Fifty-five years ago, the Prague Spring was followed by a long autumn

More than half a century has passed since the invasion and subsequent occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. The events of 1968 affected the whole of society, including university life.

The invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops in 1968, which followed the events of the Prague Spring and the revival process, had a lasting impact on Czechoslovak society. It left a bitter aftertaste and hopes for reform were violently quashed. The country entered a period of political repression and restrictions on freedom imposed by the then Communist government.

"Let us remember the human victims of the military invasion of Czechoslovakia and sympathise with those who faced the communist dictatorship during the normalisation process. The thwarted revival process associated with the Prague Spring had long-term negative consequences and affected life even at universities," says Petr Sklenička, Rector of CZU.

"The Prague Spring was an island of hope between two phases of communist dictatorship. The invasion of Warsaw Pact troops crushed that hope for twenty long years. Thank you to all the brave people who did not give up in the darkness of normalisation and helped break the regime, which in its horror was comparable to the Nazi regime, by courageously undermining authorities without authority," adds Karla Mráčková, spokesperson of CZU.

During the dark period of normalisation, political censorship and ideological control were enforced at Czech universities, as well as in all institutions in the country. Many teachers, scholars and students who identified with reformist tendencies were forced to leave their positions for political reasons. The period of normalisation also affected the fate of many employees of the then University of Agriculture. It is the events of 1968 and the subsequent normalisation that form an important storyline in Dr Sandra Kreissl's book Agricultural Etudes. Through interviews with witnesses, teachers, scientists, and other workers, she captures their stories, and 1968 features prominently in their narratives. The witnesses describe the conditions at the university during the Prague Spring, the military intervention and the subsequent period of normalisation. Their fates serve as valuable testimony to the contemporary events they faced and the impact of these events on the university environment.

The invasion and subsequent Soviet occupation had a significant impact on Czechoslovak society, including university research and education. Mass purges affected countless intellectuals and academics who were perceived as a threat to the communist regime. Some were dismissed from their jobs, others emigrated abroad, and still others were forced to accept the conditions of the normalisation regime. This situation had a negative impact on the quality of teaching and research at Czech universities. Many talented and capable scientists left the country, resulting in a loss of professional expertise and a reduction in the opportunities to receive a quality education.

The situation began to ease with the advent of perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union and the subsequent collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, democratisation and reforms in the university system allowed many former scientists and teachers to return. They were rehabilitated, e.g., habilitations were recognised, and the way was paved for the revival of education and research in Czech universities.

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