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Friday, August 21, 1998 Published at 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK

Lessons still being learnt from 1968 Prague Spring

Czech youth try to make sense of events of '68

New facts and interpretations are still emerging about the event which some say fuelled the dissident movement in eastern Europe and contributed to the collapse of communism. BBC Monitoring reports.

Czech government asked US not to intervene

Several days before the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Prague government had asked the United States not to intervene militarily to defend the reforms, Walt Rostow, former national security adviser to US President Lyndon Johnson, told the Slovak news agency TASR.

"Due to the message, the problem for the United States was simplified.

The Czechoslovak government said in it that they did not know whether Soviets would invade or not, but they stated a war in Europe would not be justified and Nato should not - I repeat not - interfere," Mr Rostow said.

Mr Rostow said he did not recall Washington giving Prague any advice at the time.

"The Czechoslovaks took this decision by themselves.

They didn't want a war started over that issue and we should not act, which we were not inclined to do anyway."

At the time, President Johnson was very concerned that Moscow's intervention in Czechoslovakia might destroy hopes for arms control, but another pressing issue was the possibility that the Soviet Union would invade Romania, Mr Rostow said.

"We warned the Soviets not to invade.

We didn't think the Czechs would fight but we thought Romania might fight," he told TASR.

Mr Rostow also said that the carve-up of Europe into spheres of influence agreed by the allied wartime leaders in Yalta in 1945 "had nothing to do" with the US administration's position on Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Czechs seek more access to Russian archives

Czech Senate Chairman Petr Pithart and the Speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, Yegor Stroyev, on Thursday discussed Czech access to Russian historical archives, the Czech news agency CTK reported.

According to Mr Pithart, Mr Stroyev said most of the documents were no longer secret and Prague could turn to him if it had problems acquiring them.

"I hope conditions for our historians will improve," Mr Pithart said.

Czechs 'learned to live with shameful surrender'

Mr Pithart told CTK that the lack of discussion of the 1968 events in the Czech Republic today was due to the fact that most Czechs had eventually "learned to live with the shameful surrender of their leaders, who were treated as icons by many people".

"With this came a heavy hangover, from which we have not yet recovered," said Pithart, adding that another reason for not talking about 1968 too often was "shame at the disgraceful 1970s and 1980s, which has not been overcome either".

A recent opinion poll cited by CTK indicated that most Czechs do not think the events of 1968 substantially influenced the collapse of the Soviet bloc two decades later.

Gorbachev pays tribute to Prague Spring

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev also praised the Prague Spring reforms for their role in the eventual demise of hardline communism in eastern Europe.

In an interview with the Slovak newspaper 'Narodna Obroda' this week, Gorbachev said he found "the courage and strength to start fundamental changes" in the 1980s under the influence of the Prague Spring.

Gorbachev said his opinions on Dubcek and the Prague Spring began to take shape in 1969, when he visited Czechoslovakia.

"In Bratislava and Brno I felt that Slovaks and Czechs were very opposed to the violent intervention of August 1968.

I saw the negative impacts," Gorbachev told the paper.

"The brave reforms of Alexander Dubcek were an attempt to get rid of totalitarianism and connect socialism with democracy .

Even though they ended in tragedy, at the cost of loss of human life, they were not made in vain," Gorbachev went on.

"The socialist bloc violently preserved a situation which was unbearable from the political, economic and purely human viewpoint for decades.

It froze changes which were necessary.. .Our Soviet society found itself in deep stagnation after 1968," Gorbachev said.

But one of the Russian military chiefs who was involved in the invasion, retired general Alexander Mayorov, insisted this week that if the Warsaw Pact had not intervened in 1968, NATO would have carried out a similar operation within two or three weeks, the Slovak news agency TASR reported.

He said described the occupation of Czechoslovakia as "an outstanding operation" from a military perspective, carried out "in a flash and in the nick of time".

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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