Normalisation – Dissidents

After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the five Warsaw Pact countries in 1968, a regime known as the Normalisation regime was gradually created. The social liberalisation and political and cultural relaxation of the 1960s were slowly replaced with purges and protection.

The occupation of Czechoslovakia was led, among other things, by the effort to regain control over the satellite state, which ideologically had strayed too far from the Kremlin (see 1968 – Invasion). From 1969 – 1971, extensive purges took place that tested loyalty to the new establishment based on consenting to the occupation and the “normalising” policy , namely entrenching the “leading role of the party.” A third of the Communist Party members were ousted from their jobs, and careers were more tightly tied to declarations of political allegiance. The purges primarily affected the intelligentsia. As a result of the purges, “unreliable” persons were deprived of their jobs and often even the possibility of obtaining necessary qualifications (see The Dilemma). With the rise of Gustáv Husák in April 1969, censorship was definitively restored.

Existential fears and the systematic fight against expressions of dissent squashed any attempt at organised opposition, and the majority outwardly obeyed. The private world thus became greatly separated from the public one. Spontaneous political or civic activity became undesirable and events in the public sphere were ritualised (see Friends from Moscow).

Resistance to the regime was also weak due to effective social control. Social control consisted of making the education and careers of both adults and children conditional on outwardly accepting the regime. Propaganda was founded on the aggressive rhetoric of conspiracy and danger (see Losers and Usurpers), but mainly served to intimidate. After relatively isolated efforts to create critical alternatives to the emerging normalisation of the early 1970s, the dissident movement only formed in the context of the political trials of the band Plastic People of the Universe and the subsequent founding of Charter 77, originally a protest petition. The signing of the charter became a hallmark of resistance to the regime and the signatories engaged in further anti-regime activities. The dissident movement consisted of many other formal and informal groups, such as reformist Communists pushed into dissent after the Prague Spring, liberals, the Catholic intelligentsia, and non-conformist artists.

Targeted pressure by the secret police (see Invasion of Privacy), but to a certain extent also the elitist nature of the group, effectively separated the dissidents from the rest of society (see A Delicate Friendship) and reduced the scope of their activities. The dissidents consisted of only a small, closely-knit social group, which was cemented by the experiences of frequent interrogations and problems in study and work. It is indeed a paradox that the experience of this small group after 1989 became the basis of the official memory of the normalisation period (see Changing Heroism). In many ways, their memories of this era are different from that of the majority (see Good Ol’ Days), which creates certain social tensions.

While in most countries of the Soviet Bloc there was a gradual erosion of the regimes and society to varying degrees became pluralised, Czechoslovakia and East Germany were dominated by the conservative tendencies of rigid state and social control up until the late 1980s.

A Delicate Friendship
Changing Heroism
Invasion of Privacy
Losers and Usurpers

Recommended literature: