Politician in a Swimsuit

Mladý svět (č. 29, 19. 7. 1968)/ “Mladý svět” magazine (nr. 29, 19th July 1968)

A Politician’s Day Off

Alexander Dubček, the Secretary General of the Czechoslovak communist party, became the “first man of the news” at the beginning of 1968, when he began his tenure as the leader of the party after Czechoslovak president Antonín Novotný; since then, he’s definitely been the busiest man in the country.

A day off, plucked out from among the meetings, speeches, public appearances, discussions, and official visits, is therefore a kind of miracle, and it’s exactly what Alexander Dubček got when he returned from an official visit in Hungary. In his own, slightly damaged car, he and his wife Anna went out to a small swimming pool at Santovka na Slovensku, hoping for a few hours of privacy. This, however, lasted only a few minutes. As soon as he was spotted by the autograph hunters, he was literally blockaded in by children and adults.

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  • How is General Secretary Alexander Dubček presented in the photographs?
  • Based on this photograph and article, how do you think the social atmosphere of the Prague Spring and the politicians of the era were depicted in the media?
  • What was the political situation in Czechoslovakia? What intentions might the journalists have had, and what impressions might the readers have had?
  • Do you know of any other photographs of politicians in unusual situations? What are the stories behind these photographs?


The relaxed atmosphere and new relationship towards politicians is symbolised by an article published in the summer of 1968 in the popular Czechoslovak magazine Mladý svět (Young World). It shows First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, Alexander Dubček (1921 – 1992) in his free time – at the pool. Dubček became the First Secretary – the highest representative of the Czechoslovak Communist Party – in January 1968, and his election became a symbol of change in the Communist Party and in society. Under his leadership, the Communist Party launched far-reaching reforms. Although Dubček himself was not the most radical reformist, he became a symbol of the Prague Spring for people in Czechoslovakia and abroad. One of the reasons he was so popular was because of his relaxed behaviour, so different from the previous generation of Communist leaders, who would probably never have allowed themselves to be seen in bathing suits.

But this image was also cultivated by the media, which after the abolition of censorship was looking for new ways to reach the public. However, it is not a coincidence that the report from the swimming pool was originally created for the US magazine LIFE (An ideological plunge for a free-form high diver) and was later published in abbreviated form in Czechoslovakia. While Young World emphasises Dubček’s family comfort and his old and ordinary car, LIFE focuses on the apparent contradiction between this comfort and the international tensions during which Dubček was governing Czechoslovakia. He visited the swimming pool on a short holiday before a period of complex negotiations with the Soviet Union.