They May Crush the Flowers, But They Can’t Stop the Spring by ShareGood Blogger David Weiss
“They may crush the flowers, but they can’t stop the Spring.”
Alexander Dubcek, Prague Spring 1968, Chairman of the Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia.
My grandparents went from hard-working, respected Czechoslovak citizens to oppressed slaves who eventually had to run and hide for their lives. While both Tibor and Sarlota Weiss saw their families deported and killed, they somehow survived. My grandparents met in hiding, had one son in 1947 (my father) and were ready to start a new life back in the only home they knew…..Czechoslovakia. But by 1949, just as they were settling in and still with profound sadness, they were chased from their homeland by what was essentially a Soviet takeover. 200,000 Czechoslovaks were in-prisoned and communism and the abolition of human and civil rights were the new law of the land. My grandparents and father were off to Israel, a move they never wanted to make. It was hot, dusty, barely settled and it certainly wasn’t “home”. While they’d eventually arrive in the United States, the Soviet communist takeover of their home country would be second only to the rise of Hitler among devastating events in their lives. In 1968 they watched and waited to see if their former nation would be liberated. Even though they wouldn’t have moved back to Czechoslovakia at that point, they could have then returned to visit (which they never did) and they could have had a sense that their nation was restored. They would need to wait another twenty-one years to see the liberation of Czechoslovakia and although they were getting up in years by then, it was still a nice event for them to experience. It was, in a very small sense, a bit of closure for people who certainly deserved it.
During 1968 people in the United States were demanding very serious and long awaited social change. A half a world away in the landlocked European nation of Czechoslovakia, a similar battle was underway with the country’s future and their way of life hanging in the balance.
Who was Alexander Dubcek? He was a man whose determination and ability to act for the common good was an inspiration. Dubcek was born in 1921 in the Slovak region of the country. As a very young man he fought against the Nazis and the Nazi puppet state of Father Josef Tiso. Dubcek and his family had socialist and communist ties. Dubcek genuinely felt that the socialist economic system was best for the people of Czechoslovakia. But Dubcek was also a man who deeply valued basic human rights. He was an influential player in Slovak and Czechoslovak political affairs, always pushing hard for free speech, freedom of the press and for all of the basic inalienable rights enjoyed by people in western Europe and in the United States. He didn’t understand why a socialist government wouldn’t offer these basic, fundamental human rights.
When Alexander Dubcek got his chance he seized the day….and he seized the Spring. In 1968, Dubcek led a revolution to modernize his country. As Chairman of the Federal Assembly, Dubcek’s reforms were in direct violation of Soviet beliefs. Even though Czechoslovakia was technically an independent country, the Soviets were really pulling all the strings. The people of the country and especially those in Prague were ecstatic. They were now free people and even many of the economic tenants of socialism were being dissolved. It looked like a peaceful transition to freedom.
The good times, however, would not last. The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, brought Alexander Dubcek to Moscow and forced the Czechoslovaks to agree to rollback the reforms. While the Prague Spring of 1968 would inspire nearly the entire population as well as gain worldwide attention and respect, ultimately it didn’t achieve its goals. While many people in the west thought that the spirit of freedom would spread, it did not. Other Soviet-dominated nations did not pick-up where Dubcek and the Czechs left off.
My admiration for Alexander Dubcek is not without an asterisk mark, but I do find him to be one of the most inspiring leaders of the 20th century. The asterisk is for Dubcek’s work to promote socialism and being wrong about the fact that a country could push for a true socialist system while also allowing civil and human rights. In reality, when the government controls nearly all property and physical possessions, freedom is not possible. I wish that Alexander Dubcek would have known this earlier. But the reality is, he always believed in people’s natural rights. He was also extremely courageous. Dubcek fought the Kremlin and nobody did that back in those days. He felt so strongly about the future of his people that he took steps he knew may lead to his imprisonment or death. He understood the international mood and he knew that the time was right to lead a revolution. He had a noble vision and he saw it through.
While Alexander Dubcek would be expelled from the Czechoslovak government and encouraged to leave the country, he never did. He lived peacefully and in 1989 he saw the fulfillment of his dreams. The Velvet Revolution freed the people of Czechoslovakia from Soviet rule. Prime Minister Vaclav Havel invited Alexander Dubcek on stage to speak to the people he once led as the country celebrated its freedom.
In 1990 Dubcek received the International Humanist Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union and gave the commencement address at The American University in Washington, D.C. (1990). It was his first and only trip to the United States. Dubcek would also become the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia and the Chairman of the Federal Assembly before his death in 1992.
As Oscar Wilde once said “but because they sing a song only you can hear”. In the midst of a cold, heartless, soulless Soviet domination, Dubcek could hear his people singing. As we struggle without our own politics on a worldwide basis, it brings me back to the Czechoslovak legacy; Doing what’s right and letting the political pieces fall where they may. Today our world needs people like Alexander Dubcek. As fascism grows and human rights becomes a political casualty, we yearn for a man who saw that the time and the place were wrong, but the people and the cause were right. I am glad that even with all the troubles we face regarding equal rights and human rights, my grandparents’ homeland is now a place where people are free. And we have many people including the often-forgotten Alexander Dubcek to thank for that. He lit a fire at a time and in a place where nobody else would.
David Weiss was born, raised and still lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Being the grandson of four Holocaust Survivors has always been an integral part of his identity and life. David earned a Bachelors of Arts in Education from Cardinal Stritch University and a Masters of Arts in Education from Viterbo University. He spent eleven years as a second and third grade teacher before starting his own promotions business. David is also an author and teaches at the college level. David and his wife are the proud parents of a six year old daughter.
More from David Weiss HERE.