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Hoping For New ‘Prague Spring,’ Deposed Prague Leader Praises Gorbachev

November 14, 1988

BOLOGNA, Italy (AP) _ Two decades after Soviet tanks stopped his Prague Spring reforms, Alexander Dubcek says Czechoslovakia has no choice but to launch another drive for democracy.

Wiping away tears, the 66-year-old Dubcek received an honorary degree Sunday for the efforts that provoked the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia and his ouster as the country’s Communist Party leader.

In Czechoslovakia, the official media today did not report on Dubcek’s first public speech in 18 years, but the Communist Party daily Rude Pravo launched a fierce attack on unnamed ″protagonists of the Prague Spring″ - Dubcek’s short-lived reform in 1968.

His trip to Italy to accept the political science degree from the University of Bologna was his first outside Czechoslovakia since 1970. During those years he lived in obscurity, holding a routine administrative job in the forestry department in Bratislava.

He has feared that he would not be able to return to Czechoslovakia, but government spokesman Miroslav Pavel, asked a news conference in Prague today, said only that ″Alexander Dubcek is a Czechoslovak citizen and one of his fundamental rights is to live in Czechoslovakia.″

″It is up to him alone how he is going to exercise that right,″ added Pavel. He made no comment on Dubcek’s speech Sunday.

After receiving his degree and a minute of thunderous applause, Dubcek read excerpts of his 11 1/2 -page acceptance speech, in which he denounced the 1968 invasion of his country and the hardline government the Soviets installed.

″It is my firm conviction that without the external intervention in the situation of our party and our Czechoslovak society, our endeavor would have been crowned with success,″ he said in the speech.

Saying that now ″every form of dialogue is virtually barred″ in Czechoslovakia, Dubcek declared in his native Slovak that his nation cannot help but push for democracy.

Just last week, Communist authorities arrested more than a dozen dissidents in Prague, according to the opposition.

″In 1968, there was a process of democratization, with words and acts, before the eyes of all the people,″ Dubcek said in his speech.

″Today it is not possible to do anything else. So much more because the 20 years that have passed″ have been marked by ″economic stagnation, sterility and incalculable moral losses.″

Dubcek told Italian state television in an interview broadcast Sunday night that he ″insists″ on being politically rehabilitated by his party ″not so much for myself but for the people who believed″ in his reforms.

In interviews earlier this year in Czechoslovakia in which he broke years of silence, Dubcek praised Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev for working to reform the Soviet economy and liberalize politics to some degree.

Several Italian newspapers on Sunday quoted Dubcek as commenting at an encounter with university officials on Saturday that Gorbachev ″is our hope, that great man.″

In the televised discussion, Dubcek said that Gorbachev’s reform campaign could help ″nations and people to come closer together.″

He added that if Gorbachev’s policies fail, ″the return will be much worse than you can imagine ... a neo-Stalinism that you could not imagine.″

One Italian newspaper, Il Resto del Carlino, quoted Dubcek as saying during the visit: ″I want to return to my country. I think I will be more useful there than outside.″

Before leaving Czechoslovakia on Friday, Dubcek said he feared that Communist authorities might not let him return home.

His wife, Anna, was also granted an exit travel visa but announced at the last minute that she was staying behind because of illness.

Posters reading ″Welcome, Comrade Dubcek″ decorated many of the streets in Bologna, a Communist stronghold in Italy’s north-central ″Red Belt.″

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