Beginning on this day in 1968, reformist Slovak Alexander Dubcek came to power, and introduced sweeping political liberalization in the Soviet republic of Czechoslovakia, including loosening restrictions on the media, speech and travel, and partial decentralization of the economy. Dubcek's reforms, popularly called the Prague Spring, met with national and worldwide approval, and were seen as a new hope for the emergence of a more humane variant of Communism.
Alas, reactions within the Communist bloc (the USSR and its satellites) was less welcoming. After initial political pressure failed to halt reform, Warsaw Pact armies invaded Czechoslovakia in August of that year, crushing all resistance and removing Dubcek from office. It wasn't until the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, that the emergent Czech Republic and its sister nation Slovakia were able to freely pursue democratic governments.
This anniversary has special meaning for me. My mother's family immigrated to this country from Prague, in the Bohemian region of what was once Czechoslovakia. I also have a good friend who lives in Slovakia. One day I dearly hope to visit Europe, with this region as a special destination.