Personality

Dubček – One Underestimated Man

Published: 22. 4. 2020
Author: Peter Weiss
Photo: wikimedia.org - Petr Zelizňák, Czech Television - We Are With You, Be With Us
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At the time of commemorating the 30th anniversary of the fundamental political and social change brought by 17th November 1989, an attentive observer of the Czech and Slovak political and journalistic scene must have noticed that the role of Alexander Dubček in the events of November 1989 got pushed into the background somehow.

Few realise, that was Alexander Dubček who joined vigorously the erupting revolutionary political events in Slovakia and the then Czechoslovak Socialist Republic as early as on 14th November 1989.

As Miroslav Kusý recollects, on the final day of the trial with the "Bratislava Five", when he went to inform the crowd in front of the Bratislava Justice Palace, "Dubček accompanied him and the gathered mass of people began to spontaneously calling at him to say something. They lifted him onto their shoulders and he spoke from there, talking about political rights and freedoms, thus on a subject related to the process. As Kusý said, it was "actually the first political speech at a public manifestation, marking the very beginning of the revolutionary changes in Slovakia in November 1989".

 

At Albertov, shoulder to shoulder with students

It was symbolic that Alexander Dubček attended the students' march at Albertov on the breakthrough day as the only one of the later main political protagonists of the manifestations after 17th of November 1898, and was thus able to personally experience the excited atmosphere of the demonstration of the youth and notice a spontaneous positive interest in himself. Because there were concerns that Alexander Dubček would give a speech, the StB (State Security) detained him and brought him and his companions to the StB station bearing the sign "Palace of Culture", releasing his companions and detaining and questioning him until 9 pm. This was the last action of the StB against Alexander Dubček. However, the intervention was far from gentle. In this context, Václav Slavík said at the Slovak national seminar Roads to November 1989, Activities of Alexander Dubček, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the fall of totalitarianism: "Ten years have already passed since November, but who or what document or speech mentions that it was Alexander Dubček who was the first to be detained by the State Security in Prague on 17th November? " I didn’t notice that this was mentioned at the 30th anniversary of November.

 

His Christmas speech was liberation from fear

Dubček was the one who, according to one of the founders of VPN, helped achieve a psychological breakthrough in the society. Martin Bútora talked about the first large public appearance of the leader of the 1968’s revival process, which took place on the Slovak National Uprising Square on 23th November 1989, as of a big political bomb. What "happened ... with Alexander Dubček descending directly from heaven, ... from non-existence ... because the man had not existed for twenty years, being pushed into the background not only as a politician, but also as a human-being”, having been seen as the VPN leader as a remover of a curse, liberation from fear. Dubček's presence should, according to him, "prove that the public is unquestionably coordinating all the major political components of the opposition against violence. We wanted to show to the party leadership, to that party leadership that had spoken arrogantly to students' representatives the day before ... - that they met with a united opposition ... We just needed to give a clear enough signal of at what expense a violent intervention would be made.”

 

Dubček and Havel as the symbols of the revolution

In other words, the presence and speeches of Alexander Dubček at the meeting at the Slovak National Uprising Square and subsequently at the meetings in Prague were of essential and unmistakable significance for the success of the VPN, but also of the OF, for the achievement of a breakthrough in public opinion and increasing pressure on the leadership of the Communist Party of the Slovak Republic as well as the Communist Party of the Czech Republic. Dubček was an irreplaceable mobilization force that helped fill the squares with people. He symbolized the union of the two basic components of the opposition, represented on the one hand by hundreds of thousands of excluded Communist reformists and their relatives, the most massively restricted in their human rights and bullied, and by the dissidents associated in Charter 77 and the civic movement formed around it on the other hand. This manifested itself in the symbolic and the state-power level by Dubček becoming the President of the Federal Assembly and Václav Havel the President of the Republic. The Civic Forum leader insisted on such a link.

