Prague and Chicago 1968-full circle

In the last week of August 1968, social unrest and violence unfolded in Prague and Chicago. Typical of the 1960s, both uprisings were against the "establishment" and "old order". But four decades later we have learned new lessons while other things still remain the same.

Soviet troops rolled into Prague on August 21, 1968 to stop the "Prague Spring" which began earlier in the year when liberals in the Communist Party under Dubcek decided to soften public policies. The Czech government was then threatened with force from Moscow and when it failed to act, Soviet, Hungarian, Romanian, Polish and East German forces stormed in. The six month "liberal experiment" was over.

A week later in Chicago, the Democratic National Convention had begun. The biggest issue of the year was Vietnam. But Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assasinated two months apart earlier in the year. Americans felt torn over domestic policy as well. Mayor Richard J. Daley ordered police to be on full alert and use all available force. But the mostly young protesters continued their rally. In the end, hundreds were arrested and tear gas and riot gear were used to control the large mobs. "The whole world's watching", as chanting by the protesters became a rallyng call.

While neither of the two uprisings caused significant change, they both made an impact on the 1960s. In 1985 Gorbachev introduced Glasnost in the Soviet Bloc which resulted a more open policy on public issues, not unlike the Czechs in 1968. Then in 1989-90 the Wall came down and the Soviet-allied states in the Bloc were broken off or become democratic republics.

Perhaps it has come full circle. As I write this, the 2008 conventions in the United States are due to begin and once again the race is close with both parties divided. The key issue is also a controversial war, this time in Iraq. The Russian government has invaded Georgia in an apparent attempt for "control". Once again, Georgia is facing what the Czechs had in 1968. The Cold War has never ended. Only the players have changed.

-Kevin Wong