Alexander Dubcek - a legacy re-visited

Alexander Dubček, foto: ČTK

On Monday Alexander Dubcek, the main political actor of the the attempt to reform the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia during the famous Prague Spring, would have turned 85. Dubcek was killed in a car accident in 1992. Though still regarded as a symbol of the fight for democracy, Dubcek has seen his image tarnished a bit in recent years with historians remembering that in fact he was, and died a communist at heart. Anca Dragu reports.

Alexander Dubcek, photo: CTK
Alexander Dubcek talking to people after his return from Moscow in August 1968, just a few days after the Prague spring was crushed under the tracks of Soviet tanks. In Moscow he was forced to sign a document that, historians say, threw Czechoslovakia into the dark years of so called normalization, meaning a harsh period of indoctrination and communist propaganda. Some historians say that Dubcek, the reformer trying to create "communism with a human face" for the sake of people, simply tried to save his own skin in Moscow. Dubcek's son Pavol rejects such criticism.

"I think that today's critics do not really understand what was the political atmopshere at that time. It was hard and of course he had to save his own skin too. I don't know whether people really understand what it meant to have your fate in Brezhnev's hands. Most of the leaders got scared and gave up."

In fact Dubcek had been a communist all his life. Born in Uhrovec in today's Slovakia and raised in the Kyrgyz republic of the Soviet Union as a member of the Esperantist industrial cooperative Interhelpo, Alexander Dubcek joined the Communist Party of Slovakia during WWII. Afterwards, he steadily rose through the ranks of this party, reaching the Central Committee in 1955 and even graduating from the Moscow Political College three years later.

The Czechoslovak economy in the 1960s was in serious decline and Alexander Dubcek was among those challenging First Secretary Antonín Novotný at a Central Committee meeting. Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet premier withheld his support for Novotny and Dubcek became the new first secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia on January 5, 1968. Afterwards, history records the famous attempt to reform the system, called the Prague Spring. Jiri Paroubek the former Czech prime minister and current leader of the Czech Social Democratic Party..

"I was 16 at the time of the Prague Spring in 1968 so I remember the events quite well. Dubcek was a great personality. He was the one who brought hope to millions of people. We believed that he could bring democracy to Czechoslovakia"

Alexander Dubcek
Dubcek returned to Prague and retained his post as the Communist Party's first secretary for a while. He was later made ambassador to Turkey before being expelled from the party in 1970. He was elected speaker of the Federal Assembly on December 28, 1989. He died in November 1992 following injuries sustained during a car accident. Rumours circulated at that time that the accident was actually an assasisnation attempt at the hands of the former communist secret police. Sociologist Ludmila Benkovicova...

"Surveys show that even now almost 50 percent of Slovaks believe that the accident was not genuine. People reject the conclusion of the official investigation which did not confirm the assasination theory. They are sure that Dubcek was killed because he was fighting for the interests of Slovaks and Slovakia within Czechoslovakia."

Alexander Dubcek was buried in Slavicie Udolie, in Bratislava.