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What the hell is this, Russia
What the hell is this, Russia

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In January of 1968, reformist Slovak Alexander Dubcek came to power in the Soviet satellite Czechoslovakia, triggering the eight-month breath of freedom called Prague Spring. Dubcek promptly launched his ‘Action Program’, a set of reforms that loosened restrictions on the media, speech, and travel… and yes, even allowed for a two-party system. Economic decentralization was a noted goal, along with maintaining good relationships with western countries. None of this pleased the Soviets, then under the rule of Leonid Brezhnev. Czechoslovak reforms were taken as a veiled insult to the regimes of other communist countries, and leaders feared the unrestrained press might whip the country into a counterrevolutionary frenzy. Leaders of both governments engaged in a series of ‘talks’, which proved unsatisfactory to the empire. On the night of August 21, Brezhnev sent 20,000 troops and 2,000 tanks into the country.

All reforms came to a crushing halt with the occupation, and an estimated 300,000 Czechs and Slovaks fled the country. Nonviolent protests were numerous, but there was no formal military resistance to the empire. Dubcek was soon ousted from his party, and reportedly given a job as a forestry official. His replacement, Gustav Husak, worked quickly to recentralize the economy and censor unfriendly press commentary. Nineteen years later, however, Gorbachev openly admitted his own glasnost was directly inspired by the Prague Spring. It is a cherished memory to the men and women of that country who had suffered under Soviet oppression, and the number 68 has become iconic. World-famous Rangers hockey player Jaromir Jagr, whose childhood hero was Ronald Reagan, wears the number on his jersey to honor his homeland’s history.