desire of Slovaks and Czechs to live in a democratic society. Therefore, high expectations and euphoria of both nations were destroyed by tanks, by the brutal and shameful military invasion of Soviet troops accompanied by other neighbours and „allies“ of Czechoslovakia at the dawn of August 21. The only state from Warsaw Pact that refused to participate was Romania. Bucharest went even further, and officially identified the joint action of Kremlin and its comrades as a threat to international peace. Also ordinary people demonstrated solidarity with occupied Czechoslovakia. A lot of courage was needed for the attitude like this in those days. This historic fact will be always a solid building block of friendship between the Romanian people and Slovaks and Czechs, and we will forever remain grateful.
Prague Spring ended in blood, and the humiliation that followed the invasion influenced a whole generation. It was the next generation of Czechs and Slovaks that was lucky enough to anchor our peoples in a democratic system with Vaclav Havel as the first president and Alexander Dubcek – symbol of Prague Spring as the first speaker of the Parliament after the “Velvet revolution” in Czechoslovakia.