One review of Alexander
Bubcek’s autobigraphy, "Hope Dies Last" started with
the comment that: "Even if he had not been at the center of
the drama in 1968, Dubcek's story would be fascinating in itself."
The "drama" of 1968, (with which his name will
always be associated, making him a prominent figure in both
the history of his native land, and in Twentieth
Century world history in general), has been called the "Prague
Dubcek had risen to become President of his country and during
the early part of 1968, he presided over a number of reforms,
which he described as trying to create "socialism with a human
face". Many of the world’s communist governments
were anxious about developments in Czechoslovakia and on August 21st
1968, troops of the USSR and their allies in the
Warsaw Pact crossed the Czech borders bringing an
end to Ducek’s “political
This caught everyone by surprise. His surprise is
reflected in the fact that when he heard the news he is supposed to
have asked "How can they do this to me?". The response on the
streets of Czecholslovakia was of shock - and "passive
resistance". The world rallied to condemn the
invasion - even Communist Romania, that had stood out and refused to
particpate - but the reaction of the world remained verbal ...
and the Warsaw Pact troops remained.
Dubcek and his politburo were arrested and taken to Moscow
where they met with Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders.
Although he was later appointed as Ambassador to
Turkey, it was a short lived respite - lasting just
one year - before he was "exiled" to a lowly official post in the
countries forestry service for twenty years. He
re-emerged into public life once more when the "Velvet" revolution
resulted in a new reforming
As the reviewer of Dubcek's autobiography pointed
out, however, this was just one episode in an otherwise fascinating and
eventful life - and it took place a long way from
Kyrgyzstan. There is, however, a link
between those events and the Kyrgyz Republic in that Alexander Dubcek
spent many of his formative years in Kyrgyzstan, in
Dubcek's parents, Stefan and Pavlina, were orignially from Slovakia but
met and married each other in the USA. In Dubcek's words they
were: "a pair of Slovak socialist dreamers who happened to have
emigrated to Chicago" where Stefan worked as a cabinet maker,
and was also active in the labour movement. When
America entered the First World War, Stefan refused to serve in the
army and was arrested. He spent fourteen months in an
internment camp in Texas.
In 1921 they returned to Slovakia in search of work because of
the poor prospects and conditions which were prevelat in the US during
the Great Depression following the end of the war.
A few months later, on 27th November, Alexander, was
born in the town of Uhrovec.
Stefan became one of the founder members of the Czechoslovakian
Communist Party, and in the spring of 1925 the family moved to
the Soviet Union - in response to the appeal for workers to
help build socialism. Alexander was only three and half years
at this time, and his brother,
Julius, was only one and a half
years older. The train journey took a month to
complete - and must have been a difficult journey for a family with two
small children. Half a week was taken up during the transfer
from Polish to Russian rolling stock at the
What they discovered upon their arrival was hardly encouraging
and the reality they were met was far from what had been the
picture they had been presented with back home:
- The latter stages of the journey had passed
through a large area of seemingly endless sand and rocks which they
were told was called "Hungry Desert", and some members of the
group were beginning to get demoralised.
(Fortunately, as they approached their final destination the
scenery changed as rivers, meadows and cottages - signs of human
habitation - began to appear.) Then as they reached
their journey's end, snow began to fell - a late April
- And there was still 4km to the town of Pishkek
– the modern day capital, Bishkek ;
- No-one knew they were coming – and
nothing was prepared for them;
- They were short of funds;
- Although they had been told that Prezhervalsk
was as a "climatically healthy region" - what they experienced
was malaria, contagion and the death of several of the
children. There was a shortage of water - throughout
the city. There was no doctor available - and
- they had no-where to live.
This last point was settled - when they were
assigned ten cottages, made from "glina" (clay
bricks) in the former miltary camp (for a group which
numbered 300) which were in a very dilapidated
state. Conditions for the new arrivals were
difficult and they lived together as in a commune.
It was important to find some way of supporting themselves and the
group settled down to work - building workshops and a
sawmill. It wasn't easy because the materials were not
readily available and had to be transported great
distances. For the first few months they received no
wages. Later, they received a loan of 20,000 roubles
from a bank.
People ate raw sparrow's eggs. To find food for their pigs
they rummaged about in the local rubbish dumps.
