Soviets invade Czechoslovakia

Soviets invade Czechoslovakia

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On the night of August 20, 1968, approximately 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to crush the “Prague Spring”—a brief period of liberalization in the communist country. Czechoslovakians protested the invasion with public demonstrations and other non-violent tactics, but they were no match for the Soviet tanks. The liberal reforms of First Secretary Alexander Dubcek were repealed and “normalization” began under his successor Gustav Husak.

Pro-Soviet communists seized control of Czechoslovakia’s democratic government in 1948. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin imposed his will on Czechoslovakia’s communist leaders, and the country was run as a Stalinist state until 1964, when a gradual trend toward liberalization began. However, modest economic reform was not enough for many Czechoslovakians, and beginning in 1966 students and intellectuals began to agitate for changes to education and an end to censorship. First Secretary Antonin Novotny’s problems were made worse by opposition from Slovakian leaders, among them Alexander Dubcek and Gustav Husak, who accused the central government of being dominated by Czechs.

In January 1968, Novotny was replaced as first secretary by Alexander Dubcek, who was unanimously elected by the Czechoslovakian Central Committee. To secure his power base, Dubcek appealed to the public to voice support for his proposed reforms. The response was overwhelming, and Czech and Slovak reformers took over the communist leadership.

In April, the new leadership unveiled its “Action Program,” promising democratic elections, greater autonomy for Slovakia, freedom of speech and religion, the abolition of censorship, an end to restrictions on travel, and major industrial and agricultural reforms. Dubcek declared that he was offering “socialism with a human face.” The Czechoslovakian public greeted the reforms joyously, and Czechoslovakia’s long stagnant national culture began to bloom during what became known as the Prague Spring. In late June, a popular petition called the “Two Thousand Words” was published calling for even more rapid progress to full democracy. The Soviet Union and its satellites Poland and East Germany were alarmed by what appeared to be the imminent collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned Dubcek to halt his reforms, but the Czechoslovakian leader was buoyed by his popularity and dismissed the veiled threats. Dubcek declined to attend a special meeting of the Warsaw Pact powers in July, but on August 2 he agreed to meet with Brezhnev in the Slovakian town of Cierny. The next day, representatives of European Europe’s communist parties met in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, and a communiquÉ was issued suggesting that pressure would be eased on Czechoslovakia in exchange for tighter control over the press.

However, on the night of August 20, nearly 200,000 Soviet, East German, Polish, Hungarian, and Bulgarian troops invaded Czechoslovakia in the largest deployment of military force in Europe since the end of World War II. Armed resistance to the invasion was negligible, but protesters immediately took to the streets, tearing down streets signs in an effort to confuse the invaders. In Prague, Warsaw Pact troops moved to seize control of television and radio stations. At Radio Prague, journalists refused to give up the station and some 20 people were killed before it was captured. Other stations went underground and succeeded in broadcasting for several days before their locations were discovered.

Dubcek and other government leaders were detained and taken to Moscow. Meanwhile, widespread demonstrations continued on the street, and more than 100 protesters were shot to death by Warsaw Pact troops. Many foreign nations, including China, Yugoslavia, and Romania, condemned the invasion, but no major international action was taken. Much of Czechoslovakia’s intellectual and business elite fled en masse to the West.

On August 27, Dubcek returned to Prague and announced in an emotional address that he had agreed to curtail his reforms. Hard-line communists assumed positions in his government, and Dubcek was forced gradually to dismiss his progressive aides. He became increasingly isolated from both the public and his government. After anti-Soviet rioting broke out in April 1969, he was removed as first secretary and replaced by Gustav Husak, a “realist” who was willing to work with the Soviets. Dubcek was later expelled from the Communist Party and made a forest inspector based in Bratislava.

In 1989, as communist governments collapsed across Eastern Europe, Prague again became the scene of demonstrations for democratic reform. In December 1989, Gustav Husak’s government conceded to demands for a multiparty parliament. Husak resigned, and for the first time in nearly two decades Dubcek returned to politics as chairman of the new parliament, which subsequently elected playwright and former dissident Vaclav Havel as president of Czechoslovakia. Havel had come to fame during the Prague Spring, and after the Soviet crackdown his plays were banned and his passport confiscated.

Soviets invade Europe, 1920

Nimble, this actually something discussed before. and despite what you think, the Soviet Union of 1920 wouldn't have gotten far past Poland. Germany would have simply re-armed and pushed them back, regaining the lost territories of 1918.

It is impossible for the Soviet Union to conquer all of Europe in 5 years.


Quite a sketchy scenario. or a challenge?

Honestly, I cannot see the 1920s Red Army controlling large parts of Europe. We would need a lot more militant leftists in most countries plus IMHO an even more devastating Great War to make this possible.

A fall of Poland is imaginable, still. If the Sovjets would have been bent by the idea of global revolution, they might have tried to assist their fellows in Hungary and Germany.

At this point I see the Romanian and CSR armies struggling despite French support, while further in the North a quickly rearming German army fights alongside Freikorps units an ugly battle against internal and external foes.

If this is not sufficient and the Red Army reaches Berlin, Vienna or the Elbe, I am quite sure that the Entente (UK, France, maybe even Italy and the USA) will send intervene with force. Remember, the Entente was at this point still meddling in the Russian Civil war, though with disappointing results.

A crisis in Central Europe, though, would bring them back to war gearing. Probably, the result would also mean a partial re-assessment of the Versailles treaties.




The Allies still had forces INSIDE Russia in 1920 (Japan didn't withdraw until 1922). The Communists were seen as a massive threat (which, as things turned out, was both very wrong AND very right) and an aggressive action beyond Poland would have been utterly crushed. The Western Powers still had millions of hard core veteran troops, as did Germany. For a non-motorized army to achieve domination of all of Europe against such opposition in 5 years would be virtually impossible short of divine intervention (or a visit from Irving the ASB).

Such an attempt could have very interesting butterflies, including a rehabilitation/reintegration of Germany as a bulwark against the Communists (similar to what happened with all three Axis powers post WW II) that could short circuit the disaster that was Fascism.


I don't think we need that big PoDs to have the post WWI clashes in Germany evolve into a fully fledged civil war, where the Reds gain the upper hand, perhaps aided by Reds from Russia. Perhaps just a German Trotsky to gather around in Germany and a few butterflies to stir the pot. Next the W.allies enter the ring to stem the Reds, but face heavy internal communist opposition and up-rising.

So as soldier and worker's councils pop up all over Europe like mushrooms on a rainy day the Russian Red Army go west and join the German, French etc. Red Armies, and soon the British and American expeditionary forcces are evacuated from the European continent, but succeed in crushing strikes and up-risings on the British Isles. It also comes to shooting in USA, as the National Guard is sent against strikes and riots.



I don't know a lot about post ww1 Russia, but I'd be surprised if the Russian army could have launched an invasion on the scale being talked about. The 'Russian Steamroller' during the First World War wasn't as bad in the field as some historians make out, their problem was a backward industrial infastructure and dreadful supply problems and logistical organisation. Despite the reforms introduced after the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, these problems persisted throughout the First World War. The Russian Army did suffer from a lack of mobility in the field. The lack of motorised vehicles and railway infastructure hampered their ability to take the war to the enemy, they were notorious for their slow progress when advancing, which Austrian and German satirical cartoons of the day lampooned constantly. I suppose these problems would have continued after the Russian Revolution and into the post-war period thus having an affect on any Russian invasion of central Europe.

Also, for the Bolsheviks, there may have been a risk of putting the Revolution in jeopardy, if the Russian Army suffered a massive defeat in central Europe for the second time in a decade, especially if this defeat came not only at the hands of the Germans, but also the Allied powers of Britain, France, Italy and the USA. There could be a continuation of the Russian Civil War with 'White Russian' forces being heavily supported by the Allies (more so than they already were), and in the wake of the defeat the Bolsheviks are deposed.

An Allied/German victory in the east may mean a reassessment of Versailles, and who knows, a Versailles style 'Diktat' imposed on the Russians, which I'm sure the Germans at least would support. The other option may have even been a Tsarist restoration with constitutional powers, which all of the allied powers would support. Yes, there would be a reaction from Communist groups but I think the fledging Revolution would be dead in the water.

Richard Nixon, LBJ, and the Invasion of Czechoslovakia

Thirty years ago, a massive Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia stunned the world and threatened the fragile détente between the West and the Soviet Union. In the West, and especially in the United States, most pundits, specialists, and policymakers had agreed that the Soviets would not dare risk the universal condemnation that would accompany such a drastic course. Most believed the Soviets would not put at risk the economic, trade, and other benefits that détente conferred.

