Czechoslavakia's brief taste of freedom during the Prague Spring was crushed by Soviet tanks in August 1968. Yalta, February 1945. As World War Two drew to a close, the victors the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain, met at the Yalta Conference. They divided Europe into spheres of influence. All of Eastern Europe, including Czechoslovakia, fell under the political and military control of the Soviet Union.
In 1955, Czechoslovakia signed the Warsaw Pact, a mutual-defense treaty between Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia was located in the heart of Europe and was very important strategically. The Czech Communist Party guaranteed the alliance with Soviet Union. The party followed Soviet orders loyally until Alexander Dubcek came to power as party secretary in January 1968. Dubcek introduced a series of liberal reforms that embodied what he called “socialism with a human face.” Dubcek took his cue from Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev, who began the de-Stalinization of the USSR. Khrushchev was ousted for his efforts to end the Stalinist political system created by leader Joseph Stalin. Leonid Breznev replaced him in 1964.
On August 20, 1968, Breznev ordered over 5,000 tanks to invade Czechoslovakia. The Czech army offered no resistance and the Soviets swiftly reached the capital Prague. There, the Communist Party was holding a meeting to ratify liberal reforms.
The people of Prague supported Dubcek and his promise of change. They flooded the streets to protest the Soviet invasion. The Soviets arrested Dubcek, took him to Moscow, stripped him of his powers and permanently expelled him from the party. Fearing a nuclear war, the reaction of Western democracies was tepid. None seemed willing to test the balance of power outlined in Yalta.
The domestic situation in Czechoslovakia was far from settling down. On January 25, 1969, a student named Jan Palach set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square in central Prague. His dramatic death was to protest against the Soviet invasion. The Prague Spring was crushed, but it had repercussions. The Soviet Union was no longer a model for international communism. Many Western communist parties disentangled themselves from the Soviets and founded what was called Eurocommunism.