Then, in the next year, fire destroyed most of their
According to Dubcek, some of their number decide that "enough was
enough" and decided to return home - or to go to somewhere else in
Russia. The Dubcek boys, however, accepted Pishpek as their
home and, like most small boys, got into a number of "scrapes"and
adventures: riding on a coach drawn by a camel which ran out of control
and had to be stopped by a local; Julius almost drowning when he was
trying to find out how thick the ice on the lake was.
The family of Alexander Dubček`s future wife arrived in one of the
later parties to join the group in the subsequent years.
Pavlina, Dubcek's mother, was elected as leader of the women's
committee which was responsible for the children - in all
there were almost 140 of them. A school was started
- and originally there were fifty children attending
classes. At the beginning, there were no textbooks,
paper or pencils. Alexander started to
attend classes school at the age of eight, in 1929. Classes
were conducted in Slovak and Czech, but later on he
was taught in Russian as well.
In 1932, Interhelpa sent Alexander's father to Moscow for a course
and later took advantage of an opportunity to move to
Gorky in Russia where he worked in the GAZ automobile
factory. There, he had a possibility to work with American
engineers preparing inner parts of bodyworks and filling the panels
which were made of wood. In Gorkij the family rented a house in the
settlement named Ruttenberg. His mother did not go to work.
Alexander was very sad, he was only 12 years old and was leaving the
only home he could remember. The boys attended a much better
secondary school where discipline was much more strict. He
was a good student. He went skating, played water polo,
hockey, and football.
In 1935, Julius, (Alexander's brother - who
was 15 years old at the time), was involved in a
street fight with boys from another part of town ... and he hurt one of
the others. It was decided that he and his mother
would return to Czechoslovakia whist Alexander and his father remained
Alexander was not interested in politics any more than other
boys his age. In his memoires he describes his
confusion as having been taught to admire revolutionary heroes
– the class were instructed to cut out their photos
and blot out their names from school textbooks when they were suddenly
declared villains, put on trial, and executed.
In the autumn of 1938, the Supreme Soviet issued a decree that
the foreigners living in Russia had to either accept Soviet citizenship
or leave the country. Despite his socialist
feelings, Stefan decided to leave the USSR and took
with him his 17 year-old son. He
still considered Czechoslovakia as "home" - that he
and Alexander were "Slovaks living abroad"
... but the situation was more complicated for Alexander.
Once again he was leaving behind him the
country that he knew, that held all his memories - both good
and bad, and was venturing out into the unknown.
Back in Czechoslovakia he became an apprectice in the Skoda
factory and in 1939 he joined the Communist Party - which was
banned at that time. Then came the Second World War,
and both of the Dubcek brothers were active
as communist guerrillas fighting the Nazi
occupation. In the winter of 1944-45 he fought in the Slovak
uprising against the Germans, during which he was twice wounded and his
brother Julius was killed
After the war Czechoslovakia fell into the Eastern Block
- under the sway of the USSR. Alexander worked in a
factory and was active as secretary of various local Communist
committees. In the early 1950's he was appointed to the central
committee of the Slovak Communist Party. He
studied law in Bratislava and later received a
doctorate in Political Studies in Moscow. By 1964 he had
risen to the chairmanship of the Slovak Communist Party.
In 1967 the Czechoslovak Communist leader, Novotny, was dismissed
and Dubcek was appointed leader of Czechoslovak Communism
early in 1968.
However, since 1964 he had begun to adopt
"unconventional", liberal economic views, (for a high Communist
official, that is), in that he saw a substantial role for
private enterprises. He also began to openly associate with
intellectuals and artists. He soon
authorised lifting controls over the media, trades
unions, economic enterprises and the courts. There were many such
extensions of liberalisation in politics, the economy, and the arts
giving rise to the so-called "Prague Spring" where civil
freedoms seemed to flourish in a state that still officially declared
itself to be Communist. A crisis was developing ... which is
where we began his story.
Alexander Dubcek died on
November 7, 1992, aged 70 - of injuries received in a car crash.
His time spent in, and affection for,
Kyrgyzstan is still remembered and may have
contributed to the good relationships that have existed betwen the two
republics - especially in the post Soviet era.