- Prague Spring
History of Czechoslovakia
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Second Republic and World War II
Velvet Revolution and Democracy
The Prague Spring (Czech: Pražské jaro, Slovak: Pražská jar) was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubček was elected the First Secretary of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to halt the reforms.
The Prague Spring reforms were an attempt by Dubček to grant additional rights to the citizens in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and democratization. The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel. After national discussion of dividing the country into a federation of three republics, Bohemia, Moravia-Silesia and Slovakia, Dubček oversaw the decision to split into two, the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. This was the only change that survived the end of the Prague Spring.
The reforms, especially the decentralization of administrative authority, were not received well by the Soviets, who, after failed negotiations, sent thousands of Warsaw Pact troops and tanks to occupy the country. A large wave of emigration swept the nation. While there were many non-violent protests in the country, including the protest-suicide of a student, there was no military resistance. Czechoslovakia remained occupied until 1990.
After the invasion, Czechoslovakia entered a period of normalization: subsequent leaders attempted to restore the political and economic values that had prevailed before Dubček gained control of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). Gustáv Husák, who replaced Dubček and also became president, reversed almost all of Dubček's reforms. The Prague Spring inspired music and literature such as the work of Václav Havel, Karel Husa, Karel Kryl, and Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
The process of de-Stalinization in Czechoslovakia had begun under Antonín Novotný in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but had progressed slower than in most other states of the Eastern Bloc. Following the lead of Nikita Khrushchev, Novotný proclaimed the completion of socialism, and the new constitution, accordingly, adopted the name Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The pace of change, however, was sluggish; the rehabilitation of Stalinist-era victims, such as those convicted in the Slánský trials, may have been considered as early as 1963, but did not take place until 1967. As the strict regime eased its rules, the Union of Czechoslovak Writers cautiously began to air discontent, and in the union's gazette, Literární noviny, members suggested that literature should be independent of Party doctrine.
In the early 1960s, Czechoslovakia underwent an economic downturn. The Soviet model of industrialization applied poorly to Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was already quite industrialized before World War II and the Soviet model mainly took into account less developed economies. Novotný's attempt at restructuring the economy, the 1965 New Economic Model, spurred increased demand for political reform as well.
In June 1967, a small fraction of the Czech writer's union sympathized with radical socialists, specifically Ludvík Vaculík, Milan Kundera, Jan Procházka, Antonín Jaroslav Liehm, Pavel Kohout and Ivan Klíma. A few months later, at a party meeting, it was decided that administrative actions against the writers who openly expressed support of reformation would be taken. Since only a small part of the union held these beliefs, the remaining members were relied upon to discipline their colleagues. Control over Literární noviny and several other publishing houses was transferred to the ministry of culture, and even members of the party who later became major reformers—including Dubček—endorsed these moves.
Meanwhile, President Antonín Novotný was losing support. First Secretary of the regional Communist Party of Slovakia, Alexander Dubček, and economist Ota Šik challenged him at a meeting of the Central Committee. Novotný then invited Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev to Prague that December, seeking support; but Brezhnev was surprised at the extent of the opposition to Novotný and thus supported his removal as Czechoslovakia's leader. Dubček replaced Novotný as First Secretary on 5 January 1968. On 22 March 1968, Novotný resigned his presidency and was replaced by Ludvík Svoboda, who later gave consent to the reforms.
Liberalization and reform
Early signs of change were few. When the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) Presidium member Josef Smrkovský was interviewed in a Rudé Právo article, entitled "What Lies Ahead", he insisted that Dubček's appointment at the January Plenum would further the goals of socialism and maintain the working class nature of the Communist Party.
On the 20th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s "Victorious February", Dubček delivered a speech explaining the need for change following the triumph of socialism. He emphasized the need to "enforce the leading role of the party more effectively" and acknowledged that, despite Klement Gottwald's urgings for better relations with society, the Party had too often made heavy-handed rulings on trivial issues. Dubček declared the party's mission was "to build an advanced socialist society on sound economic foundations ... a socialism that corresponds to the historical democratic traditions of Czechoslovakia, in accordance with the experience of other communist parties ..."
In April, Dubček launched an "Action Programme" of liberalizations, which included increasing freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of movement, with economic emphasis on consumer goods and the possibility of a multiparty government. The programme was based on the view that "Socialism cannot mean only liberation of the working people from the domination of exploiting class relations, but must make more provisions for a fuller life of the personality than any bourgeois democracy." It would limit the power of the secret police and provide for the federalization of the ČSSR into two equal nations. The programme also covered foreign policy, including both the maintenance of good relations with Western countries and cooperation with the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations. It spoke of a ten year transition through which democratic elections would be made possible and a new form of democratic socialism would replace the status quo.
Those who drafted the Action Programme were careful not to criticize the actions of the post-war Communist regime, only to point out policies that they felt had outlived their usefulness. For instance, the immediate post-war situation had required "centralist and directive-administrative methods" to fight against the "remnants of the bourgeoisie." Since the "antagonistic classes" were said to have been defeated with the achievement of socialism, these methods were no longer necessary. Reform was needed, for the Czechoslovak economy to join the "scientific-technical revolution in the world" rather than relying on Stalinist-era heavy industry, labour power, and raw materials. Furthermore, since internal class conflict had been overcome, workers could now be duly rewarded for their qualifications and technical skills without contravening Marxism-Leninism. The Programme suggested it was now necessary to ensure important positions were "filled by capable, educated socialist expert cadres" in order to compete with capitalism.
Although it was stipulated that reform must proceed under KSČ direction, popular pressure mounted to implement reforms immediately. Radical elements became more vocal: anti-Soviet polemics appeared in the press (after the formal abolishment of censorship on 26 June 1968), the Social Democrats began to form a separate party, and new unaffiliated political clubs were created. Party conservatives urged repressive measures, but Dubček counselled moderation and re-emphasized KSČ leadership. At the Presidium of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in April, Dubček announced a political programme of "socialism with a human face". In May, he announced that the Fourteenth Party Congress would convene in an early session on 9 September. The congress would incorporate the Action Programme into the party statutes, draft a federalization law, and elect a new Central Committee.
Dubček's reforms guaranteed freedom of the press, and political commentary was allowed for the first time in mainstream media. At the time of the Prague Spring, Czechoslovak exports were declining in competitiveness, and Dubček's reforms planned to solve these troubles by mixing planned and market economies. Within the party, there were varying opinions on how this should proceed; certain economists wished for a more mixed economy while others wanted the economy to remain mostly socialist. Dubček continued to stress the importance of economic reform proceeding under Communist Party rule.
On 27 June Ludvík Vaculík, a leading author and journalist, published a manifesto titled The Two Thousand Words. It expressed concern about conservative elements within the KSČ and so-called "foreign" forces. Vaculík called on the people to take the initiative in implementing the reform programme. Dubček, the party Presidium, the National Front, and the cabinet denounced this manifesto.
Initial reaction within the Communist Bloc was mixed. Hungary's János Kádár was highly supportive of Dubček's appointment in January, but Leonid Brezhnev and others grew concerned about Dubček's reforms, which they feared might weaken the position of the Communist Bloc during the Cold War.
At a 23 March meeting in Dresden in East Germany, leaders of "Warsaw Five" (USSR, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and East Germany) questioned a Czechoslovak delegation over the planned reforms, suggesting any talk of "democratization" was a veiled critique of other policies. Władysław Gomułka and Janos Kádár were less concerned with the reforms themselves than with the growing criticisms leveled by the Czechoslovak media, and worried the situation might be "similar to the prologue of the Hungarian counterrevolution". Some of the language in April's KSČ Action Programme may have been chosen to assert that no counter-revolution was planned, but Kieran Williams suggests that Dubček was perhaps surprised at, but not resentful of, Soviet suggestions.
The Soviet leadership tried to stop, or limit, the changes in the ČSSR through a series of negotiations. The Soviet Union agreed to bilateral talks with Czechoslovakia in July at Čierna nad Tisou, near the Slovak-Soviet border. At the meeting, Dubček defended the proposals of the reformist wing of the KSČ while pledging commitment to the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. The KSČ leadership, however, was divided between vigorous reformers (Josef Smrkovský, Oldřich Černík, and František Kriegel) who supported Dubček, and conservatives (Vasil Biľak, Drahomír Kolder, and Oldřich Švestka) who adopted an anti-reformist stance.
