1918, 1938, 1948, 1968: The Czech Republic and the "Eight"

Niederschlagung des Prager Frühlings, 1968 / CTK

The Czech Republic and the "Eight"

1918, 1938, 1948, 1968 - several years ending with eight of the 20th century in the Czech Republic were often particularly rich in history.

Even well before the 20th century, an eighth year marked an important turning point in the history of the country, even of Europe as a whole: the Thirty Years' War began on 23 May 1618 with the second defenestration of Prague.


1918: Independence from Austria-Hungary and the founding of Czechoslovakia as a state

300 years later: Another great war had shaken the European continent and thus also Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia - together today's Czech Republic - and Slovakia. In October 1918, with the support of the victorious powers of the First World War, these countries declared their independence as Czechoslovak Republic from the collapsing Austro-Hungarian double monarchy, and an independent free and democratic constitutional state was founded.


1938: The Munich Agreement and the Occupation of the Sudetenland

However, the "First Republic" lasted only twenty years: the National Socialists had come to power in neighbouring Germany. Czechoslovakia, especially the Sudetenland, soon became one of Hitler's goals for aggressive expansion in the East, and the young state was to be destroyed. In order to avoid the escalation of the Sudeten crisis into a military conflict, England and France allowed Hitler to annex the Sudeten German territories in the course of their appeasement policy through the Munich Agreement in September 1938. After the German Reich had occupied Sudetenland, the Wehrmacht marched into the rest of the state in spring 1939, contrary to the Munich Agreement, in order to "smash" the "rest of the Czech Republic. The Czechoslovak Republic disappeared from the map of Europe, the appeasement policy had failed.


1948: The communist seizure of power

After the Second World War, Czechoslovakia was largely rebuilt within the borders of the First Republic. Disappointment with the Western powers as a result of the Munich Agreement on the one hand and the acclaimed liberation by the Red Army on the other led Czechoslovakia to turn increasingly towards the Soviet Union and communism. The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) was elected the strongest party in 1946 and suppressed the non-communists in the country more and more. The democratic parties then protested fiercely; to force new elections, all non-communist ministers resigned in February 1948, the government plunged into crisis. Instead of holding new elections, President Beneš swore in a new cabinet of Communist and pro-Soviet politicians. The so-called "February overthrow" marked the beginning of communist rule in Czechoslovakia, which as a member of the Warsaw Pact from then on submitted to the Stalinist policies of the Soviet Union.


1968: The suppression of the "Prague Spring"

Under Alexander Dubček, who was elected party leader of KSČ in January 1968, the Communist Party began a liberalization and democratization program, the attempt to create a "socialism with a human face", including economic reforms, the abolition of press censorship and a legal strengthening of pluralism, freedom of assembly and expression. Dubčeks Action Programme met with broad public support, especially among students and intellectuals. This period of optimism and a new beginning went down in the history of Czechoslovakia as the "Prague Spring".

It was to remain a brief intermezzo: The reforms went too far for the Soviet block power, CPSU Secretary General Brezhnev sent half a million soldiers of the Warsaw Pact to Czechoslovakia on the night of 21 August 1968, tanks rolled through Prague. Within 48 hours the old conditions were restored by force of arms, the protests and the "Prague Spring" were bloodily crushed.

With this brutal demonstration of power by the Soviet Union, the attempt at democratization in the CSSR and the hopes of the Czechoslovakians were abruptly ended. The rift in the Iron Curtain was to remain closed for another two decades.


1918, 1938, 1948, 1968 - Four years, four caesura in the history of the Czech Republic and in the biographies of its citizens.