European security policy, based on the “Ostpolitik” of then Chancellor Willi Brandt, was threatened by the Soviet move, as was the U.S.-Soviet relationship established at the Glassboro summit between President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin.

By early January 1968, liberalizing forces within Czechoslovakia had gathered sufficient political momentum to oust the old-style hard-liner Antonin Novotny, in place since the early 1950s, as first secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. His replacement, Alexander Dubcek, promised radical reforms and “socialism with a human face.”

Instantly, Dubcek became the intense object of Western attention and support, inciting rage in the Kremlin and among its key allies in Eastern Europe, especially communist leaders Walter Ulbricht in East Germany and Wladyslaw Gomulka in Poland. Soviet troops had been stationed in those countries since the end of World War II, but Czechoslovak leaders had successfully resisted Soviet marshal van Yakubovskii’s demand to insert Soviet troops there.

The election of Dubcek set in motion a series of bilateral and multilateral conferences of Communist Party and government leaders throughout the spring and summer—in Dresden, Moscow, Warsaw, Vienna, Tisou, and Bratislava. The meetings produced intense criticism of Dubcek and his colleagues, fanned rumors that the CIA was deeply involved, and culminated in demands by Ulbricht and Gomulka, among others, for the immediate suppression, by armed force if necessary, of the “counterrevolution” in Czechoslovakia. Several pro-Soviet Slovak leaders sent a shrill message to Leonid Brezhnev claiming that “the very existence of socialism in our country is in danger.”

These events were unfolding as the 1968 presidential campaign began to take shape. Then on Richard Nixon’s campaign staff as his foreign policy coordinator, I held the contrary opinion that the Soviets would invade Czechoslovakia regardless of the “costs,” which amounted to very little when compared with the dangers posed to communist rule by a possible contagion of liberalism in the Soviet bloc.

On July 18, I wrote in a memo to Nixon: “It looks like the Soviets and Czechs are on a collision course, with impact days away. The Soviets cannot afford to lose Czechoslovakia, and already their options are narrowed—they have too much on the line now.” Two days later, I prepared another memorandum, a rough draft of a statement Nixon could make if an invasion took place, and on July 28 sent yet another memo, advising that if Moscow moved against Prague, there would be a major upheaval in the Communist Parties outside the communist bloc: “What little unity is left will crumble—the western parties will be shaken and perhaps eliminated entirely from the political picture.” This was especially true of the French and Italian Communist Parties, both major domestic political forces and both firmly supporting the liberalizing moves of Dubcek. The memo suggested that, “either way, the Soviets are damned and détente with the West becomes unrealistic. It looks as though U.S.-USSR relations will be going into a deep freeze.”

Working at campaign headquarters late in the evening of August 20, at 11 p.m. I received a call that the Soviet invasion was under way. I immediately called to awaken Nixon at his Fifth Avenue apartment (the 1968 Republican campaign was run from New York City) he had just returned from a four-state campaign swing. Groggy and gruff, he asked why I had called at that late hour when I gave him the news, he exclaimed, “Those bastards.” I gave him the details.

I came to believe that Johnson had constructed an elaborate strategy for using Nixon to discipline Humphrey.

Minutes later, Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s personal secretary, called and asked me to go immediately to Nixon’s apartment to join aides Pat Buchanan, Ray Price, and Robert Ellsworth. Collecting my earlier memos and the draft statement, I was the first to arrive. For an hour and a half we discussed the situation Nixon talked with Pennsylvania governor Bill Scranton and decided to hold on a call to New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, saying he wanted to check on “how tough certain people are on the crisis.” He asked whether we ought to seek a briefing from Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, and Buchanan and I counseled against such a move.

At that point, Lyndon Johnson called Nixon, keeping him on the phone for nearly twenty minutes. President Johnson personalized the situation, relating it to Vietnam, saying that he had two sons-in-law in Vietnam and “was not about to make any great concessions on Vietnam” or anything else. Oddly, Johnson dwelt on a recent standing ovation he had received at a major speech to the VFW, which mystified Nixon the issue of the moment was Czechoslovakia, not Vietnam. Johnson asked Nixon to “be careful” in what he said, expressing “dismay,” and then complimented Nixon on “the stand you took in Miami,” referring to the Vietnam plank agreed on at the Republican National Convention.

Analyzing Johnson’s motives for the call, it appeared to me that Johnson was desperately trying to keep Nixon from launching an all-out attack against the administration’s feeble response to the invasion. Humphrey’s position was also a consideration Nixon was particularly anxious not to allow Humphrey to appear “as a knight on a white horse” by moving to a hard-line position.

We believed—correctly—that the Soviets preferred the election of Humphrey over Nixon Humphrey desperately needed to move “left” of Johnson on Vietnam but could not find a way to escape Johnson’s iron grasp on that issue.

In the end, Mr. Nixon issued a statement of “mild outrage” and, taking a cue from the Johnson initiative, decided to capitalize on the tension between Humphrey and Johnson over Vietnam.

This was not the only Nixon-Johnson secret contact during that campaign season, and I came to believe that Johnson had constructed an elaborate strategy for using Nixon to discipline Humphrey, keeping Humphrey in line on the issue that mattered most to the troubled president—Vietnam. In the final days of the campaign, Johnson pulled all the stops to elect Humphrey, but the Paris peace talks came too late to prevent a narrow Nixon victory.

I never found out if Vice President Humphrey knew of the back-channel contacts between Johnson and Nixon. In the year before his death, I asked Nixon if he thought Humphrey ever learned of them, and he responded: “Politics puts people in strange positions.”

I remain convinced today that these backdoor contacts played an important role in shaping the outcome of the 1968 contest.

Reprinted from the Washington Times (, August 21, 1998, from an article entitled "Czechoslovakia, 30 Years Ago." Copyright 1998 News World Communications. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Press is the Hoover Essay The Cold War: End and Aftermath, by Peter Duignan and L. H. Gann. To order, call 800-935-2882.

Civilian Resistance in Czechoslovakia

In the late 1960’s Czechoslovakia was part of the Warsaw Pact, a group of European countries with governments that operated under the thumb of the Soviet Union (USSR). But Czechoslovakia was beginning to show a certain degree of independence. Writers and intellectuals were demanding an end to censorship and more freedom to travel abroad. At the Thirteenth Congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1966, a radical new economic policy was introduced and steps were taken that could lead to the separation of the Communist Party from the national government.

Alexander Dubček

The reformers gained ground. In early 1968 Ludvik Svoboda was installed as president and Alexander Dubček was made head of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party. The new regime abolished press censorship and travel restrictions. They made plans for open elections, free trade, and economic reforms. Czechoslovakia was on its way to becoming the most liberal communist country in the world. People reveled in their newfound freedom and creativity bloomed. This euphoric period became known as the “Prague Spring.”

Not surprisingly, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and his counterparts in the other Warsaw Pact countries found this train of events deeply disturbing. After some tense negotiations among the parties, a compromise was worked out. Reforms were allowed to continue, but at a slower pace. Everyone in Czechoslovakia breathed a little easier.


However, the uneasy détente did not last for long. In the wee hours of August 20, 1968, Warsaw Pact military forces struck like lightning, initiating a massive invasion of their wayward ally. On the morning of the 21st Czechs were shocked to find their streets inundated with tanks and troops from East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and the U.S.S.R.

Photo © David McReynolds (

Within a week, over half million Warsaw Pact troops occupied Czechoslovakia. In Prague alone 500 tanks controlled strategic locations.

Warsaw Pact tanks stationed in front of the Central Directorate of Communications.

The Soviets had planned to crush any military resistance, install a puppet government, and begin withdrawing within four days. With their overwhelming forces, they were well prepared to counter any resistance the small Czechoslovakian army might offer. But, surprised by an invasion by supposed allies, the Czech soldiers did not fight. Instead, they were ordered to remain in their barracks. This was an unfortunate turn of events for the invaders because they were completely unprepared for the kind of resistance they were about to encounter.

The occupiers had been told they would be welcomed with open arms by the Czechoslovakian workers. Instead, they were booed, taunted, spit at and jeered. Initially there was some violence, as angry kids set tanks on fire and threw paving stones and Molotov cocktails at the troops.

A bus burns in what looks like a civilian roadblock.

But radio and TV stations denounced the violence and called for “passive” resistance instead. Over the next couple of weeks these clandestine broadcasters coordinated the civilian resistance that essentially prevented the Soviets from taking control of the country.


People found creative ways of demonstrating hostility toward their invasive “friendly” neighbors.

The signs read “Why” in Cyrillic script. The bearded gentleman in the center appears to be holding a tank shell.

In addition to making it clear the troops were not welcome, this spontaneous noncooperation seriously hampered Soviet plans to subjugate Czechoslovak civil society. Here are some of the more interesting resistance actions:

At 9:00 am on August 26, people all over Czechoslovakia rang church bells, blew horns and sounded sirens to protest the invasion. The din frightened some of the nervous occupation troops, who shot a woman in Klárov and roughed up an engineer who was sounding his train whistle. Sirens and horns also announced the beginning of one-hour general strikes in Prague. Soviet tank crews watched helplessly as motorists blew their horns and all traffic stopped.

Human blockade
Citizens in a small village in Eastern Bohemia formed a human chain across a bridge and blockaded a Russian convoy of tanks and other vehicles. After eight and a half hours, the Russians turned back.

The lost train
When it was discovered that a Russian freight train was transporting equipment to jam pirate broadcasts, a radio station put out an appeal for rail workers to stop the train. It never made it to Prague. First, the train was delayed when the electricity failed. Then it ended up on a side track stuck between two other immobilized locomotives. The Soviets eventually had to transport the gear by helicopter.

Nude pictures
In Bratislava a group of young people gathered up boxes of “girlie” magazines that had recently become available from the West. They went to a park and handed them out to the lonely Soviet tank crews that were keeping watch over the area. After a while the commander realized what was happening and ordered his men back into their tanks. The kids joked that the soldiers, who had been abused by the local Slovaks for the last few days, were now abusing themselves. With the soldiers sealed inside their tanks, the kids pasted paper over their periscopes, making it impossible for the crews to continue their surveillance.

No water
Some Russian troops took up residence in an old castle in Bratislava that housed a museum. The museum curator asked the Russian colonel if he could check the exhibits to make sure they were unharmed. The colonel readily granted him permission for an inspection. When the curator was left alone he sneaked down into the basement and turned off the main water valve. When the soldiers found they had no water, they had to look for it elsewhere. Mysteriously, much of the water in the rest of Bratislava had somehow been cut off as well. Finding potable water became a serious problem for the troops, and for several days it had to be brought in from Hungary by helicopter.

The Soviets had brought powdered rations that needed to be mixed with water. When they tried to fill their canteens with public tap water in Bratislava, the Slovaks gathered around and warned them that “counter-revolutionaries” had poisoned the water supply. Some soldiers resorted to scooping up water from mud puddles, or getting it from the heavily polluted Danube River.

The troops were expecting a warm reception from the Slovaks so they brought few supplies and facilities with them. The lack of food, sleep and proper sanitation took its toll. Drinking polluted water added to their distress and many soldiers became ill.

The people who lived in Rožňava, a small town in eastern Slovakia, were mostly of Hungarian decent. So the Soviets thought it would be a good place to station the Hungarian troops, confident they would receive a warm welcome. Instead, the soldiers were spit at and booed. The citizens of Rožňava refused to provide them with food, water, supplies or lodging.

Desperate, the Hungarian colonel had a meeting with the mayor. They finally came to an agreement. The troops would receive the supplies they needed and could stay in an unoccupied school building. However, they would be forced to obey the town’s curfew. So each day at nightfall the Hungarian occupiers returned to the school so the mayor could lock them inside. Then at dawn the mayor would come back to let them out again.

Clandestine broadcasting
Radio and television played a key role in the resistance. Broadcasts were able to create a sense of solidarity and hope by keeping citizens informed about what was happening in other parts of the country. Underground news media sent out government appeals and made suggestions on how to resist the invaders, while urging people to remain nonviolent. The amazing thing is that none of this was planned beforehand. All broadcasting arrangements were continually modified to prevent detection.

The Russians had a hard time closing down all the television stations because broadcasting facilities were dispersed throughout Prague. Covert TV broadcasts were also done from factories and other buildings using mobile and remote transmitters. For instance, on the day of the invasion, television workers escaped with a remote broadcast truck. They then set up a studio in an empty apartment building in the Prague suburbs. From there broadcasts were beamed all over the country using microwave links. The on-air personalities—well-known intellectuals, newscasters, athletes and other Czech celebrities—all urged nonviolent resistance and noncooperation.

Clandestine radio stations were even more important than television because there were more of them and they were easier to hide. Mobile transmitters, supplied by the Czech army, were moved every few hours to avoid detection by Soviet tracking equipment. The army also helped transport audiotapes, which were recorded in secret locations, to the radio transmitters.

The Czechs made good use of graffiti to make the invaders feel unwelcome.

A rough translation of this graffiti poem: “For the defense of our national bank/Russian tanks are not needed/The shit that we have in there/we’ll manage to guard on our own/It’s a shit—a rather big one/Everything else got taken by our Russian brother!”

They hung posters and used chalk or paint to apply anti-Soviet slogans to the walls of buildings. A common activity was to climb on a tank while it was stopped at a traffic light and paint a swastika on it. Some slogans seen in Prague:

  • “Why bother to occupy our State Bank? You know there is nothing in it.”
  • “United States in Vietnam, Soviet Union in Czechoslovakia.”
  • “Leonid, send 10 more tanks—20 more counter-revolutionaries arrived here today.”

The underground press
Using printing presses and mimeograph machines (photocopiers were not yet widely available), the Czechs published leaflets, pamphlets and newspapers right under the noses of the occupiers.

Page from a “special edition” of the magazine “People and Earth”]

When Soviet troops shot some kids who were distributing underground newspapers, hundreds of people attended their funerals.

Lost in Czechoslovakia
Traveling in Czechoslovakia was a nightmare for the Warsaw Pact troops. The Czechs had removed street signs and painted over building address numbers. Many small villages renamed themselves “Dubček” or “Svoboda.” In rural areas it was not uncommon to see a troop convoy stalled at a crossroad, the commander scratching his head over an open map.


On the leadership level, the Soviets met additional resistance for their plans to set up a puppet government. Top Czechoslovakian officials refused to corroborate the Soviet’s story that the troops had been requested to put down an uprising of “counter-revolutionaries.” Because of the near unanimous civilian resistance throughout the country, even conservative leaders were reluctant to collaborate with the Soviets, and no one could be found to form a puppet government that had the slightest facade of legitimacy.

Flaunting the Czech flag. Photo © David McReynolds (

Some Czech government bodies continued to meet despite the occupation. Many of these secret gatherings were coordinated by pirate radio broadcasts. The Czechoslovak Communist Party Congress, the National Assembly, and government representatives all refuted the legitimacy of the Soviet’s actions, demanded the withdraw of troops, and encouraged nonviolent resistance by the population.

Dubček and several other high officials were taken to the Soviet Union to be executed as soon as a new government could be put in place. Svoboda was initially placed under house arrest in Prague and pressured to cooperate. When he refused, the Soviets flew him to Moscow to work out a compromise.

The Soviet leaders seemed to temporarily abandon their plan to install a new regime, and instead worked on pressuring the legitimate government to change its ways. At the Moscow meeting the Soviets used threats and demanded cooperation in no uncertain terms, but the Czech leaders stood their ground. In the end, a vague agreement was worked out that scrapped many of the reforms, but left the legitimate government leaders, including Svoboda and Dubček, still in office.


When Czechoslovakians heard about the Moscow Agreement they were outraged. They felt their leaders had sold them out. Demoralization began to set in. Gradually the clandestine printing presses and radio stations were located by the Soviets and closed down. Throughout the next few months, scattered dissent continued in the form of factory resolutions, demonstrations and the occupation of university buildings. But generally, the intense resistance of the first few weeks slowly turned into a disgruntled complacency.

Their military tactics having failed, the Soviets began to use political manipulation, economic pressure and subtle threats against the Czechoslovakian leadership to chip away at the reform movement. The government made more and more concessions to the Soviet demands. Finally, in April 1969, anti-Russian riots (which may have been instigated by agents provocateurs) created a shift in power in the Czech government. Dubček and his reformers were ousted. Eight months after the invasion the Soviets finally got the conservative government they wanted in Czechoslovakia.


The story of Czechoslovakia in 1968 is a testament to the power of civilian resistance and the limitations of military force. Even when the country was bristling with Warsaw Pact troops and military equipment, in no way could it be said that the Soviets were in control of Czechoslovakia.

Anti-aircraft gun stationed in a Prague street

If it had fought, the highly trained Czechoslovakian army would only have lasted a couple days, and then the country would surely have come firmly under Soviet control. Instead, an improvised campaign of noncooperation kept the Soviets from installing their puppet government for eight months.

The resistance would have been more effective if had been part of an integrated strategy rather than a series of spontaneous actions. Pre-planning would have enabled the Czechs to start the resistance earlier, avoid violence (that occurred mainly on the first day) and coordinate their actions for maximum effect. The leaders should have gone underground when the invasion first began so they would have been available to coordinate the resistance and inspire their fellow citizens. If that were not possible, they should have resigned rather than accept the unfavorable terms of the Moscow Agreement. That would have left the country without legitimate leadership. The ball would have been in the Soviet’s court to find authorities that had credibility with the population.

If the Czechoslovakian people and their leaders had continued their defiance in a determined and coordinated fashion, there is every likelihood that they could have created serious internal problems for the Soviet Union. At the time, some experts speculated that there were major differences of opinion within the Kremlin hierarchy, not only about Czechoslovakia, but also about the reform issue itself. It was known that there were officials who favored instituting exactly the kinds of changes for the Soviet Union that the Dubček government had been implementing. (In fact, twenty years later Gorbachev introduced similar reforms, which ultimately resulted in the disintegration of the Soviet system and the subsequent fall of communism in Eastern Europe.) In any event, it’s possible that a crisis resulting from continued resistance in Czechoslovakia may have served to exacerbate policy differences in the Soviet government, weakening it politically and strengthening the Czech bargaining position.


All bureaucratic and hierarchical organizations have fault lines that make them vulnerable to nonviolent strategies. The people who occupy high positions in these bureaucracies are typically very competitive and aggressive (or they wouldn’t be there). In such groups there are always officials who don’t like each other personally, who feel they have been snubbed or stabbed in the back by some fellow bureaucrat and are looking for revenge. There are always jealousies, insecurities, divergent goals and philosophies.

That natural divisions are a major vulnerability of all bureaucratic and hierarchical structures is a fact that should not be lost on those of us interested in developing strategies to overthrow such organizations. A major strategic concern when planning a campaign of resistance should be finding ways to drive wedges in the cracks that naturally occur in these organizations.

On the other hand, when faced with violent opposition, bureaucratic institutions tend to band together and increase solidarity.


Some believe it may be possible to use nonviolent strategies to defend a country against internal coups and foreign invasions. This practice is sometimes called Social Defense (mainly in Europe) or Civilian-based Defense (CBD).

Instituting CBD in a country like the US would be problematic for a number of reasons. It would require a radical transformation in the way we think about defense, security and social equality. Because CBD can only defend societies—not territory—it could not project power around the world like a modern military can. And because unyielding solidarity is essential for protracted nonviolent struggles, cultural, racial and economic rifts in the US could become fatal liabilities. Nothing can exacerbate existing societal fault lines more surely than extended pressure from violent repression and divisive propaganda.

However, a number of smaller countries in Europe have researched the possibility of using carefully planned programs of civilian noncooperation in the event of foreign invasion—either as supplements to military defense or as standalone systems. It will be interesting to see if any military incursions are met with effective nonviolent resistance in the coming years.

Originally published 1997
Revised 2018

Colin Chapman, August 21st
Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action
Gene Sharp, Social Power and Political Freedom
Joseph Wechsberg, The Voices
Philip Windsor and Adam Roberts, Czechoslovakia 1968

Text by James L. VanHise licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

1968: Soviets invade Czechelslovica, but it turns into a Vietnam, Afganistan, or Iraq type of situation, as they get bogged down in an insurgency.

If this were to happen, how would the history of the Soviet Union and the United States be different?

The thing about a war in Czechoslovakia is that it’s in the developed heart of temperate Central Europe. Compare to Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Iraq, these are all underdeveloped countries that are a great distance from the foreign powers they were fighting.

As such, I doubt a conflict that takes root in Central Europe is going to stay there. If the Czechs are to last, they’ll need allies, probably other dissident members of the Warsaw Pact as well as foreign aid from NATO. Given the proximity of Czechoslovakia to West Germany and Italy, as well as neutral but western-leaning Austria, it’s not difficult to envision NATO taking an active role if the Soviets falter at any point.

Such a conflict stands an enormous chance of going nuclear and/or spilling over to other regions, such as Korea. With Vietnam at its height, China may be looking around with an eye toward either making up with the Soviets or detente with the US.

If the war were to go nuclear, what would be the flash point?

The terrain of Czechoslovakia is also different. While the country has mountains and forests, most of the population is centered around towns and cities, which can be occupied (with tremendous amounts of force). In Afghanistan, the Soviets managed to hold the urban areas, but holding the isolated countryside was nearly impossible.

Additionally, the political situation is different. Czechoslovakia is a key member of the Warsaw Pact and it’s defense against NATO. The Soviets would absolutely not allow it to break away and compromise its defense of the DDR.

Its only happening if the Czechs can get allies, and more than likely they'll need closer ones like Germany or Britain to actually help. Also, the Soviet Union will simply want to keep order. If the US or its allies move, it they might have to make a first death blow with a nuke, especially since it will be hard to get to Czechoslovakia quickly. If such a debacle were to happen, youɽ see nukes destroy most major cities in NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Youɽ probably see a whole new society of sorts rise up dedicated more to peace, though for sure you'll have super jingo's who will try to use sticks and stones to start world war 4.

The trouble with a long-term insurgency in Czechoslovakia is that it would require some kind of logistics support for the insurgency, which generally puts the US/NATO on a collision course with the Soviets given that supporting logistics are most likely to come from the west.

I also don't think the Prague Spring was planned as a military insurgency, I think it was a political gambit that ended in a Soviet occupation. If it had been planned as an insurgency, I don't know how well it could have survived without some extensive planning and some large-scale support from the Czech military.

Block/destroy rail lines, key roads, bridges and road interchanges to hobble Soviet military mobility and logistics and enough organized force to pin down Soviet garrisons before they can mobilize, and then hope you've done enough to stymie the expected Soviet/Warsaw pact push into Czechoslovakia.

The long-term aspect of this is toughest, maybe occupy the hilly/mountainous border region near the frontier with Austria and Germany and hope that only having to defend to your east is enough to hamper Soviet offensives.

One thing that would help would also be a way to get regular news, photos and film out of the country. It might hamstring the Soviets somewhat to be regularly shamed in the media for using excessive force. At some level it might cause them to reconsider whether the negative PR would influence fellow East Bloc nations or various third world initiatives.


"I am happy that I could see the spontaneous resistance of the people on the streets, on the posters on the walls. It was unbelievable. It was poetry, jokes, irony - it was an answer to the brutal Soviet invasion. One slogan was typical for this attitude - originally the slogan read 'With the Soviet Union for All Eternity'. But, in that time Czechs came up with the slogan 'With the Soviet Union for Eternity - but not a single day more!"

Not another day more but in reality another 21 years of oppression for Czechoslovakia before Czechs and Slovaks would become free. What of the marred lives? Dozens lost during those dark August days, including one student shot at Klarov, in the Little Quarter, for nothing more than wearing a tri-colour pin featuring Czechoslovakia's colours. What of still others who endured the oppressive 'normalisation' period following the fall of Czechoslovakia's reformists? Undesirables, intellectuals, former communists who had erred on the side of reform, who lost their jobs, and were pushed to the fringes. What of their children who were not allowed even to study in university? And, those who were forced to emigrate. Not easy to forget. Even more unforgettable: the sacrifices of Jan Palach and Jan Zajic, who killed themselves in public protest of the regime a year after the invasion - Palach pleading that no other should follow his devastating example, as he lay on his death bed, with third-degree burns on 85 percent of his body. That perhaps was the last enormous symbol of resistance as the period of new oppression set in. TV anchor Kamila Mouckova:

"Every nation has its history, and everybody should know the history of their own nation. The days of August 1968 are of course key. This is not about cramming facts in school - this is about the challenge for all of us to learn from the event so that it will never again be repeated."

1968 - A year that began with hope and promise for Czechoslovakia and ended in tragedy no one could have foreseen. It changed the direction of a country, and the lives of millions. The last Russian troops finally left Czech soil in 1991.

Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

The general dissatisfaction within the Czechoslovak military became increasingly evident. In 1966 Czechoslovakia, following the lead of Romania, rejected the Soviet Union's call for more military integration within the Warsaw Pact and sought greater input in planning and strategy for the Warsaw Pact's non-Soviet members. At the same time, plans to effect great structural changes in Czechoslovak military organizations were under discussion. All these debates heated up in 1968 during the period of political liberalization known as the Prague Spring, when CSLA commanders put forward plans to democratize the armed forces, plans that included limiting the role of the party. National military doctrine became an even greater issue when two important documents were released: the Action Program of the Ministry of Defense and the Memorandum of the Klement Gottwald Military Political Academy. These documents stated that Czechoslovakia should base its defense strategy on its own geopolitical interests and that the threat from the West had been overstated. Although the regime of Alexander Dubcek, the party first secretary (title changed to general secretary in 1971), was careful to reassure the Soviet Union that Czechoslovakia would remain committed to the Warsaw Pact, Moscow felt challenged by these developments, which undoubtedly played a major role in the decision to invade in August 1968.

