Alexander Langer (Prague Spring), 1993

This is an interview for Metta Spencer with Alexander Langer prepared by Daniella Smetena, a student of the Protestant Faculty of Theology on October 1st 1993, translated by Ctibor Lacina.

Q: The first question. Was there any correlation between the intellectuals of the Reformed wing of 1968 and people close to Mikhail Gorbachev? That is did these people take inspiration from the process of revival in 1968, or were they somehow deeper interested in this process?

LANGER: Well, I think that the people who were in the Establishment in 1968 were not concerned with the change of the Regime. They either thought that the mistake was in the people, that is if there were different people, everything would work all right. Nevertheless among the young Leftists, there started to spring a critical attitude towards the system and in view of the fact that part of these people were oriented to the Left, they started to look for some models, whether Mao Tse Tung was walking the right way and we were walking the wrong way or whether Trotsky had the right opinion which was not materialized. That is, the sources started to be studied. And this led among the Left Wing in Bohemia to the notion that what was here during the rule of Novotny, was not Socialism but State Capitalism, and Czechoslovakia was the first country in the world where the Socialism started to be built, before the occupation of the Soviet Army in 1968.

Another thing is that we often identify Welfare State with Socialism, which means that there was a widely spread opinion that for example, Sweden was more advanced in the building of Socialism, that even that W. Germany was more advanced in the building of Socialism than Czechoslovakia and so on; which means that the label “Socialism” was not clear from the present point of view.

In addition to that, there was wave of revolts against the Establishment throughout the whole world and my personal opinion was that this was a case of the fights against the Establishment. I think that this was the first post-war generation which came to the Political Scene and they tried to push through some new notions about the future world and I think that the Sociologists have not estimated well the convergence between the East and the West, that there was the same revolt against the Establishment which is called the in English Sociology Generation ..067.. grilitch.

On the other hand there were the old bureaucrats brought up in Moscow, who could see that the regime of President Novotny was heading for an abyss, and I think they made use of the enthusiasm of the young for changes. They took over the power and I think most of them yielded to the intoxication stemming from the feeling that they were building something progressive. They became intoxicated by slogans such as freedom, equality and fraternity, so that in the end they were pushed by people to the strategy that they carried on, which originally had not been their plan. Otherwise it is known that Gorbachev studied together with Mlynar at the same college. They lived in the same room and there were even stories that Gorbachev mended Mlynar’s pants once. And so that they are good friends. But I think that after the arrival of Soviet tanks, it was the end of this dream, and after the occupation, the only people who helped us were the Trotskyists of the Western Society.

Q: Question by Daniella. So do you think that the people close to Gorbachev were interested in Prague spring and that they were inspired by the values of the Prague spring when they were promoting Perestroika in the Soviet Union?

LANGER: I think that Gorbachev’s approach was a continuation of the Prague Spring but I think that Gorbachev learned that the people around Dubczek led themselves to be pushed by people to something, a strategy which they had not intended to do. So I think that Gorbachev wanted to do in fact the same. But he wanted to set himself as the base of their reforms. Although Gorbachev experimented a little bit as in our country and it started with Conference of writers and the revolt against Novotny and Hendry. So the first Conference in the Soviet Union which was granted, experimentally granted freedom was the Conference of Cinematographs, which was held in Kremlin and it was the first time that prominent representatives were hissed off. And when there was too much of this hissing, they were applauded off, so that they were not let speak and they had to bow and leave. So that even in Moscow, there was this experiment with the filmmakers who afterwards were very involved in the politics towards Czechoslovakia, to which I got in touch a little as an interpreter, but I think that Gorbachev was very frightened by this experience; so that other similar conferences started to be more or less directed, so that I think that they wanted to continue in the Prague Spring but they wanted to control the dynamic which is I think is nonsense, because the Prague Spring is in fact what people won; what they gained in their struggle with the government. Only this is a the Prague Spring actually.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books