(Jan. – Aug. 1968)
After his election as First Secretary of the Communist Party in January 1968, the reformist Dubček proceeded to transform the moribund party and the state system, in order to overcome the discontent and demonstrations created by two decades of economic mismanagement and repressive government. He proposed to end unfair trials, and released or pardoned all those unfairly convicted in political trials. Press censorship ceased in March, travel restrictions eased, and elections to posts within the Communist Party were to become secret. In some ways, he was remarkably successful. Despite enormous dissatisfaction in the country, the hegemony of the Communist Party remained generally uncontested. It is unclear, however, to what extent this would have remained the case in the long run. Most crucially, despite his care to cultivate good relations with Moscow, he completely underestimated the challenge his reforms presented to his neighbours. The Communist Parties of East Germany and Poland had their own problems of legitimacy. Their leadership understood clearly that reforms inspired by the Czech model could well result in the collapse of their Communist systems. Brezhnev refused to contemplate the danger of a collapse within the Warsaw Pact. On 20 August 1968 Soviet troops, aided by units from East Germany, Poland, and other Warsaw Pact members entered the country without resistance from the Czechoslovak army or the population. The Prague Spring was over, and Husák headed a new hardline regime which was to rule the country for another two decades.