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1989: New era for Czechoslovakia

VIDEO : The BBC's Mike Smartt reports on the return of Alexander Dubcek: "an unlikely figure for so much adulation"

The entire leadership of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia has resigned to make way for democratic changes.

Party Leader Milos Jakes called an emergency meeting of his government this morning after admitting to underestimating the force of the pro-democracy movement.

Twenty-four members of the Politburo and the Secretariat stood down - mainly the same hardliners who called in the Soviet tanks in 1968 to crush the "Prague Spring" reformers.

And the hero of that movement, Alexander Dubcek, has returned from exile to a triumphant welcome in Prague.

Out of step

He told a jubilant crowd of 250,000 people in Wenceslas Square: "My idea of socialism with a human face is living with a new generation".

He also said the new Civic Reform - the broad coalition of opposition groups formed only a few days ago - represented "all the people".

Pressure on members of the Czech Communist Party had been building for months as they found themselves increasingly out of step with other Warsaw Pact countries and their own people.

'Greater understanding'

Two weeks ago the change sweeping Europe resulted in the breaching of the continent's most potent symbol of the West-East divide - the Berlin Wall.

Even the Kremlin - led by reforming President Mikhail Gorbachev - has indicated it wished to see change in Czechoslovakia.

Soviet Communist Party newspaper Pravda said recently the Czech people had "lost faith" in their leaders.

And after the resignations Moscow called for a "greater understanding" between the Czech authorities and those campaigning for reform.

In Context
The Federal Assembly abolished the Communists' constitutional hold on power after the resignations.

The following month Alexander Dubcek was elected chairman of the new administration and dissident Vaclav Havel became president, completing what became known as the "Velvet Revolution".

In 1990 the country was separated into two independent republics - one Czech and one Slovak - and free elections were held for the first time since 1946.

Over the next two years the Slovak separatist movement successfully campaigned for autonomy from the Czech lands.

The "Velvet Divorce" was concluded and from 1 January 1993 Czechoslovakia ceased to exist and became two independent states - the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


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