I recall well the sense of hope generated in the UK by the Prague Spring; and even better that of delusion engendered by the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. I was twelve years old, my political consciousness awakening from the BBC Radio’s news programmes and the headlines of the newspapers I delivered for pocket money.
Operation Danube has entered the history books as a symbol of authoritarian rule by the USSR-dominated Warsaw Pact under the Brezhnev doctrine. The surprising and hope-giving aspect of it was the non-violent resistance to the invasion which served as a model for the peaceful transition to liberal democracy in 1989.
Fifty years later, the Czech Republic and Slovakia live in freedom and friendship in the peace secured by the mortar of the European Union around the bricks of NATO. Freedom of speech and assembly are protected by law. Some authoritarian habits die hard, as shown by the secret tape recording of a meeting of the European Parliament’s leaders with Czech President Vaclav Klaus in December 2008, just prior to the country’s infamous first EU Presidency. But the Czech Republic has not followed Hungary down the path to ‘illiberal democracy’. And the country’s EU Commissioner is doing great work to promote freedom across the EU. Hope prevails.
Sir Graham Watson served as a Member of the European Parliament 1994-2014. He chaired the Committee on Citizens Rights (1999-2002) and led Parliament’s Liberal Group (2002-09). From 2011-15 he led the EU’s Liberal Party, ALDE.