During the night of August 20th, 1968, 200,000 Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops, together with 2,000 tanks entered Czechoslovakia to suppress the 6-month period of liberalization known as Prague Spring. They captured the Ruzyně International Airport, and used it to fly in more troops by air. Czech troops were ordered to stay in their barracks, and by the next morning Czechoslovakia was occupied. Ultimately the Soviet forces had over half a million troops, well-armed and with modern equipment, to thwart any resistance to their invasion.
Alexander Dubček had been elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in early January of 1968, and had begun a programme to partly decentralize the county's rigid Communist economy, and to loosen restrictions on travel and allow much more free speech and media freedom, something that never happens in Communist countries. Dubček dubbed it "socialism with a human face".
Most Czech citizens heeded Dubček's call not to resist the invaders. He and many others remembered only too well the brutal and bloody suppression of Hungary's attempt at freedom in 1956, and wanted to avoid the same. All the same, there was passive resistance, with road signs being removed or painted over to confuse the invading forces. Only the ones pointing the way to Moscow were left untouched. Many who could, escaped the country, some 70,000 immediately, and eventually 300,000. Further emigration was stopped by the invading forces.
Most of the reforms were reversed, and In April 1969, Dubček was replaced as first secretary by Gustáv Husák, who continued to remove the remaining freedoms. Dubček was expelled from the party and given a job as a forestry official. Czechoslovakia remained under Soviet control for a further 20 years until the Czech Velvet Revolution of 1989 occurred amid the wave of liberations that spread across Central and Eastern Europe, bringing down the Berlin Wall and ending the Soviet Empire.
Dubček backed the Velvet Revolution of December 1989, and when it succeeded, he was made chairman of the federal assembly under the new Havel government. He died three years later, in a country that now had all the freedoms he had campaigned for, and many more.
The suppression of Prague Spring made it obvious once more that Communism was not about ideology; it was about power. It showed that the party clique who held that power by military force were prepared to use it brutally to maintain their grip. They had put down risings by firing on protesters in East Germany, Poland and Hungary, and now they used it again in Czechoslovakia.
The fact is that people want freedom and they want a better life, neither of which can be attained under Socialism. Any who rebelled against the oppression and deprivation that characterized Socialism in practice were murdered. We do well to remember that when we remember what happened on this day 51 years ago.