 

He Warned against Jacobin Tendencies

As early as at his first appearance on 23th November, Dubček formulated an important message, which he then repeated in his other public speeches: "In this people’s, civil movement you need to protect your councils from extreme slogans, from tendencies that could lead to confrontations." He stressed that "nothing worse could happen for a new revival". Alexander Dubček made this appeal for peace and moderation despite the fact that he was the best known and guarded political enemy of the normalization regime and the strongest example as well as the symbol of human and political humiliation of a large number of people under the post-occupational normalization regime, and quite naturally, he could long for a revenge. Thanks to this attitude of his, Dubček became, given his great political and emotional influence, re-emerging after twenty years of involuntary political retreat, as one of the key guarantors of the "velvet" or "gentle" nature of the November Revolution, of the rejection of the emerging Jacobin and revanchist tendencies, which was one of the decisive factors in the smooth transfer of power.

 

He grieved over his mistakes for the rest of his life

Because of all this, Dubček became an extremely important and irreplaceable player in November, even despite the fact that in 1968, under brutal Soviet pressure, along with other members of the party and state leadership (with the exception of F. Kriegl), he signed the Moscow Protocol, and that in 1989, also under pressure, he signed the so-called baton law, and that after being removed from his office, he agreed to be sent as Ambassador to Turkey. That time, the crowds gathered in the squares and the leaders of the revolution obviously didn't mind. Dubček was spontaneously accepted as the personification of the hope for a better, more free and democratic society represented by the globally watched and recognized resurgence process in 1968, as well as a martyr defying the normalization regime and refusing to abandon his humanist beliefs. The leaders of the revolution could not ignore his "political mightiness”, as Ján Budaj said in the autumn of 1989, using him willingly as a mobilizing force in November, as a bearer of political consensus and as a political driving force of the VPN in the 1990 parliamentary elections, after the party reaching the electoral threshold in March. Dubček won 92,32% of the preferential votes in the election to the House of Nations of the Federal Assembly in the West Slovak region, while the candidate who came second got only 20.48%. In the percentage of preferential votes, Dubček was overtaken only by the Federal Prime Minister Marián Čalfa, who achieved 92.69%.

 

30 years later it feels like he hasn't existed

However, his three mistakes, which he bitterly regretted which tormented him until the end of his prematurely and tragically ended life, seemed to be a problem 30 years after the revolution in which he was a key player. In various programes and discussions, Dubček's positive role during November 1989 was mentioned just marginally, if at all. Today are discussed mainly his "sins" he committed immediately after the Soviet occupation. There is no room to search for the causes of this political phenomenon; nevertheless, to conclude, allow me just say that a major historical event such as the 17th November 1989 needn’t have to pushed to the background or conceal one of its most important actors after 30 years in order to confirm its importance, as November opened the space for democratic and free political development of Slovak and Czech society.

 

Bronze bust by Ľudmila Cvengrošová. 


ABOUT THE AUTOR

Peter Weiss (born on 7th July, 1952) is a Slovak diplomat. He has been the Ambassador of Slovakia to the Czech Republic since 2013.

He graduated from the School of Arts of Comenius University. From 1975 to 1989, he worked in the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS).

After November 1989, he became Chairman of the KSS. In 1990, he was one of the main initiators of the transformation of the KSS to the Social Democratic Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) and he was its chairman until 1996.

After some disagreements in 2002, he left SDĽ and founded the Social Democratic Alternative (SDA). However, SDA failed in the parliamentary election in 2002 and merged with the party SMER (“Direction”) in 2004.

Between 1990 and 2002, he was a member of the Slovak National Council, being its Vice-Chairman between 1992 and 1994. After retiring from active politics, he worked as a university teacher and published in various media.

He then returned to politics, serving as ambassador in Hungary from 2009 to 2013. Since 2013, he has been Ambassador to the Czech Republic.

He is married for the second time and has two children.

 


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