• Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home Education International conferences, round tables & festivals Round table - Alexander Dubček, the Czechoslovak Spring and its Historical Legacy in Europe

Round table - Alexander Dubček, the Czechoslovak Spring and its Historical Legacy in Europe

E-mail Print PDF
User Rating: / 0

Round table

Alexander Dubček, the Czechoslovak Spring and its Historical Legacy in Europe

The roundtable "Alexander Dubček, the Czechoslovak Spring and its Historical Legacy in Europe" held after the inauguration of the exhibit on Alexander Dubček in Forlì Tuesday, November 15th, was opened and chaired by Stefano Bianchini, professor of East European history and institutions at the University of Bologna. In his opening remarks Bianchini thanked the Slovak Institute in Rome and its director Peter Krupár, who took the initiative to organize this event. He then gave the floor to the first of the invited scholars, two Slovaks (Stanislav Sikora and Elena Londakova, both from the Slovak Academy of Sciences) and two Italians (Francesco Caccamo from the University of Pescara-Chieti and Francesco Leoncini from the University Ca' Foscari of Venice).

Click to enlarge

Stanislav Sikora (Institute of History, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava) began the session by discussing the various factors that led to the process of reform led by Dubček. The speaker particularly emphasized the economic and market reforms that resulted in widespread de-bureaucratization and triggered a spiral of changes in the political sphere. The rehabilitation of accused persons in 50 false trials was one of the developments that led to the fall of what the speaker termed "the wall of fear". In his discussion of the period of modest liberalization for the party and the regime, which began in 1963 and was called "predjarie" or "period before the Spring", Sikora assessed Dubček's role as first secretary general of the Communist party of Slovakia, which transformed the country into a laboratory of preparation for the Prague Spring, as well as the process which led to Dubček becoming the secretary general of the Czechoslovak Communist party in January, 1968. The Spring, recalled Sikora, represented the danger of destabilization for the other communist countries' regimes, which in the speaker's opinion led to the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact troops. Among the many meanings of the Prague Spring, Sikora underlined its role as a symbol of Czechoslovak society's desire for democracy which it had in the past and was trying to gain back. Dubček's merit for foreign policy, according to him, was his interest in constructing a "common European home", and Dubček, with the help of Italian friends, was the first one to speak about this idea in the Eastern bloc.

Click to enlarge

Then Francesco Caccamo, professor of East European history at the University of Pescara, took the floor. Professor Caccamo focused on the relationship between the Prague Spring and Italy, and in particular the Italian left. According to the speaker the attempt to renew socialism undertaken by Dubček and his "Action Plan" was an experiment that was very favorably looked upon by the Italian left. From the time Dubček was appointed party secretary, his policies were accompanied by manifestations of sincere interest and support by the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and the Italian left in general. The efforts of the Italian left to make Dubček known to the world, along with interviews by Italian journalists all contributed to his being known in the West. After Dubček came to power, Italian communists discovered the existence of a Slovak world alongside the Czech one. While in the period prior to the Spring documents spoke about the Czech party or the Czechoslovak party interchangeably, it was only after Dubček's coming to power that Slovakia's distinctiveness could be perceived. According to Caccamo, this attitude was very different from the PCI's attitude towards dissident intellectuals, which was extremely ambiguous. The speaker emphasized the relationship and dialogue that arose after this moment between the PCI and non-conformist currents that were developing in Czechoslovakia. The relationship between the PCI and the ex-leaders of the Czechoslovak Spring, particular between the PCI and Dubček, was a topic of particular interest to the speaker. After he was marginalized from power, expelled and isolated, Dubček remained the political leader and exponent of the self-proclaimed Czechoslovak socialist opposition. According to Caccamo, this attitude was something very different from the PCI's attitude towards the intellectuals of "dissent", which was extremely ambiguous. Citing episodes from historical documents regarding Dubček in particular, the speaker mentioned the Berlin conference (1976) which saw a decline in relations between Rome, Prague and Bratislava. These relations were then reborn in a new climate after 1985, influenced by Gorbachev's appointment as general secretary of the communist party of the USSR. The consequences of Gorbachev's appointment were felt immediately in Czechoslovakia. Dubček came out of the silence into which he had sought refuge for several years. Dubček's letter to Alessandro Natta, then secretary of the PCI, began a long negotiation process which led to the publication of an interview with Dubček in the communist daily newspaper "L'Unità". Dubček's trip to Italy in 1988 was also part of these initiatives. According to Caccamo, the University of Bologna's initiative to invite Dubček was also part of this general climate, and a sign of openness on the part of the PCI. Noting the importance of Dubček's trip to Italy as the point at which he returned to the international political scene, Caccamo cited testimony of reactions from the Czechoslovak emigree community, representatives of non-socialist and liberal currents, to the possibility of Dubček's or Havel's leadership. In presenting various interpretations of the significance of the return of Dubček's socialist-reformist ideas to the Czechoslovak political scene, Caccamo placed Dubček's search for a third way in the context of the Velvet Revolution and the collapse of the communist system. According to the speaker, the election of Václav Havel as president instead of Dubček demonstrated that Dubček was feared, while the fate of Dubček's ideas was marked by the end of perestroika, and the collapse of Soviet politics.

