Lying between the Germans and the Russians, the Czechoslovak
state has had its political life in modern times determined, to a
considerable extent, by geopolitical factors. In the 1980s,
Czechoslovakia continued to demonstrate subservience to the
policies of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in
domestic and especially in foreign affairs.
Czechoslovakia's political alignment with the Soviet Union
began during World War II. In 1945 it was the Soviet Red Army
that liberated Prague from the Nazis. The continued presence of
the Red Army in Czechoslovakia until 1946 facilitated the
communists' efforts to reorganize local government, the militia,
and the Czechoslovak army and to place communists in key
positions. Following the February 1948 coup d'etat in which the
communists seized power, Soviet influence over Czechoslovakia
grew markedly. It was abetted through formal alliances, such as
the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) and the
Warsaw Pact, and through direct intervention, in the 1968
, ch. 1).
In the immediate post-World War II period, many Czechoslovak
citizens supported the alliance with the Soviet Union. They did
not anticipate, however, the rigidities of the Stalinist rule
that followed. The people of Czechoslovakia had known
authoritarian rule and a lack of civil rights during centuries of
domination by the Hapsburgs and under Nazi rule during the war.
But the extent of the repression during the early years of the
rule by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Komunisticka
strana Ceskoslovenska--the KSC) was unprecedented. In the early
1950s, some 900,000 persons were purged from the ranks of the
KSC; about 100,000 were jailed for such political crimes as
"bourgeois nationalism." Antonin Novotny became first secretary
of the KSC in 1953, the year of Stalin's death, and continued to
rule in Stalin's rigidly authoritarian style for fifteen years.
In practice (though not in rhetoric), Novotny ignored Nikita
Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin and made no attempt to
imitate the Soviet Union's decentralization of communist party
rule. A considerable portion of the party hierarchy did take note
of the Soviet decentralization, however. In 1968 they removed
Novotny from power and initiated the Prague Spring
(see The Prague Spring, 1968
, ch. 1).
Data as of August 1987