Published: 6. 9. 2018

The latest English issue of Sociologický časopis/Czech Sociological Review 3/2018 contains a symposium devoted to the Prague Spring of 1968, in which thirteen prominent international sociologists and political scientists recall how they personally experienced the Prague Spring and reflect on the significance of the Czechoslovak reform movement for the present day.

SC 3/2018

The symposium includes contributions from Johann P. Arnason (Iceland/Czech Republic), Richard Flacks (USA), John A. Hall (Canada), Ágnes Heller (Hungary), Hans Joas (Germany), György Lengyel (Hungary), William Outhwaite (UK), Jacques Rupnik (France/Czech Republic), Ilja Šrubař (Germany/Czech Republic), Vladimir Tismaneanu and Marius Stan (USA/Romania), Stephen Turner (USA), Jerzy J. Wiatr (Poland). The editor of the symposium is Marek Skovajsa (SČ/CSR).

This issue of Sociologický časopis/Czech Sociological Review 3/2018 also contains regular book reviews, special review essay section on Arlie Hochschild's 'Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning On the American Right' and three articles:

Kristýna Janurová
The Unbearable Lightness of Moving: Czech Migrants Making a Home (or Not) in the UK

Nikola Balaš
Academia without Contention? The Legacy of Czechoslovak Ethnography and Folklore Studies in Czech Anthropology

Tamás Keller
The Mid-week Effect and Why Thursdays Are Blue: The Weekly Rhythm of Satisfaction in Hungary

All the contributions are available online at


Ágnes Heller:
“In this atmosphere of slight hope and overarching scepticism the miracle did happen: the Prague Spring. The unexpected good news immediately changed our perspective. Even sceptics began to hope. We presupposed that the main cause of our defeat in 1956 was the absence of synchrony. The Polish ‘uprising’ had already ended by the time our revolution started, and no other ‘socialist’ country joined us. The Prague Spring carried the promise that this time it would be different.” p. 406

“August 1968 became the cemetery of the last remains of legitimacy of the Hungarian communist regime.” p. 409

György Lengyel:
“The worker councils of 1956 and the 1968 experiment of socialism with a human face failed, it is true. But did the need for a society with a human face fail, as well?” p. 413

“The nature of pragmatist politics has been well described by critical elite studies and not much room for illusion is left. However, that is what we can learn from experience, that one should be careful with social dreams as well. Despite the signs of solidarity, the utopia of society with a human face may be expecting too much from human nature.” p. 413

Vladimir Tismaneanu and Marius Stan:
“A liberal wind had swept in in 1968, a feeling that everything was possible, that the social imaginary can finally be set free. With hindsight, sure, it was all just a big illusion. But back then neo-Marxist revisionism contributed tremendously to the final dissolution of the frozen universe of both totalitarian and post-totalitarian bureaucracies.” p. 417

“For Ceaușescu, any genuine reform amounted to ‘right-wing deviation’. The failure of the Prague Spring became his favourite alibi whenever there was a need to justify the myth of the indestructible unity of the party, leader, and nation.” p. 421

Jerzy J. Wiatr:
“The tragedy of the Czechoslovak reform movement had, however, a lasting positive effect as well. In the 1970s, it inspired the democratic opposition in Central Europe (particularly the Committee for the Defence of Workers in Poland and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia) and indirectly contributed to the success of democracy in 1989. In this, Czechoslovakia’s aborted democratization was not in vain.” p. 424

“What I find particularly disturbing is the way in which the experience of 1968 is belittled by a large part of the Czech political and intellectual elite.” p. 427

Johann P. Arnason:
“… it seems likely that the radicalising process would have continued, if it had not been halted by the invasion in August 1968. The claim that the reforms had reached their limits, or met with ultimate systemic obstacles, is if anything more speculative. A closer look at the events of 1968 suggests that the outcome was decided by the geopolitical constitution of the Soviet bloc, i.e. the incompatibility of autonomous reforms on the periphery with the hegemony of the centre, not by any uniform systemic logic.” p. 431

“… the intellectual currents of the Prague Spring were in many ways related to trends in the West, and some Czechoslovak contributions to international debates reached a broader public through translations. The two books most noticed were Karel Kosík’s Dialectics of the Concrete and Civilization at the Crossroads, a collection of papers on the scientific and technological revolution by Radovan Richta and his collaborators.” p. 431