Brezhnev decided on compromise. The KSČ delegates reaffirmed their loyalty to the Warsaw Pact and promised to curb "anti-socialist" tendencies, prevent the revival of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, and control the press more effectively. The Soviets agreed to withdraw their armed forces (still in Czechoslovakia after manoeuvres that June) and permit the 9 September Party Congress.
On 3 August representatives from the "Warsaw Five" and Czechoslovakia met in Bratislava and signed the Bratislava Declaration. The declaration affirmed unshakable fidelity to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism and declared an implacable struggle against "bourgeois" ideology and all "anti-socialist" forces. The Soviet Union expressed its intention to intervene in a Warsaw Pact country if a "bourgeois" system—a pluralist system of several political parties representing different factions of the capitalist class—was ever established. After the Bratislava conference, the Soviet Army left Czechoslovak territory but remained along its borders.
As these talks proved unsatisfactory, the Soviets began to consider a military alternative. The Soviet Union's policy of compelling the socialist governments of its satellite states to subordinate their national interests to those of the "Eastern Bloc" (through military force if needed) became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine. On the night of 20–21 August 1968, Eastern Bloc armies from four Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary—invaded the ČSSR.
That night, 200,000 troops and 2,000 tanks entered the country. They first occupied the Ruzyně International Airport, where air deployment of more troops was arranged. The Czechoslovak forces were confined to their barracks, which were surrounded until the threat of a counter-attack was assuaged. By the morning of 21 August Czechoslovakia was occupied.
Neither Romania nor Albania took part in the invasion, the latter having withdrawn from the Warsaw Pact in 1962. During the invasion by the Warsaw Pact armies, 72 Czechs and Slovaks were killed (19 of those in Slovakia), 266 severely wounded and another 436 slightly injured. Alexander Dubček called upon his people not to resist. Nevertheless, there was scattered resistance in the streets. Road signs in towns were removed or painted over—except for those indicating the way to Moscow. Many small villages renamed themselves "Dubcek" or "Svoboda"; thus, without navigational equipment, the invaders were often confused.
Although, on the night of the invasion the Czechoslovak Presidium declared that Warsaw Pact troops had crossed the border without the knowledge of the ČSSR government, the Soviet Press printed an unsigned request - allegedly by Czechoslovak party and state leaders - for "immediate assistance, including assistance with armed forces". At the 14th KSČ Party Congress (conducted secretly, immediately following the intervention), it was emphasized that no member of the leadership had invited the intervention. More recent evidence suggests that conservative KSČ members (including Biľak, Švestka, Kolder, Indra, and Kapek) did send a request for intervention to the Soviets. The invasion was followed by a previously unseen wave of emigration, which was stopped shortly thereafter. An estimated 70,000 fled immediately with an eventual total of some 300,000.
The Soviets attributed the invasion to the "Brezhnev Doctrine" which stated that the U.S.S.R. had the right to intervene whenever a country in the Eastern Bloc appeared to be making a shift towards capitalism. There is still some uncertainty, however, as to what provocation, if any, occurred to make the Warsaw Pact armies invade. The days leading up to the invasion was a rather calm period without any major events taking place in Czechoslovakia.
Reactions to the invasion
In Czechoslovakia, especially in the week immediately following the invasion, popular opposition was expressed in numerous spontaneous acts of nonviolent resistance. On 19 January 1969, student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague's Wenceslas Square to protest against the renewed suppression of free speech. Civilians purposely gave wrong directions to invading soldiers, while others identified and followed cars belonging to the secret police.
The generalized resistance caused the Soviet Union to abandon its original plan to oust the First Secretary. Dubček, who had been arrested on the night of 20 August was taken to Moscow for negotiations. There, he and several other leaders signed, under heavy psychological pressure from Soviet politicians, the Moscow Protocol and it was agreed that Dubček would remain in office and a programme of moderate reform would continue.
On 25 August citizens of the Soviet Union who did not approve of the invasion protested in Red Square; eight protesters opened banners with anti-invasion slogans. The demonstrators were arrested and later punished; the protest was dubbed "anti-Soviet".
A more pronounced effect took place in Romania, where President Nicolae Ceauşescu, already a staunch opponent of Soviet influences and a self-declared Dubček supporter, gave a public speech in Bucharest on the day of the invasion, depicting Soviet policies in harsh terms. Albania withdrew from the Warsaw Pact in opposition calling the invasion an act of "social-imperialism". In Finland, a country under some Soviet political influence, the occupation caused a major scandal.
