Elite Graduate Program for East European Studies

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Theme portal "Leap into the Unknown − The Prague Spring"

Fifty years ago Alexander Dubček, then First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, attempted to create “socialism with a human face”. This dream, known today as the Prague Spring, collapsed in August 1968 with the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops. The internet portal “Sprung ins Ungewisse – Der Prager Frühling im Spiegel der internationalen Presse” (Leap into the Unknown − The Prague Spring Reflected by the International Press) deals with the reception of this event. It has been published on the Bavarian State Library’s research site Osmikon.

The Prague Spring and the world press

Titelbild Sprung ins UngewisseIn 1968, Czechoslovakia attempted a “leap into the unknown” with an unprecedented experiment: Lead by the unconventional First Secretary Alexander Dubček, the Communist Party launched reforms towards a “socialism with a human face”. The venture came to a violent end with the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops in August of the same year. But the experiment, which came to be known as the Prague Spring, had an impact far beyond the borders of Czechoslovakia, and even beyond the Iron Curtain. International media outlets covered the events in Prague closely throughout 1968, a year that marked a turning point in other countries, as well. Their reporting was at times hopeful, at other times resigned – especially towards the end.
The students of the Elite Graduate Program in East European Studies from Munich and Regensburg investigated these developments in the form of extensive press analyses. The result is the German-language internet portal “Sprung ins Ungewisse – Der Prager Frühling im Spiegel der internationalen Presse” (Leap into the Unknown – The Prague Spring Reflected by the International Press). The portal presents studies of the press coverage from various perspectives.
On the one hand, newspapers from states within the Warsaw Pact are presented – from the Soviet Union, the GDR, Poland and Hungary. The students also examined the reporting in dailies from the West – from West Germany, France, the UK and Italy. The Czechoslovak press in exile published in the United States adds to the overview, as does print media from neutral Austria and Francoist Spain.

Structure of the press analyses

The analyses focus on the often-implicit similarities and differences. Which were the dividing lines between and within the blocs? How visible were the boundaries between the political camps the papers were close to? Every text has its own emphasis, but they all share a number of basic questions: how did the commentators in East and West judge Alexander Dubček, who replaced Antonín Novotný as First Sectary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in January 1968? Did they regard the suspension of press censorship in March as a turning point? What did the international media expect from the meeting of Soviet and Czechoslovak leaders in Čierna nad Tisou, where Brežnev tried to force his opponents to stop the reform process? What were the journalists’ predictions for the relationship between East and West, and even the future of socialism itself, after August 1968?
Alongside this detailed study of the international perception of the Prague Spring, the portal offers background information about the year 1968 in the countries studied and an extensive glossary of the most important people, events and institutions.