On August 20, 1968, Warsaw Pact forces--including troops from Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, and the Soviet Union--invaded Czechoslovakia. Approximately 500,000 troops, mostly from the Soviet Union, poured across the borders in a blitzkrieg-like advance.

The invasion was meticulously planned and coordinated, as the operation leading to the capture of Prague's Ruzyne International Airport in the early hours of the invasion demonstrated. A special flight from Moscow, which had prior clearance, arrived just as the Warsaw Pact troops began crossing the borders. The aircraft carried more than 100 plainclothes agents, who quickly secured the airport and prepared the way for a huge airlift. Giant An-12 aircraft began arriving at the rate of one per minute, unloading Soviet airborne troops equipped with artillery and light tanks. As the operation at the airport continued, columns of tanks and motorized rifle troops headed toward Prague and other major centers, meeting no resistance.

By dawn on August 21, 1968, Czechoslovakia was an occupied country. During the day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs "with the endorsement of the President of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and on behalf of the Government of the Republic" transmitted to the governments of the invading countries "a resolute protest with the requirement that the illegal occupation of Czechoslovakia be stopped without delay and all armed troops be withdrawn." That evening in a nationwide radio broadcast President Svoboda stated that the Warsaw Pact forces had entered the country "without the consent of the constitutional organs of the state," thus officially denying the Soviet claim that they had been invited into the country to preserve socialism. The people of Czechoslovakia generally resented the presence of foreign troops. They demonstrated their objections in mass gatherings in the streets and by various acts of passive resistance. The invading troops could see that they had not been invited into and were not wanted in Czechoslovakia.

One of the priority missions of the Warsaw Pact forces during the early stages of the invasion was to neutralize the Czechoslovak armed forces. That mission proved to be easy because Czechoslovak authorities had confined the armed forces to their barracks. In effect, the Czechoslovak forces were prisoners in their own barracks although, on orders from the Warsaw Pact command, they had not been disarmed. At the end of three weeks, the Soviet units that had surrounded Czechoslovak military installations were pulled back, but the suspicions that had been aroused among the troops on both sides were not easily dispelled. Czechoslovak military spokesmen tried to depict their forces as the same strong, efficient organization that had previously manned the westernmost wall of the Warsaw Pact, but obvious doubts had been raised in the minds of authorities in the other countries. Czechoslovaks, in turn, wondered about allies who could so suddenly become invaders.

It was not until October 16 that agreement was reached for the partial withdrawal of the Warsaw Pact armies. The Soviet Union made a big show over the agreement, sending Premier Aleksei Kosygin to Prague as leader of a high-level delegation to observe the ceremony. Czechoslovak joy was tempered by the knowledge that a sizable army of occupation would remain after the bulk of the invading force had departed. The Bulgarian, East German, Hungarian, and Polish troops were ordered to leave the country, but Soviet units were to remain in what was referred to as "temporary stationing." In the agreement, Czechoslovakia retained responsibility for defense of its western borders, but Soviet troops were to be garrisoned in the interior of the country. As events transpired, however, the major Soviet headquarters and four of its five ground divisions were deployed in the Czech Socialist Republic, where they remained in mid-1987.

Prague Spring 1968: Czechoslovakia's Tragic Attempt To Break Free of Communist Rule

The “Prague Spring” of 1968 would be tragically short-lived, as Soviet troops moved decisively to crush the pro-democracy movement in Czechoslovakia.

Here's What You Need to Know: Some 100 Czechoslovakian men and women, mostly young protesters, were killed and hundreds more were wounded.

At 1:30 am on August 21, 1968, Czech authorities at Ruzyne Airport in the capital city of Prague waited to greet a special flight that was flying in directly from Moscow. The authorities were not alarmed. Perhaps it was a delegation coming to try to hammer out the growing differences between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

As soon as the plane taxied to the terminal, it became apparent immediately that it was no official delegation—diplomatic or otherwise. Instead, 100 plainclothes Russian soldiers armed with submachine guns clambered down the catwalk to the tarmac and stormed the airport terminal and control tower, overcoming the Czech security personnel without firing a shot. They were an advance unit of the Soviet 7th Guards Airborne Division. With the airport secured, the commandos signaled all clear for the rest of the Soviet airborne invasion force to proceed. It was the beginning of the end for Czechoslovakian democracy, which was being virtually strangled in its crib.

Around the world, 1968 had already been a year of turmoil. In the United States, the year was marked by the shocking assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. A growing number of Americans were taking to the streets, protesting the ever-escalating war in Vietnam, clashing with police and National Guard units, and taking over administration buildings at colleges and universities. The antiwar, antiestablishment furor was catching on in Europe as well, with similar demonstrations in West Germany by activists protesting the continuing American military presence in their country. Throughout France, mass demonstrations and strikes by students and workers were paralyzing the French economy and pushing the de Gaulle government to the point of collapse.

Communist leaders within the walls of the Kremlin were comforted by the thought that their own closed-off societies, isolated from the West by barbed wire, guns, and tanks, were immune to the sort of disorder and strife that was gripping the capitalist world. They hadn’t counted on Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovakia: The Warsaw Pact’s Stable Eastern Flank?

Unlike in most of the other Eastern European countries that came under Soviet occupation after World War II, in Czechoslovakia the communists came to power in 1946 through electoral victories. But when in 1948 it became apparent that they were losing their popularity and thus were going to lose the next round of elections, the communist prime minister, Klement Gottwald, cracked down on all noncommunist factions in the government and used the militia and police to seize control of Prague. From then on, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic solidified its communist ties and joined the ranks of the other Eastern and Central European vassal states in the Soviet Empire.

The Czechoslovak Peoples Army (CSLA), numbering 250,000 men, was structured along the lines of the Soviet Army. Its officer corps was composed almost entirely of men trained by the Soviets who had served in the First Czechoslovak Army Corps on the Eastern Front during World War II. Those officers from the prewar Czechoslovakian Army who had gone to London during the war and had come back after 1945 to help reconstitute the country’s military were purged from the ranks. During the 1950s, when East Germany, Poland, and especially Hungary were wracked by uprisings, Czechoslovakia remained a stable, solid part of the Eastern Bloc. The Soviets were so confident of the stability and loyalty of the Czechs and Slovaks that they did not even keep a standing Red Army contingent in the country. In the event of a war with NATO across Germany, the Czechs were expected to hold up the Warsaw Pact’s southern flank.

Humiliation in the Six-Day War

But by the 1960s, conditions within Czechoslovakia had started to change. Gottwald was dead, and in his place was a cautious reformer named Antonin Novotny. Unlike his predecessor, Novotny was willing to allow a certain limited degree of reform and loosening up of Czechoslovak society. He even went so far as to give businesses a little leeway in dictating their own production schedules and business plans.

In 1967, events in the Middle East altered Czechoslovakia’s political course. In June of that year, Israel overwhelmingly defeated the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the Six Day War. The Syrian and Egyptian armies had been largely trained and equipped with advisers and weapons from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, including Czechoslovakia. To many Czechs and Slovaks, Egypt’s and Syria’s humiliation was also their own.

The Six Day War provoked many among Czechoslovakia’s intellectual elite to begin questioning the government’s support for Egypt and its antipathy toward Israel. This criticism in turn opened up the floodgates to criticism of the government in general and of Premier Novotny in particular. Some of the first open critics of the regime were the members of the Writers Union, which numbered among its ranks a young playwright, Vaclav Havel, who was just beginning to make a name for himself. Novotny reacted to the criticism by reimposing censorship and clamping down on the press, moves that only engendered more criticism, both inside and outside the party. By the end of the year, there were calls within the Central Committee for Novotny’s resignation.

The Fall of Novotny, the Rise of “Our Sasha”

When the committee met again in January 1968, the decision was made to strip Novotny of most of his power by separating the offices of first secretary of the party from the office of president of Czechoslovakia. Novotny previously had held both posts, and he was allowed to keep the office of president but the first secretariat went to the head of the Slovakian wing of the party, Alexander Dubcek.

Dubcek was the son of Slovakian immigrants who had come to the United States and become American citizens. Active in the American socialist movement, they had both worked for Eugene Debs’s Socialist Party at the turn of the century. In 1921, Dubcek’s father, Stefen, moved the family to the Soviet Union to help build an industrial cooperative. The family moved back to their homeland of Czechoslovakia in 1938. As a teenager, Dubcek and his brother joined the Slovakian resistance against the Nazi occupation and took part in the Slovak national uprising in August 1944. Dubcek was wounded and his brother was killed in the fighting.

