Dubček was born on 27 November 1921 in Uhrovec, Slovakia, in the state of Czechoslovakia. His father, a dedicated socialist, moved the family to the Soviet Union in 1925. There the Dubčeks remained until spring 1938, when they returned to Czechoslovakia just as the Germans invaded.
During World War II, Dubček joined the underground Slovak Communist Party, committed acts of sabotage against the collaborationist regime headed by Monsiegneur Tiso, and participated in the Slovak national uprising against the Germans in August 1944. After the communists assumed power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, Dubček entered the party bureaucracy and rose rapidly through its ranks, his ascent interrupted only by three years of study at Moscow Higher Political School during 1955–1958.
In 1963 Dubček was elected first secretary of the Communist Party in Slovakia. In this position, he championed societal reform and allowed limited criticism of the rigid Stalinist policies of Antonín Novotný, longtime first secretary of the ruling CPCz. On 5 January 1968, Dubček became first secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party. In March 1968 Novotný, stripped of his power, was ousted from the party. Although committed to maintaining Czechoslovakia's relationship with Moscow and its place in the world socialist system, Dubček spoke of "socialism with a human face" and implemented political, social, cultural, and economic reforms first enunciated in his Action Plan of 9 April 1968. This plan included greater personal liberties, tentative moves toward a multiparty political system, reductions in censorship, and economic liberalization. His efforts were known as the Prague Spring, a time of unprecedented freedom in the history of communist-ruled Czechoslovakia.
Although Dubček assured Moscow that his reforms should not be construed as anti-Soviet and that he had no intention of withdrawing Czechoslovakia from the Warsaw Pact, the Soviets grew increasingly concerned, as did leaders in other Warsaw Pact countries, who feared that Czech reforms might snowball into a larger uncontrollable liberalization movement. When Dubček refused to abandon reform, Soviet leaders took matters into their own hands. On 20 August 1968, approximately 500,000 Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia.
Arrested and transported to Moscow on 21 August, Dubček gave in to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's demands that he halt the reform movement. Returning to Prague on 27 August, a tearful Dubček informed the Czech people that the Prague Spring was over.
Replaced as first secretary in April 1969 by Gustáv Husák, Dubček presided over the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly until September 1969, when he was named ambassador to Turkey. His tenure in Ankara lasted only until June 1970, when he was recalled to Prague and unceremoniously expelled from the party. For the next two decades, Dubček languished as a forestry official in Bratislava. He returned to political prominence in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution that toppled the Czech communist regime and spoke at mass prodemocracy rallies. On 28 December 1989 he was elected chair of the Czech Federal Assembly, retaining that post until June 1992, when he was elected to parliament. Dubček died in Bratislava on 7 November 1992 from injuries sustained in a car crash. Not only a national hero but the embodiment of humanity and courage within the communist bloc, Dubček, had he lived, might have been able to prevent the subsequent breakup of Czechoslovakia.
Bruce J. DeHart
Shawcross, William. Dubček and Czechoslovakia, 1969–1990. London: Hogarth, 1990.