Alexander Dubcek, 70, Czechoslovak reformer

OBITUARIES

November 08, 1992|By New York Times News Service

Alexander Dubcek, the Czechoslovak leader whose bol attempt in 1968 to give his country "socialism with a human face" was crushed by an invasion of Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops, died yesterday. He was 70.

He died yesterday morning at Homolse Hospital from "failure of vital organs," the official state news agency CSTK reported. Mr. Dubcek had been hospitalized since an automobile accident Sept. 1.

The death of Mr. Dubcek may complicate the political situation in Czechoslovakia, which plans to split into two independent states Jan. 1.

Mr. Dubcek, who had been subjected to years of banishment by the Communist authorities who replaced him after the collapse of his "Prague Spring" in 1968, remained a popular figure. Although he opposed the breakup of Czechoslovakia, he had been mentioned as a possible candidate to become president of an independent Slovakia.

In January 1968, almost immediately upon succeeding Antonin Novotny as first secretary of the Czechslovak Communist Party, Mr. Dubcek began to loosen the stringent control that had defined Communist political life in Eastern Europe under the dominant influence of the Soviet Union. He had previously been known as a loyal Communist with strong party credentials and was regarded as a shy man, certainly not one given to impulsive action.

VTC Within weeks of taking office, however, Mr. Dubcek stunned Moscow and the rest of the world with his publicly stated determination to achieve the "widest possible democratization" of Czechoslovakia and the establishment of "a free, modern, and profoundly humane society."

Mr. Dubcek relaxed the party censor's control of Czechoslovak newspapers and broadcasts and permitted the Writers Union, a group of militant dissidents, to freely write and edit a literary journal. And he sent out word that the purges and political vendettas of the past were to be no more.

This was heady wine in 1968; nothing remotely resembling such independence had existed in Eastern Europe since the unsuccessful Hungarian uprising of 1956, which had been crushed by Soviet troops.

L The relationship between Moscow and Prague crumbled rapidly.

On Aug. 21, 1968, after it became clear to Moscow that Mr. Dubcek was not going to compromise in any substantive way, armed forces from the Soviet Union, Hungary, Poland, East Germany, and Bulgaria invaded Czechoslovakia.

For days, the world watched as unarmed Czechoslovak students and workers confronted Soviet tanks and soldiers with flowers and placards pleading with them to go home.

The images contrasted with Moscow's assurances that the Warsaw Pact invasion had taken place only because Communist leaders within Czechoslovakia had asked for such intervention.

Mr. Dubcek was arrested and, with a number of his closest political allies, was flown to Moscow. Eventually, he was expelled from the party and dispatched to Turkey, where he served as Czechoslovak ambassador to Ankara. Then, in June 1970, he was banished to an even more obscure job dealing with forestry in his native Bratislava, where he remained until 1987.

In November 1989, he reappeared in Czechoslovak national life, delivering a speech before a huge rally in Bratislava, as the wave that would sweep communism from power reached its crest in nationwide strikes and demonstrations. Mr. Dubcek backed Vaclav Havel, the playwright who had been jailed by the Communists, and his so-called "Velvet Revolution." On the night Mr. Havel was elected president, Czechoslovaks cheered wildly when Mr. Dubcek appeared on the balcony overlooking Wenceslas Square.

Ahead of his time and not forgotten by his people, he was unanimously elected speaker of Parliament, as Mr. Havel assumed the presidency. At the time of his death, Mr. Dubcek was the leader of Slovakia's Social Democrats.

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