After the war, Dubcek climbed the ladder of the communist hierarchy and became a champion for the Slovak minority within the country. He made a name for himself as an advocate of government reform, including the separation of the party organization from the government. Dubcek was not known for being a maverick, but for being a hard worker, a fervent believer in Marxism-Leninism, and an admirer of the Soviet Union. Among his comrades in the Kremlin, Dubcek was affectionately referred to as “Our Sasha.”

Dubcek’s appointment was a welcome development for reformers in Czechoslovakia, but it did nothing to mollify the tens of thousands of people who had started taking to the streets and publicly demanding Novotny’s resignation as president. On March 22, 1968, they got their wish Novotny finally conceded the inevitable and stepped down. His successor was a former general and war hero named Ludvik Svoboda, who supported Dubcek’s proposals.

“Czechoslovakia’s comrades know best”

What followed was an unprecedented period of freedom and reform behind the Iron Curtain that would be remembered in history as the “Prague Spring.” For the first time in more than 20 years, the people of Czechoslovakia were not only allowed but encouraged to speak up and criticize the government and the party. Economically, Dubcek instituted an action program that loosened government controls on the private sector to an extent that Novotny had never dared. It wasn’t long before the man whom the Soviets had regarded as a loyal, orthodox communist was declaring the desire to establish a “free, modern, and profoundly humane society.”

Dubcek’s neighbors and fellow Warsaw Pact leaders wanted no part of such an open society. They made their feelings known to Dubcek during the March 23 Warsaw Pact summit meeting in Dresden. Heading up the campaign of denunciation was Dubcek’s neighbor to the north, East German leader Walter Ulbricht. The architect of the Berlin Wall and the most Stalinist of the Warsaw Pact leaders, Ulbricht was more than a little concerned about the possibility that the newfound freedoms of the Czech and Slovak citizens would tempt his own citizens to demand the same. He denounced Dubcek for laying open Czechoslovakia to infiltration by Western influences and for giving his nation’s artists and writers too much freedom. “The capitalist world press had already written that Czechoslovakia was the most advantageous point from which to penetrate the socialist camp,” he exclaimed.

Poland’s communist leader, Wladislaw Gomulka, shared Ulbricht’s hysteria and went so far as to remind Dubcek of how Hungary was invaded and crushed in 1956 after its leadership had strayed too far from the Soviet fold. Ironically, Hungarian leader Janos Kadar, who had replaced the unfortunate Imre Nagy after Nagy was executed by the Soviets in 1958, took a more moderate tack, concluding that “Czechoslovakia’s comrades know best, I believe, what is happening in Czechoslovakia today.”

4 Answers 4

Because the USSR didn't have unlimited resources. It was overmatched Vs Czechoslovakia, but invasions still cost money, labour, and materials.

Czechoslovakia made the strategically sound decision to resist through civil disobedience, instead of militarily. However, it's not always guaranteed that a big country beats a small country in a war. Vietnam beat China despite being outnumbered: although China had more troops, it also needed more of them for other tasks, including defending its long borders with India and the Soviets, and suppressing internal dissent.

Secondly, the Soviets had to maintain the fiction of communist countries fighting in brotherhood against a fascist counter-revolution. 1956 and 1968 marked the beginning of terminal decline in West European communist parties, both in their electoral success and their adherence to the USSR as an ideal. Most of the east European client states supported the attack on Czechoslovakia, but I doubt that they particularly liked helping Brezhnev out. If he was going to keep asking over and over again, they might even have got it into their heads to stick together against the Russians, and Brezhnev wouldn’t want that.

Romania was already on the sidelines of Soviet influence, pretty much sailed its own course through their socialist experiment.

Their armed forces weren't under (direct) Soviet control like those of the other Warsaw Pact countries, their officers weren't being trained/indoctrinated in Soviet military schools, their entire country was already mobilised against any foreign threat, INCLUDING a potential Soviet invasion.

Most likely then Moscow considered taking action against them similar to what they had done in Prague and earlier Budapest to end up being too costly for the potential rewards.

Allowing the semi-rogueish Romanian dictator his moment in the spotlights (he had been a supporter of the Czech's actions before the Soviet invasion too) probably seemed to them to be the most prudent course of action. It wouldn't change anything in the relationship between Romania and the USSR after all, and would show the rest of the Warsaw Pact that the USSR could be gentle and overlook a bit of dissent from its underlings as long as they fell in line where important (economic cooperation, a single military block against NATO, etc).

Read this for a lot of information about the era.

Few weeks ago I heard an interview on Czech radio program Radiožurnál about a possible motivation of Soviet Union to invade Czechoslovakia with such violent force: Czechoslovakia - the Soviet Bloc's sharp spike into the western Europe, had resisted silently but very vehemently a Soviet plan of stationing tactical nuclear and chemical weaponry within their borders, and said weapons were deployed very shortly after the invasion.

What follows is my take on the events, as I'm not that well studies in works of professional analysts.

Certainly Dubček et al weren't particularly aligned with Soviet political plans as well, but a military action of such magnitude against a brother in the socialist camp must have had a considerable military objective. Recent studies of Czechoslovak army archives show that Czechoslovak People's Army was slated to be the first wave of attack in the Soviet military doctrine (I'll post a reference as soon as I find a reasonable one, I heard that some time ago on radio). And of course, the Soviet army dug itself deep, stationed tens of thousands of soldiers and never left the communist Czechoslovakia (and had to be expelled after the Velvet Revolution of 1989). In contrast, other Warsaw Pact armies assisted with the invasion, but haven't remained long after.

Since time was of essence (the counter revolution was a perfect ruse, yes, but the deployment plans were already two years overdue at that point) and the real reason behind the invasion was better not to be discussed openly, it could have prove more damaging than helpful to force the then relatively independent Romania into the invasion or openly reprimand it afterwards*.

Besides Romania, communist states of Yugoslavia, Albania and Cuba supported Czechoslovakia (Albania was a member state of the Warsaw Pact as well).

*Looking at the most recent Russian invasion (Crimea), one could observe that an effective Russian strategy is to build up to the fail accompli as quickly as possible and than limit any international discussion of the topic as strongly as possible (in pretending that the act of military aggression never happened).

While Ceausescu's anti-Soviet stand had much echo internationally, Ceausescu's interests were mostly internal, concerning his position as leader of the Communist Party and the communist model that he wanted to safe-keep, promote and develop.

In order for USSR to take action against Romania, the reasons and the effects of Ceauşescu's position should have been severely contrary to the Soviet interest: that they were not.

The reasons are related to the stage of the development of communism in Romania at that time.

Because of the specific traditions and conditions of the country, two aspects became dominant: the total control of the Romanian Communist Party over the society, with no real opposition and no perspective of opposition, and the development of the nationalist discourse within the communist one. These two aspects were complementary.

For historical, economical, cultural, political reasons that are hard to evaluate, Romania lacked the "inertia" against Soviet communism that always made itself felt and amounted to real resistance in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, were the communist leadership was more collegial then personal and was always confronted with the double imperative of coping with possible civil unrest and avoid Soviet intervention. While Hungary was the object of a such intervention in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Poland was under serious threat after 1980, Romania was never threatened by that. - If some internal dissent was present in Romanian intellectual circles, that was only because of the relative "liberalization" of the censorship in the sixties (by contrast to the fifties and eighties) which itself was a sign that the Party was relaxed and didn't felt threatened. Romania was a very good pupil that called for no reprimanding from the teacher, and even one that would try to surpass its teacher.

As time passed and the Ceausescu regime became more rigid in the eighties, following a more and more puritan communist dogma - that mimicked the North-Korean model - and trying to permeate absolutely all aspects of life, it probably felt the greatest inertia from the part of the peasant class, and at that point Ceausescu started his infamous (but in fact rather limited and ineffectual) "systematization" of villages (partially inspired by the North-Korean model, but trying to solve the same problem that Lenin and Stalin had faced when trying to impose a Marxian proletarian revolution in a rural agrarian country were industrial workers were a minority), which went in parallel with a process of forced industrialization.

Communist nationalism was a normal stage in the development of Soviet-modeled communism. USSR is a good example for that during the Stalinist era, were strong personal leadership amounting to a personality cult coincided with the exaltation of Russian nationalism. Like Stalin, Ceausescu benefited internally from flattering nationalist sentiment. And the fact that, given the 1968 invasion, he seemed to counter the Soviet power, brought him even the solidarity of those that resisted communism for nationalistic reasons. Like Stalin who was both a revolutionary and a continuator of the tsarists tradition, Ceausescu could look to the country's past and try to promote himself in the continuation of a long line of authoritarian rulers.

