Normalisation – Everyday Life

Normalisation is the name given to the period in Czechoslovak history that began with the firm seizure of power by politicians loyal to the Soviet Union in the year after the invasion by Warsaw Pact troops in 1968 (see 1968- Invasion). This period was marked by strong political stability, mainly represented by Gustáv Husák (General Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and from 1975, also the president). You can see Husák greeting Soviet delegation in Friends from Moscow. Another feature of Normalisation was paralysis of the public space, in which any politically oriented civic activities that were not in line with the official ideology essentially vanished. Normalisation lasted until 1989.

The period began symbolically with the election of Gustáv Husák as the head of the Communist Party on 17 April 1969. Normalisation was negatively related to the 1968 – Prague Spring. It was mainly meant to correct the “mistakes” and to “purge” the whole of society of undesirable political influences. Besides the changeover of party and state leaders, there were also widespread purges in the region at all levels without precedent. People who refused to express consent to the occupation had to leave their jobs or were expelled from the Communist Party. The new political leadership insisted on accepting the occupation by the Warsaw Pact troops, which was officially interpreted as “fraternal assistance”. The purging of society and the normalisation programme were set out in a document entitled “Lessons from the Crisis”, adopted in December 1970. Those who refused to sign the official doctrine were ostracised and often found themselves on the fringes of social life.

Most people thus turned inward to their private lives (weekend cottages, hobbies). But the normalisation regime penetrated that life too, primarily in the form of TV shows containing hidden ideological codes, affecting society even many decades after the fall of the regime. Criticism of society and politics was only possible in private (see A serious Conversation). Not until the late 1980s did public life once again begin to awaken. Normalised everyday life was tied together by different forms of control, manifested, for example, in education policy and limited freedom of movement (see What We Don’t Talk About). The normalisation regime also did not hesitate to use repressive methods, most frequently taking the form of criminal persecution of those who deviated from the period of “normality” (see Normalisation – Dissidents).

During the normalisation period, a large part of Czech society was socialised and the symbolism and atmosphere of the period was used in films and marketing (see Good Ol’ Days). But these representations reproduced images of pleasant everyday life without political context and might conflict with the memories of the people who were persecuted during this period.

Although the normalisation period is relatively specific to the Czechoslovak context, some aspects of the period can also be seen in other Eastern Bloc countries, for example the dilemma of entry into the Communist Party (see The Dilemma). Analogies to other countries can also be made at the political level. For example, the consolidation of the regime after 1956 in Hungary and Poland or after 1981 in Poland can be seen as processes similar to Czechoslovak normalisation.

A serious Conversation
Education for All
Friends from Moscow
Good Ol’ Days
The Dilemma
What We Don’t Talk About

Recommended literature: