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Professor Kevin McDermott Inaugural Lecture
Wed 14 June 2017, 18:00 – 20:00 BST
Re-Evaluating the Prague Spring, 1968
The Prague Spring was a bold experiment carried out by Czechoslovak reform communists to combine a socialist socio-economic system with the democratic principles of a liberalised mass media and an embryonic civil society. In this sense, Czechoslovak Communist Party leader Alexander Dubček and his co-reformers sought a 'third way' between authoritarian Soviet-style communism and Iaissez-faire market capitalism, emphasising the need for a meaningful extension of human rights, civic reconciliation, public participation, and national and international détente. In short, it was an unprecedented quest for 'democratic socialism', albeit in the undoubted confines of a one-party state. As is well known, the Prague Spring was militarily crushed by Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces on the night of 20-21 August 1968. Thereafter, the country succumbed to twenty years of rigid 'normalisation' before the so-called 'Velvet Revolution' of November-December 1989 swept aside the communist dictatorship.
Professor Kevin McDermott has taught in the History group at Sheffield Hallam University since September 1989, specialising in 20th century Russia and Eastern Europe. At present, he teaches two specialist modules: a Level 5 module entitled Eastern Europe, 1945-1989 and a Level 6 module called Rise and Decline of Soviet Communism. He also teaches the Level 4 module: Nationalism, Democracy and Socialism in Modern Europe.
In this lecture Professor McDermott will start with an overall survey of the main events of 1968, covering the principal reforms carried out between January and August 1968, their political, social and ideological significance, and the reasons why the Soviet Politburo decided to take the drastic military alternative to curb the Prague innovations. In the rest of his talk, Kevin aims to rethink two key aspects of the reform process. First, he will argue that the conventional image of Dubček and the other Czechoslovak communist reformers as brave bold innovators implementing some kind of substantive reworking of the Soviet system is overdrawn. They were, for the most part, convinced Marxist-Leninists who feared the potentialities of unrestrained change, including the possibility of anti-socialist movements and popular opinion. As such, their hero-like portrayal as 'anti-Soviet' martyrs is rather misleading. Second, Kevin will outline his recent research on what he's termed the 'neo-Stalinist' wing of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, a numerically small, but influential, current whose historical importance is not only that they welcomed the Warsaw Pact occupying tanks in August 1968, but also helped to pave the way to the subsequent pro-Soviet 'normalisation' regime which replaced the Dubček leadership in spring 1969.
Refreshments served from 18:00-18:30.
The lecture will begin at 18:30 prompt followed by wine and nibbles.