Spring's End: 50 Years Since The Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

Spring's End: 50 Years Since The Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

Throughout much of 1968, the government of Czechoslovakia, led by Communist Party chief Alexander Dubček, carried out an extraordinary and fateful experiment.


Believing that more economic, political, and cultural openness would reinvigorate the communist project, Dubček set about constructing what he, and the intellectuals who backed him, called “socialism with a human face.” Censorship eased, more competitive elections were proposed, economic decisions would be cautiously decentralized.

Moscow was incensed. The Kremlin saw Dubček’s idealistic tinkerings with Soviet orthodoxy as an existential threat to the Kremlin’s hold over the Eastern Bloc. And so fifty years ago last night, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev sent half a million troops into Czechoslovakia to snuff out what had become known as “the Prague Spring.” Dubček was arrested and deposed. The Soviets would stick around, heavily resented, for two decades.

Why did it matter back then? The invasion made it clear that no reform of socialism was possible, marking a turning point at which many intellectuals behind the Iron Curtain made the perilous leap into outright opposition. One of those intellectuals was a young Czech playwright named Václav Havel. It would take nearly a quarter of a century for the work of those dissidents to bear fruit, but the seeds were sown in August of 1968.

Why does it matter now? For years the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia confirmed for many in Central Europe that a chronically imperial Russia would never fully respect their sovereignty. After communism fell in 1989, that fear drove them to seek EU and NATO membership. But today, amid growing friction between the region and Brussels over European values and rules, polls show that close to 40 percent of Czechs and Slovaks, along with more than 20 percent of Hungarians and Poles, say Russia can be a valuable partner in pushing back against an overbearing EU.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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