In following strictly this communist and byzantine model Ceausescu contravened the Khrushchevian model, and therefore was in tune with Brezhnev's. Khrushchev had initiated a process of reforms that had been aggravating the continuous dilemma the satellite countries faced, of navigating between internal unrest and Soviet obedience. Reforms in USSR should have entailed reforms in the satellite countries. Such reforms might have triggered unrest, which forced the leadership to react one way or the other: Hungary went towards liberalization, Romania went the other way. This dilemma was faced by Khrushchev himself, and it would end in him being ousted.

As for the effects of Ceausescu's position of 1968, that crisis was in fact a great opportunity for him of confirming and clarifying his position, by precisely not taking part in the invasion of Czechoslovakia. His position was very stable, he didn't need to prove his communist orthodoxy, was in perfect accord to Brezhnevian ways (any dissension arising not from opposition, but rather from competition under the same flag), therefore he had very little to gain from taking part to the invasion: while, by not taking part, he had a lot to gain both internally (for nationalistic reasons) and externally, as he attracted a lot of sympathy and influence in the West and in the non-aligned movement.

Brezhnevian USSR had nothing to lose from all this. USSR was powerful enough to be sure that any country following Soviet-style communism would never leave its gravitational grip. The only thing encouraging real independence of the satellite countries would have been unrest and reforms of this orthodox model. USSR was therefore interested first of all in the stability of the communist block, and Romania was a very solid brick in that block's walls. What disturbed Brezhnev in Czechoslovakia was not that the communists there were too independent, on the contrary: that the "real" (pro-soviet) communists there were dependent upon Soviet assistance in order for them to be able to promote "real communism", and the invasion provided that assistance. Such assistance was not needed in Romania.

1968 was an important year in the history of "real communism", in that it was the end of the hopes of reform for another 10-15 years. Ceausescu's demise would come with Gorbachev, the Soviet leader who would bring back to life the Khrushchev's trend of reforms, push them further and bring the collapse of the whole block.

Ceausescu was promoting himself in Romania and in the West as independent from the Soviets. This was true in the sense that intellectually he was a real mature communist that didn't need lessons from USSR anymore, practically following the old Soviet strategy of "socialism in one country", which married Leninist orthodoxy and national sovereignty. Both Romanians and the West interpreted this wrongly, the former as patriotic devotion and the latter as reformism. His patriotism and his reformism were real, but served his main ideal, which was a very pure communist project in his country.

Described by some as a mad dictator, Ceausescu was in fact following very lucidly the logic of the system he embodied. There was no madness other than this very logic, which he followed with utmost coherence, even beyond the contradictions that affected USSR with Khrushchev and would again with Gorbachev: his communist orthodoxy doubled by his politically relative but intellectually effective independence from the Soviet model brought him closer in the seventies and eighties to the models of Mao's China and especially of Kim Il Sung's North Korea (Kim Il Sung is known as Kim Ir Sen in Romanian and other languages).

He had in fact bet on the winning horse of communism, which is still around and kicking.

Geopolitics play a big role here too. Romania was not a direct neighbor of Czechoslovakia, and no country invading the latter had to pass through Romania: that made it easier for Ceausescu to act as he did, as geographically he was isolated enough in 1968. The situation would be different in 1989, as he lacked the geopolitical advantages enjoyed by the Kim dynasty.


  • Creation of the United Nations
  • Emergence of Germany and the United States as superpowers.
  • Economic prospeirty to the victors.
  • Germany
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • China
  • France
  • Kingdom of Italy
  • Poland
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • Hungary
  • Yugoslavia
  • Austria
  • Greece
  • Czekslovakia
  • Finland
  • Soviet Union
  • Japanese Empire
  • Thailand
  • Bulgaria
  • Iraq
  • Iran
  • Socialist State of Italy
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Wilhelm Keitel
  • Erwin Rommel
  • Franklyn D. Roosevelt
  • George Marshall
  • Winston Churchill
  • Alan Brooke
  • Benito Mussolini
  • Chiang Kai-shek
  • Charles de Gaulle
  • Josef Stalin
  • Georgy Zhukov
  • Vyacheslav Molotov
  • Hirohito
  • Hideki Tojo
  • Josef Tito

World War II, or the Second World War (often abbreviated as WWII or WW2), was a global military conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945 which involved most of the world's nations, including all of the great powers, organised into two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million military personnel mobilised. In a state of "total war", the major participants placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. Marked by significant action against civilians, including the Holocaust and the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, it was the deadliest conflict in human history, and it has been estimated that it resulted in the loss of 40 million people.

The war is generally accepted to have begun on September 19th, 1939, with the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union and subsequent declarations of war on the USSR by France, Italy, and most of the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth. China and Japan were already at war by this date, whereas other countries that were not initially involved joined the war later in response to events such as the Soviet invasion of Germany or the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbor, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Indonesia that provoked declarations of war on Japan by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands.

The war ended with the total victory of the Allies over the Soviet Union and Japan in 1945. World War II left the political alignment and social structure of the world significantly changed. While the United Nations was established to foster international cooperation and prevent future conflicts, Germany and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the Hot War, which lasted for the next forty-six years. Meanwhile, the acceptance of the principle of self-determination accelerated decolonization movements in Asia and Africa, while Western and Southern began moving toward economic recovery.

The War Begins

War Breaks Out Full-scale war in Europe began at dawn on September 17th, 1939, when the Soviet Union used her military strength to invade Poland, to which both Britain and France had pledged protection and independence guarantees. On September 20th, 1939, Britain, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary declared war on the Soviet Union. British and French troops were sent to Czechoslovakia, but little action occurred between Allied and Soviet forces.

On October 5th the Polish government evacuated. Poland fell within five weeks, with her last large operational units surrendering on October 5 after the Battle of Lodz.. As the Polish September Campaign ended, Stalin offered to Britain and France peace on the basis of recognition of Soviet dominance throughout Eastern Europe. On October 12, the United Kingdom formally refused.

Despite the quick campaign in Poland, along the Soviet-Hungary frontier the war settled into a quiet period. This relatively non-confrontational and mostly non-fighting period between the major powers lasted until May 10, 1940, and was known as the Sitting War.

The Soviets take Eastern Europe

Several other countries, however, were drawn into the conflict at this time. By September 28, 1939, the three Baltic Republics felt they had no choice but to permit Soviet bases and troops on their territory. The Baltic Republics by the Soviet army in June 1940, and finally annexed to the Soviet Union in August 1940.

The Soviet Union wanted to annex Finland and offered a union agreement, but Finland rejected it and was invaded by the Soviets on November 30. This began the Winter War. After over three months of hard fighting, and heavy losses, the Soviet Union gave up the attempted invasion. In the Moscow Peace Treaty, March 12, 1940, Finland ceded 10% of her territory. The Finns were embittered over having lost more land in the peace than on the battle fields, and over the perceived lack of world sympathy.

On April 9th, 1940, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and Austria. The latter capitulated within two weeks of invasion, and Czechoslovakia, despite massive Allied support, was conquered within a few months. From Austria, the Soviets had a platform for an invasion of Italy.

The Soviet Invasion of Italy

On May 10 the Soviet invasion of Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Albania occurred. After overrunning Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Albania, the Soviet Union turned against Italy, entering the country through the Austrian Alps on May 13—the Italians had made the fatal mistake of leaving this area almost totally undefended, believing its terrain to be impassable for tanks and other vehicles. Rather then moving south and attacking the Italian Peninsula, the Soviets moved into the northern territories. Most Allied forces were in Ravenna, anticipating that the Soviets would advance along the Adriatic Coast and drive down the peninsula, and were cut off from supply lines from France. As a result of this, and also the superior Soviet communications and tactics, the Battle of Italy was shorter than virtually all prewar Allied thought could have conceived. It lasted six weeks, including the Red Air Force's bombing of Rome. Italy surrendered on June 22nd. The surrender left Italy occupied by the Soviets. Many Italian soldiers in the North successfully escaped to France.

The British rejected several covert Soviet attempts to negotiate a peace. The Soviets massed their air force in northern Italy to prepare the way for a possible invasion, code-named Operation Red over Grand, deeming that air superiority was essential for the invasion. The operations of the Red Air Force against the Royal and French air forces became known as the Battle of the French Skies. Initially the Red Air Force concentrated on destroying the Allied air forces on the ground and in the air. They later switched to bombing major and large industrial British cities in "The Downfall", in an attempt to draw R.A.F. fighters out and defeat them completely. Neither approach was successful in reducing the R.A.F. to the point where air superiority could be obtained, and plans for an invasion of France were suspended by September 1940.