Like the Italian and French Communist parties, the Communist Party of Finland denounced the occupation. Nonetheless, Finnish president Urho Kekkonen was the very first Western politician to officially visit Czechoslovakia after August 1968; he received the highest Czechoslovakian honours from the hands of President Ludvík Svoboda, on 4 October 1969. The Portuguese communist secretary-general Álvaro Cunhal was one of few political leaders from western Europe to have supported the invasion for being counterrevolutionary. along with the Luxembourg party and conservative factions of the Greek party.
Most countries offered only vocal criticism following the invasion. The night of the invasion, Canada, Denmark, France, Paraguay, the United Kingdom and the United States requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. At the meeting, the Czechoslovak ambassador Jan Muzik denounced the invasion. Soviet ambassador Jacob Malik insisted the Warsaw Pact actions were "fraternal assistance" against "antisocial forces".
The next day, several countries suggested a resolution condemning the intervention and calling for immediate withdrawal. Eventually, a vote was taken with ten members supporting the motion; Algeria, India, and Pakistan abstained; the USSR (with veto power) and Hungary opposed. Canadian delegates immediately introduced another motion asking for a UN representative to travel to Prague and work toward the release of the imprisoned Czechoslovak leaders.
By 26 August a new Czechoslovak representative requested the whole issue be removed from the Security Council's agenda. Shirley Temple Black visited Prague in August of 1968 to prepare for becoming the US Ambassador for a free Czechoslovakia. However, after the 21 August invasion she became part of a U.S. Embassy-organized convoy of vehicles that evacuated U.S. citizens from the country. In August 1989, she returned to Prague as U.S. Ambassador, three months before the Velvet Revolution that ended 41 years of Communist rule.
Husák reversed Dubček's reforms, purged the party of its liberal members, and dismissed from public office professional and intellectual elites who openly expressed disagreement with the political transformation. Husák worked to reinstate the power of the police authorities and strengthen ties with other socialist nations. He also sought to re-centralize the economy, as a considerable amount of freedom had been granted to industries during the Prague Spring. Commentary on politics was forbidden in mainstream media and political statements by anyone not considered to have "full political trust" were also banned. The only significant change that survived was the federalization of the country, which created the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic in 1969.
In 1987, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged that his liberalizing policies of glasnost and perestroika owed a great deal to Dubček's "socialism with a human face". When asked what the difference was between the Prague Spring and Gorbachev's own reforms, a Foreign Ministry spokesman replied, "Nineteen years." With the fall of socialism in 1989, Dubček became chairman of the federal assembly under the Havel administration. He later lead the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia, and spoke against the dissolution of Czechoslovakia prior to his death in November 1992.
The Prague Spring deepened the disillusionment of many Western leftists with Marxist-Leninist views. It contributed to the growth of Eurocommunist ideas in Western communist parties, which sought greater distance from the Soviet Union, and eventually led to the dissolution of many of these groups. A decade later, a period of Chinese political liberalization became known as the Beijing Spring. It also partly influenced the Croatian Spring in Yugoslavia. In a 1993 Czech survey, 60% of those surveyed had a personal memory linked to the Prague Spring while another 30% were familiar with the events in another form. The demonstrations and regime changes taking place in North Africa and the Middle East from December 2010 have frequently been referred to as an "Arab Spring".
The event has been referenced in popular music, including the music of Karel Kryl, Luboš Fišer's Requiem, and Karel Husa's Music for Prague 1968. The Israeli song "Prague", written by Shalom Hanoch and performed by Arik Einstein at the Israel Song Festival of 1969, was a lamentation on the fate of the city after the Soviet invasion and mentions Jan Palach's Self-immolation. "They Can't Stop The Spring", a song by Irish journalist and songwriter John Waters, represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007. Waters has described it as "a kind of Celtic celebration of the Eastern European revolutions and their eventual outcome", quoting Dubček's alleged comment: "They may crush the flowers, but they can't stop the Spring."
