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Czechoslovakia

 
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Czechoslovakia

A Climate of Orthodoxy

The objectives of normalization were the restoration of firm KSC rule and the reestablishment of Czechoslovakia's position in the socialist bloc. Its result, however, was a political environment that placed primary emphasis on the maintenance of a stable party leadership and its strict control over the population.

A remarkable feature of the KSC leadership under Husak has been the absence of significant changes in personnel. The stability of the leadership during the late 1970s and the first half of the 1980s could be attributed not to unanimity in political opinion but rather to practical compromise among different factions vying to retain their leadership positions. Husak's leadership, then, was based not on any ability he may have had to rally opinion but rather on his skill in securing consensuses that were in the mutual interest of a coalition of party leaders.

Husak led the conservative (sometimes called the "moderate" or "pragmatic") wing of the KSC leadership. An important Slovak communist party functionary from 1943 to 1950, Husak was arrested in 1951 and sentenced to three years--later to life imprisonment- -for "bourgeois nationalism" during the Stalinist purges of the era. Released in 1960 and rehabilitated in 1963, Husak rose to be a deputy prime minister under Dubcek, whom he later denounced, and was named KSC first secretary in April 1969 and president of the republic in July 1975. Above all, Husak has been a survivor who learned to accommodate the powerful political forces surrounding him.

Other prominent conservatives who remained in power in 1987 included Lubomir Strougal, premier of Czechoslovakia; Peter Colotka, premier of the Slovak Socialist Republic; Jozef Lenart, first secretary of the KSS; and Josef Kempny, chairman of the Czech National Council. These leaders generally supported the reforms instituted under Dubcek during the late 1960s but successfully made the transition to orthodox party rule following the invasion and Dubcek's decline from power. Subsequently, they adopted a more flexible stance regarding economic reform and dissident activity.

Opposed to the conservatives within the KSC leadership were the so-called hard-liners. Their leader was Vasil Bil'ak, a Ukrainian from Slovakia who had been a member of the Presidium since 1968 and was chairman of the party's Ideological Commission. Other hard-liners in the top party leadership included Karel Hoffman, a Central Committee secretary and Presidium member; Antonin Kapek, Presidium member; Jan Fojtik, secretary; Alois Indra, Presidium member and chairman of the Federal Assembly (replaced the National Assembly under 1968 federation law); and, on most issues, Milos Jakes, chairman of the Economic Commission and Presidium member. These hard-liners opposed economic and political reforms and took a harsh stand on dissent.

After the 1968 invasion, Husak successfully ruled over what was essentially a coalition of the conservative and hard-line factions within the top party leadership. The method by which he ruled was commonly summed up as "reluctant terror." It involved careful adherence to the Soviet Union's policy objectives and the use of what was perceived as the minimum amount of repression at home necessary to fulfill these objectives and prevent a return to Dubcek-style reformism. As one result, the membership of the KSC leadership has changed very little since 1971. The Sixteenth Party Congress in 1981 reelected the incumbent members of the Presidium and Secretariat and elevated one candidate member, Jakes, to full membership in the Presidium. The Seventeenth Party Congress in 1986 retained the incumbent Secretariat and Presidium and added three new candidate members to the Presidium. In March 1987, Josef Korcak retired from the Presidium and was replaced by Ladislav Adamec. At the same time, Hoffman, a Presidium member, was also appointed a Central Committee secretary.

Popular control during the era of orthodoxy was maintained through various means. Repeated arrests and imprisonment of persons opposing the regime, such as members of Charter 77 and religious activists, continued throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s (see Dissent and Independent Activity , ch. 1). Less coercive controls, such as punishment through job loss, demotion, denial of employment, denial of educational opportunities, housing restrictions, and refusal to grant travel requests, also prevailed.

Another means by which the Husak regime maintained control was to offer considerable consumer gains as a substitute for the loss of personal freedom. Government policies in the first half of the 1970s resulted in high economic growth and large increases in personal consumption. The widespread availability of material goods placated the general populace and promoted overall acceptance of Husak's stringent political controls. During the late 1970s, however, Czechoslovakia's economy began to stagnate, and the regime's ability to appease the population by providing material benefits diminished.

Although the Husak regime succeeded in preserving the status quo in Czechoslovakia for nearly two decades, it faced in the 1980s both internal and external pressures to reform. Domestically, poor economic performance hindered the government's ability to produce the goods needed to satisfy consumer demands (see Economic Policy and Performance , ch. 3). Pressure for political change continued from activists representing, for example, the Roman Catholic Church and the Charter 77 movement. Externally, Czechoslovakia struggled to find a suitable response to the changes introduced by the new leadership in Moscow. The 1985 election of Mikhail Gorbachev as general secretary of the CPSU precipitated a wave of personnel changes in the Soviet party apparatus and a strong emphasis on exploring new ways to stimulate economic growth. Czechoslovakia's initial response to the reformist trends in the Soviet Union focused on voicing public support for Gorbachev's new programs while steadfastly avoiding introducing similar programs within Czechoslovakia. However, in early 1987, on the eve of Gorbachev's visit to Prague, Husak announced that Czechoslovakia was preparing to implement widespread reforms patterned after the Soviet "restructuring" (perestroika) campaign. The Czechoslovak leader did not specify what the reforms might include, but his announcement suggested a significant departure from previous policy and represented an apparent victory for the pro-reform, "pragmatic" wing of the KSC.

Data as of August 1987

Czechoslovakia - TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Government and Politics


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