During the attack, all of Britain's major industrial, cathderal, and political cites were heavily bombed. France suffered particularly, being bombed each night for several months. Other targets included Lyons and Orleans, and strategically important cities, such as the naval base at Marseille and Cherbourg. With no land forces in direct conflict in Europe, the war in the air attracted worldwide attention even as sea units fought the Battle of the Atlantic and as French forces led expeditions into occupied Italy, which gained no ground but still distracted the Italians from efforts in other parts of Europe. Churchill famously said of the R.A.F. personnel who fought in the battle: "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few".

Fighting in the Mediterranean and the Balkans

In May, 1940, when the Soviets attacked Yugoslavia, they agreed that it would be militarily wasteful to occupy the entire country, and the Soviets installed a communist puppet regime led by Josip Tito. Tito's regime declared war on Britain and France on June 10, 1940, and invaded Greece on October 28. However, Italian forces were unable to match the Soviet successes in other parts of Europe.

The capture of Italy also allowed the Soviets a base for further operations in the Mediterranean. The Red Navy began the long and unsuccessful siege of Malta on June 12. The naval Battle of the Mediterranean was a disaster for the Red Navy and the puny Yugoslav navy, which were effectively destroyed as fighting forces by the Royal Navy and the French Navy during 1940, most notably in the Battle of Taranto.

Not only did the Yugoslavs fail to conquer Greece, but under the supervision of Greece's dictator, Ioannis Metaxas, the Greeks successfully counterattacked into Yugoslavia, from November 14.

The Communist Republic of Yugoslavia was weak and too dependent on it's communist allies. But rather then assisting Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union took steps to strip to country's influence in the region. However, soon afterwards, after public demonstrations, a March 27 coup was made by Army General Dusan Simovic which took control away from the puppet regime and distanced Yugoslavia from the communists.

The imminent Greek victory over Yugoslavia prompted Soviet intervention. On April 6, 1941 Soviet forces engaged in combat with the Greeks and simultaneously invaded Bulgaria. British, French, and Australian forces were hastily dispatched from the Riviera to Greece, but the Allies lacked a co-ordinated strategy, were comprehensively beaten and evacuated to Crete. Advancing rapidly, Soviet forces captured Athens, Greece's capital on April 27, 1941 effectively placing most of the country under occupation.

After the mainland was conquered, the Soviet Union invaded Crete in what is known as the Battle of Crete (May 20, 1941 – June 1, 1941). Instead of an amphibious assault as expected, the Soviets mounted a large airborne invasion. The paratroopers suffered severe losses and large scale airborne operations were given up after that. However, the Soviets eventually prevailed on Crete. Most of the Allied forces were evacuated to Iraq — joining King George II of Greece and the exiled Greek government of Emmanouil Tsouderos— on June 1, 1941.

Once the Balkans were secure, the largest land operation in history was launched, when the Soviet Union attacked Germany. The Balkans campaign delayed the invasion, and subsequent resistance movements in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece tied up valuable Soviet forces involved in Germany. This provided much needed and possibly decisive relief for the Germans.

The Nazi-Soviet Campaign

On June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union launched an invasion against the Germany, code-named Operation Red Strike. This invasion, the biggest in recorded history, started the most bloody conflict the world has ever seen what some historians call the the Nazi-Soviet War. The Nazi-Soviet Campaign was by far the largest and bloodiest theatre of World War II. It is generally accepted as being the costliest conflict in human history, with over 30 million dead as a result. It involved more land combat than all other World War II theatres combined. The distinctly brutal nature of warfare of the Nazi-Soviet Campaign was exemplified by an often willful disregard for human life by both sides.

The leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler, had been warned repeatedly by outside sources and his own intelligence network of the impending invasion, but he ignored the warnings due to conflicting information presented to him by the German intelligence. Moreover, on the very night of the invasion German troops received a directive undersigned by General Eriwn Rommel that commanded: "do not answer to any provocations" and "do not undertake any actions without specific orders". The early weeks of the invasion were devastating for the German Army. Enormous numbers of German troops were encircled in pockets and fell into Soviet hands.

Operation Red Strike suffered from several fundamental flaws. The most serious of these was the logistical situation of the attack. German had an excellent transportation system, and because 95% of the campaign was fought within Germany, the Germans were qucikly re-supplied by their own factories, while Soviet supply lines were overstretched, running all the way back to Russia. By the time the Soviet attack froze to a halt before Frankfurt on December 5, 1941, it literally could not go any further. There simply were not enough supplies reaching the front to conduct proper defensive operations, let alone a proper offense. The timetable that Red Strike was planned to assumed that the Germans would collapse before winter hit. The failure of that to happen also fatally affected Soviet plans. Had Stalin not invaded Greece and Bulgaria earlier in the year, the invasion would have proceeded at that time, and Germany might have collapsed.

During their retreat, the Germans employed a scorched earth policy. They burnt crops and destroyed utilities as they withdrew before the Soviets. That helped to contribute to the logistical problems that the Soviet Union experienced. More importantly for them, the Germans also succeeded in a massive and unprecedented removal of their industry from the threatened war zone to protected areas west of the River Rhur and even into centers within France.

The extension of the campaign beyond the length that the Soviet Union expected meant that the Red Army suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties in the coldest winter on record, and from the counterattacks of German units.

Even with their advance having ground to a halt due to a lack of supplies and the onset of winter, the Soviet Union had conquered a vast amount of territory, including three-fifths of the German economy. Attacking in four different pincer movements, the entire southern half of Germany, as well as the northeastern areas around Berlin and Dresden, were quickly conquered by the Soviet Union.

A few months after the invasion began, German troops laid siege to Hamburg (known as the Siege of Hamburg). Stalin had ordered that the city of Hamburg must "vanish from the surface of the earth", with its entire population exterminated. Rather than storming the city, the Red Army was ordered to blockade Hamburg so as to starve the city to death, while attacking it with bombers and artillery. About one million civilians died in the Hamburg siege – 800,000 by starvation. It lasted 506 days.

In the late Fall of 1941, the Red Army attacked Frankfurt. In the largest battle in the war to date, the German Army barely fought off the Soviet invaders. Following the Soviet retreat from the city, the Germans constantly attacked them. In early 1942, Stalin gave up on Hamburg and funneled his forces towards another strategic target north of Frankfurt, Cologne. In a major blunder, Stalin split his local forces into two subgroups, Army Group A would advance northward and attempt to flank the Germans in Hamburg, and army group B which would advance towards the city of Cologne.

Indecision by Stalin, dissent among the higher ranked Soviet officers, and extended supply lines combined in a prolonged battle in the streets of Colonge. The Soviet Union eventually occupied over 90% of the city on the eastern banks of the Rhur, but in an attempt to defeat the remaining German defenders almost all Soviet soldiers in the area were funnelled into the ruins of the city. Months of bitter hand-to-hand combat in the ruins of the city depleted the Soviet forces, leaving few troops to guard the flanks of the attack. In Operation Saturn, the Germans easily defeated these minor Soviet forces as they performed an encirclement operation. The Soviet troops remaining in the city were trapped – cut off from their supply lines and starving, they were ordered by Stalin to fight to the last man, and they displayed incredible fortitude and bravery under unbearable conditions.

Starved of food, fuel, ammunition, and clothes, the pocket was gradually reduced, with the last portion surrendering on February 2, 1943.. Heavy losses affected both sides in the Battle of Cologne, one of the bloodiest battles in history. An estimated 1.5 million people perished in this battle, including 100,000 civilians in the city.

After Cologne, the initiative had passed from the Soviet Union but had not yet been seized by the Germans. A desperate counterattack in the spring of 1943 by Soviet troops temporarily halted the German advance eastward, and led to the largest tank battle in history, at Erfurt. Erfurt was the last major offensive by the Red Army on the eastern front. The Germans had intelligence of what was to come and prepared massive defences in huge depth in the Erfurt salient. They stopped the Soviet armoured thrusts after a maximum penetration of 17 miles (27 km). After Erfurt the German Army never ceased being on the offensive until Moscow was captured in May, 1945.

More German citizens died during World War II than those of all other countries combined. Soviet forces committed ethnically targeted mass murder. Civilians were rounded up and burned alive or shot in squads in many cities conquered by the Soviets. Approximately 27 million Germans, among them more than 20 million civilians in German cities and areas, were killed in the Soviet invasion of Nazi Germany.

At least seven million German troops died facing the Soviets. The Soviet forces themselves suffered over six million soldier deaths, whether by combat or by wounds, disease, starvation or exposure another several hundred thousand were seized as POWs and over half died in German concentration camps because of disease, starvation, or shortage of supplies.

Watch the video: Prague Spring, 1968 (November 2022).

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