Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 8
28 February 2000

Alexander Dubček S L O V A K I A:
Case Closed
Dubček's death declared an accident, not murder

Michael J Kopanic Jr

On 7 November 1992, Alexander Dubček died in hospital from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. The accident had taken place a couple of months earlier when the car he was traveling in spun out of control, and Dubček was thrown from the automobile. The BMW had been traveling at a high speed during a heavy rain storm with high winds. The accident resulted in a tragic loss for Slovakia - just as the new Slovak state was about to be born.

Dubcek's notoriety had begun in Spring 1968 when, as party first secretary, he attempted to build "socialism with a human face," which aimed to reform Communism and transform the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia into a genuine people's party. The experiment abruptly ended in August of that year when Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops occupied the country and subsequently reinstalled a more cooperative government. Dubček and other reformers were pushed aside and forced to take relatively insignificant jobs.

Dubček himself was a lifelong Communist who always maintained a certain optimism about his country's future. Gorbachev and the Velvet Revolution seemed to vindicate his earlier efforts to reform socialism. A second leg in his career took off after 1989, and he became a leading figure in the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia (SDSS). Unlike in the Czech lands, a Communist Party never reemerged in Slovakia after the Velvet Revolution. During his last years, Dubček served as chairman of the former Czechoslovak Parliament and prided himself in his role as moderator and a source of moral authority.

Some members of the SDSS have repeatedly claimed that Dubček's crash was no accident but rather an incident orchestrated to keep him out of the political picture. Others have blamed jealous Czech rivals or have targeted Dubček's potential rivals in Slovakia itself. None appear to have had enough evidence to back such speculation. On account of the ongoing controversy, the Social Democratic Party leadership requested a review of the evidence compiled during the previous Czech-led investigation.

The recent inquiry by the Slovak Interior Ministry aimed to put to rest such conspiracy theories. After a detailed reevaluation,the Ministry has reaffirmed the conclusion of the previous Czech investigation that Dubček's death was indeed nothing other than a tragic accident.

The chief Slovak investigator, Jaroslav Ivor, told a group of journalists that no evidence of murder had been found. Rather, the investigators concluded that the accident resulted from "aquaplaning." This occurs when a wet surface causes a car to lose traction and go out of control. It happens especially when vehicles are traveling at extremely high speeds in poor weather conditions.

According to police estimates, Dubček's vehicle was going between 114 and 131 kilometers per hour on the Prague-Bratislava expressway. For inclement weather a local posting cautioned speed limits of 80 kilometers per hour. The courts subsequently gave the driver a 12 month sentence for speeding (Sme, 15 February 2000).

For now, the case appears to be closed. The president of the SDSS, Jaroslav Volf, has indicated that his party has accepted the conclusions of the investigation.

Why has there been so much speculation about a plot to kill Dubček? As the leading figure of Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring of 1968, Alexander Dubček was and is arguably the most well known of all Slovaks in world history. He would have been a prime candidate for President of the Slovak Republic. His reputation would also have gained Slovakia more favorable recognition internationally - perhaps even some empathy for the lesser known part of the country that split with the Czechs in the Velvet Divorce. With Dubček out of the way, the door opened for other politicians who embraced a more abrasive foreign policy toward Slovakia's neighbors.

However, since he died shortly before his native Slovakia achieved its independence, Dubček never had the chance to have a hand in building this newest state in Europe. Since the new Slovakia lacked another personality with the worldwide notoriety and stature of Dubček, it started out with a disadvantage with respect to obtaining a place on the international stage. While the Czechs have enjoyed the benifits of President Havel's name and reputation, no such leader has emerged in independent Slovakia.

Thus Dubček's death has had a lasting impact upon Slovakia's subsequent history. Slovakia continues to endeavor to develop a positive image in hopes of joining the community of nations belonging to the European Union and NATO. But it will have to do so with only the memory of Dubček to draw on for inspiration.

Michael J Kopanic Jr, 20 February 2000



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