The (Inter-Communist) Cold War on Ice: Soviet-Czechoslovak Ice Hockey Politics, 1967-1969

By
Oldrich Tuma, Mikhail Prozumenschikov, John Soares, Mark Kramer, and James G. Hershberg

CWIHP Working Paper No. 69, "The (Inter-Communist) Cold War on Ice: Soviet-Czechoslovak Ice Hockey Politics, 1967-1969" presents new archival evidence on hockey’s role in the turbulent Soviet-Czechoslovak relationship in the period surrounding the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. In particular, never before published materials are presented from both sides on the reverberations from a Soviet-Czechoslovak hockey confrontation at the world championships in Vienna in March 1967—demonstrating that such tensions existed even before the rise of the Prague Spring—and, especially, on the hockey-related events in the spring of 1969, which had a major impact on Czechoslovak politics. 

It is often forgotten that, after the Soviet invasion, communist leader Alexander Dubček and several of his reformist associates actually retained their positions, albeit with sharply circumscribed powers after they had been compelled to sign an agreement with Soviet leaders (the “Moscow Protocol”) vowing to preserve socialism and limit reforms. It was only seven months later that the Soviets instituted what became known as the “normalization” process, replacing Dubček and other lingering reformers with hardliners and instituting tougher domestic policies that would last for two decades, and the proximate cause was…hockey. On March 28, 1969, the Czechoslovak national team defeated the Soviets at the world championships in Stockholm (where they had been moved from Prague). Throughout the country, Czechoslovaks took to the streets, celebrating the victory—and often taunting the Soviet occupiers, venting their resentment in a massive, nationwide spontaneous display of nationalistic and anti-Soviet feeling that would not be replicated until the “Velvet Revolution” in November 1989. The clear evidence that the holdovers from the Prague Spring were neither willing nor able to impose the proper attitudes of comradely friendship and deference toward the Soviet overlords not only appalled Kremlin leaders but prompted them to move briskly to finish the job they had started in August.

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