Jacques Rupnik:
“Looking back fifty years on we note that there is no urgent need of a new history of the 1968 Czechoslovak experiment (the archives have been opened and much has been published) but there may be a case for revisiting the ideas associated with 1968 and their resonance (or lack thereof) in the country itself as well as in a broader European context.” p. 435

“For some thirty years it seemed that the outcome of the choice between Kundera’s somewhat messianic vision vs Havel’s lucid realism was fairly obvious to most Czechs. Yet today, half a century later, as communism is long dead and Western ‘normalcy’ is in crisis, Kundera’s plea for the ‘Czechoslovak possibility’ (československá možnost) acquires perhaps a new resonance.” p. 437

“The distancing from the ideas and illusions of 1968 may be understandable. There are, however, two snags to this. First, if your aim is to imitate Western economic and political models you cease to be interesting for the West. And, more importantly: what if you are imitating a model in crisis?” p. 441

Ilja Šrubař:
“What the Prague Spring probably foundered on was the attempt to create a civil and thus pluralist society that would operate on the basis of limited private property. It was the limits of actually existing socialism that were thereby tested, not the limits of Western-type social democracy.” p. 444

“Approximately 40% of the functional elites in the forenamed sectors lost their jobs. More than 400 000 CPC members were expelled or saw their Party membership cancelled. To replace them and fill nomenclature positions the Party recruited more than 300 000 ‘candidates’ in the 1970s. Given that approximately one-half of these new members were under the age of 25, the functional elites were markedly rejuvenated by a generation that pragmatically took advantage of the Party’s normalisation measures to rise up the social ladder.” p. 445

Hans Joas:
“When the military intervention of the Warsaw Pact took place, the Italian political parties, including and particularly the communists, vehemently protested against the violent Soviet repression of the experimental ‘socialism with a human face’ in Czechoslovakia. Since most of the tourists from that country understood German, but not Italian, I was among those who translated the texts of flyers and special editions of newspapers to groups of people surrounding me on Cathedral Square in Florence. I will never forget the disappointment and disillusionment, if not horror, in the eyes of those people. This is my most important politically relevant memory of 1968.” p. 449

William Outhwaite:
“I considered myself a Marxist, but without any attachment except participation in the broadly-based, if slightly pretentiously named, ‘Oxford Revolutionary Socialist Students’. I observed with detachment the internal Trotskyist debates over whether the USSR should be seen as a ‘degenerate workers’ state’ or as a form of ‘state capitalism’. In retrospect I was, like many people in the West, too inclined to attempt a would-be balanced assessment of the respective deficiencies of capitalism and state socialism and their respective hegemons.” p. 452

John A. Hall:
“The relative lack of Western interest in and knowledge of Czechoslovakia is a dreadful fact, but it is one that ought to be acknowledged. I like to think, however, that I became quite well educated in the sociology of Central Europe—that is, in the workings of a whole world, one that went well beyond the events this issue of this journal memorialises. Four immediate influences were important. The first was listening to a series of lectures on ‘Modern Ideologies’, given by Ernest Gellner at the London School of Economics in the academic year 1970–1971.” p. 456

Richard Flacks:
“As one of the early proponents of the vision of ‘participatory democracy’ articulated by the New Left, I conjectured that the subterranean social and cultural stirrings that burst open in 1968 would usher in a long-term process of collective self-assertion—democratisation from the bottom up. ‘Socialism with a human face’ seemed one way to define that process in Czechoslovak society. Soviet tanks crushed that hope, but I do think that struggles for institutional democratisation continued and expanded in many ways and in many places. The Velvet Revolution appeared to me to be a dramatic fulfilment of such hopes.” p. 463

Stephen Turner:
“Among the events of 1968, the Prague Spring and the repression that followed stand out. Unlike the student movements, this was not merely a protest: it was a collective political experience of the whole society, led by the state itself. It was an attempt to realise a new, humane order, a community of freedom, derived from the philosophy of Marx, Hegel, and the existentialists, perhaps—an idea that played a special role in Prague—with a spiritual element derived from Christianity.” p. 467


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