Wikimedia Commons A man holds up the Czech flag next to burning Soviet tanks.

Lessons of Czechoslovakia

For the third time in a generation-1938, 1948, 1968-Czechoslovakia has transformed the political atmosphere of the civilized world. The eight- month "Prague spring," the Soviet invasion of August 20 and its grim consequences have stirred strong emotions throughout Europe and beyond. Not since the Hitler-Stalin Pact, perhaps, has the outrage at Kremlin policy been so general, embracing Richard Nixon and Herbert Marcuse, Chou En-lai and Josip Broz-Tito, Bertrand Russell and Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Luigi Longo and Paul VI.

However, the Soviet régime has in fact suffered many such "moral defeats," from its dispersal of the All-Russian Constituent Assembly in 1918 to its intervention in Hungary in 1956. It has, then and now, shown less concern for "bourgeois morals" and for "formalistic juridical" concepts of international law than for power. Lenin crystalized its fundamental outlook in the famous question Kto kovo? (Who rules whom?) Stalin asked, "How many divisions has the Pope?" Brezhnev declared on the fiftieth anniversary of Bolshevik rule that Marxism-Leninism was the science of "how to win"-and the Soviet press after the invasion of Czechoslovakia did not hesitate to quote Bismarck: "Whoever rules Bohemia holds the key to Europe."

It is clearly tempting now for the West to consign the Czechoslovak experience to the archives of historical tragedies and lost causes. Yet the West would do so at its own peril. For Soviet conduct in the Czechoslovak crisis has challenged several of the most important assumptions on which Western policy has been tacitly based. These assumptions concern the evolution of communist rule in Russia and its dependencies; such concepts as the status quo and spheres of influence; and the orientation of American policy toward the conflict between Russia and China. These assumptions have never been fully shared by the handful of seasoned experts with thorough personal knowledge of the Soviet Union; but they have nevertheless permeated popular Western opinion and thus, to a large extent, determined the policies of Western governments.


Surely the most striking aspect of the Soviet invasion of

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