The last speaker, Francesco Leoncini, professor at the University Ca' Foscari in Venice, dealt with the contemporary significance of Dubček. Leoncini likened the summer of 2011 and the contemporary political atmosphere to the "1989 of capitalism", referring to neo-liberalism as the economic and social model taken up after 1989 by the countries of eastern Europe and Russia (the economic model put into practice by president Reagan which extended throughout the world, based on the principle of "less government and more market, or the market at the center instead of the state and planning") . Recalling the origins of the economic system that deluded the western masses which at the time mobilized to change dictatorial regimes and which incurred strong economic and social growth after World War II, the speaker compared the current recession to "a new 1989", the end of the line for a certain type of economic development centered around the market. According to Leoncini, speaking about Dubček and the Prague Spring means recovering the globalist values of democracy, as socialism is of the same essence as democracy. Considering a third alternative to totalitarianism and democracy, in which democracy is not interpreted as generic freedom, the speaker recalled that social justice implies the redistribution of wealth and political parties that are committed to transforming society in favor of peace on earth. Subsequently the speaker outlined the development of Dubček's thought and his attempt at what had already been the conquest of western socialism. The grand idea of socialism which moved millions of workers and brought great benefits to western countries, according to Leoncini, was best expressed in post World War II France, in a synthesis of Gramscian communist humanistic socialism, Christian social thought and the party-nation. The third title of the first part of the Italian constitution deals with economic relations, and the accent is placed on the social function of private property, aiming for equality. In the speaker's opinion perestroika – the final outcome of the Prague Spring which was unthinkable in a totalitarian system – linked up with the great traditions of western democracy and democratic socialism. By necessity all the political and social forces favored the transformation of Czechoslovak society. According to Leoncini it was Willy Brandt, the West German Chancellor of Ostpolitik, who established a strong relationship Dubček and explicitly referred to his experiment. In concluding his speech on recalling the ties and the comparison of the figure of Dubček and his humanistic vision of democracy with today's problems regarding the conception of the economy and social relations that we are confronted with, the speaker expressed the opinion that recalling this man and what he stood for is the best homage one could make to this leader, for he was not only a Czechoslovak leader, but a European leader.

The roundtable generated great interest on the part of the audience. In closing the event, professor Bianchini thanked the Garzanti Foundation, Punto Europa, the municipality of Forlì, and the Istituto per l'Europa Centro-Orientale e Balcanica which made this event possible, along with the Slovak Embassy and Consulate.

Leonas Tolvaišis
Academic Tutor for MIREES,
Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Research and Studies in Eastern Europe
University of Bologna, Faculty of political science "Roberto Ruffilli", Forlì

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 December 2023 17:00  

Only registered users can comment on articles.


PECOB's call for papers

The Scientific Board of PECOB announces an open call for papers to be published with ISSN 2038-632X

Interested contributors may deal with any topic focusing on the political, economic, historical, social or cultural aspects of a specific country or region covered by PECOB.

Potential contributors must submit a short abstract (200-300 words) and the full text, which can be in English as well as any language from the countries covered by PECOB.

Upcoming deadlines for submitting proposals are:

January 31st, 2012
June 30th, 2012
November 30th, 2012

All texts must comply with PECOB Submission Guidelines (

All proposals, texts and questions should be submitted to Ms Aurora Domeniconi, PECOB Coordinator, at: