Why Did the Warsaw Pact Intervene in Czechoslovakia in 1968 but Not in Poland in 1980?

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Why did the Warsaw Pact intervene in Czechoslovakia in 1968 but not in Poland in 1980?

When conducting a comparative analysis there are several arguments that need to be developed in order to come up with a feasible conclusion. Therefore by using a three-fold approach I will be exploring the question of why the Warsaw Pact intervened in Czechoslovakia but not in Poland. One could begin by focusing on the origin of the reforms in both countries. Czechoslovakia adopted a “top down” approach headed from within the Communist Party by the liberal reformist Alexander Dubcek, the First secretary of the party. This is contrasted with the reforms in Poland as they spurred out of “Solidarity” that consisted of the working class and intelligentsia, a “bottom-up” movement putting forward ideas towards a more democratic regime. The second argument that distinguishes these two cases is the difference in the international situation between the USSR and the West in 1968 and 1980. Finally focusing on the economic condition of the Soviet Union and external effects that influence the capitals finances. By analysing all of these factors we can establish why the USSR decided to leave the Polish government in charge of its internal affairs whereas they opted for an intervention in the case of Czechoslovakia.

One of the most important differences between the Czechoslovak and Polish case is the field within which the reform movements formed. In Czechoslovakia this occurred within the Communist Party itself, whereas in Poland it rose from the workers and the intelligentsia of “Solidarity”.

The general liberal atmosphere of the 1960s set the stage for Alexander Dubcek - a young member of the communist party with great ideas of liberalising the tough regime. Dubcek was himself too young to have been involved in the purges and so with a clean slate he began to liberalise his country. His reforms were labelled as the “Action Programme” intended to create “socialism with a human face” in Czechoslovakia. This programme focused on the “relaxation of central control over the economy, virtual abolition of censorship, religious reforms and an increase in the independence of parliament”. With the introduction of these liberal reforms the Soviet Union began to feel that the country was distancing itself from the ideological values of communism, and feared that the liberal reforms would pose a spill over effect onto other Eastern European states bound within the Warsaw Pact.

However Dubcek himself was unaware of the building tension, despite several warnings from the Soviet Union; he assumed that due to the cost of an invasion this would be an inefficient strategy for the USSR. After the easing of censorship several newspapers published “2000 words” by Vaculik, expounding the case for reform and democratisation, with hints there was a danger of invasion by the WTO, this was the final alarm bell for Brezhnev. Fearing that Dubcek would lose control of his country and let it fall out of the Warsaw pact, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia on the 20th August 1968.

The Polish situation differed from Czechoslovakia in the sense that reforms were triggered from “below” through the “Solidarity” movement formed by the workers and intelligentsia. This national liberation movement was sparked as a result of “material grievances and frustrated expectations”. Deriving from the Lenin shipyard strikes in Gdańsk 1970, the movement finally proposed “21 demands” to the government. These included basic appeals such as the right to strike, the release of political prisoners, wage increases, religious freedom and an end to censorship. Due to the stagnating economic situation in Poland during that time and the government’s incapability of supressing further strikes, the trade union was legalised in September 1980. Crampton describes that “the last thing the Polish economy could endure was a disruption of economic activity”.

Another factor one could...
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