The Prague Spring is featured in several works of literature. Milan Kundera set his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being during the Prague Spring. It follows the repercussions of increased Soviet presence and the dictatorial police control of the population. A film version was released in 1988. The Liberators, by Viktor Suvorov, is an eyewitness description of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, from the point of view of a Soviet tank commander. Rock 'n' Roll, a play by award-winning playwright Tom Stoppard, references the Prague Spring, as well as the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Heda Margolius Kovály also ends her memoir Under a Cruel Star with a first hand account of the Prague Spring and the subsequent invasion, and her reflections upon these events.
In film there has been an adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and also the movie Pelíšky from director Jan Hřebejk and screenwriter Petr Jarchovský, which depicts the events of the Prague Spring and ends with the invasion by the Soviet Union and their allies. The Czech musical film, Rebelové from Filip Renč, also depicts the events, the invasion and subsequent wave of emigration.
The number 68 has become iconic in the former Czechoslovakia. Hockey player Jaromír Jágr wears the number because of the importance of the year in Czechoslovak history. A former publishing house based in Toronto, 68 Publishers, that published books by exiled Czech and Slovak authors, took its name from the event.
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- Jutikkala, Eino; Pirinen, Kauko (2001). Suomen historia (History of Finland). ISBN 80-7106-406-8.
- Kundera, Milan (1999). The Unbearable Lightness of Being. HarperCollins. ISBN 0060932139.
- Kusin, Vladimir (18 July 2002). The Intellectual Origins of the Prague Spring: The Development of Reformist Ideas in Czechoslovakia 1956–1967. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521526523.
- Margolius-Kovály, Heda (1986). Under a Cruel Star: A life in Prague 1941–1968. New York: Holmes & Meier. ISBN 0-8419-1377-3.
- Morrison, Scott; Cherry, Don (26 November 2006). Hockey Night in Canada: By The Numbers: From 00 to 99. Key Porter Books. ISBN 1552639843.
- Navazelskis, Ina (1 August 1990). Alexander Dubcek. Chelsea House Publications; Library Binding edition. ISBN 1555468314.
- Navrátil, Jaromír (1 April 2006). The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Document Reader (National Security Archive Cold War Readers). Central European University Press. ISBN 9637326677.
- Ouimet, Matthew (2003). The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London.
- Skilling, Gordon H. (1976). Czechoslovakia’s Interrupted Revolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
- Suvorov, Viktor (1983). The Liberators. London, Hamilton: New English Library, Sevenoaks. ISBN 0450055469.
- Williams, Kieran (1997). The Prague Spring and its Aftermath: Czechoslovak Politics, 1968–1970. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521588030.
- Think Quest – The Prague Spring 1968
- Radio Free Europe – A Chronology Of Events Leading To The 1968 Invasion
- Prague Life – More information on the Prague Spring
- The Prague Spring, 40 Years On – slideshow by The First Post
- Victims of the Invasion – A list of victims from the Warsaw Pact Invasion with method of death
Major figures Related articles 1940sYalta Conference · Operation Unthinkable · Potsdam Conference · Gouzenko Affair · War in Vietnam (1945–1946) · Iran crisis of 1946 · Greek Civil War · Corfu Channel Incident · Restatement of Policy on Germany · First Indochina War · Truman Doctrine · Asian Relations Conference · Marshall Plan · Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948 · Tito–Stalin split · Berlin Blockade · Western betrayal · Iron Curtain · Eastern Bloc · Chinese Civil War (Second round) 1950sKorean War · 1953 Iranian coup d'état · Uprising of 1953 in East Germany · 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état · Partition of Vietnam · First Taiwan Strait Crisis · Geneva Summit (1955) · Poznań 1956 protests · Hungarian Revolution of 1956 · Suez Crisis · Sputnik crisis · Second Taiwan Strait Crisis · Cuban Revolution · Kitchen Debate · Asian–African Conference · Bricker Amendment · McCarthyism · Operation Gladio · Hallstein Doctrine 1960sCongo Crisis · Sino–Soviet split · 1960 U-2 incident · Bay of Pigs Invasion · Berlin Wall · Cuban Missile Crisis · Vietnam War · 1964 Brazilian coup d'état · United States occupation of the Dominican Republic (1965–1966) · South African Border War · Rhodesian Bush War · Transition to the New Order · Domino theory · ASEAN Declaration · Laotian Civil War · Greek military junta of 1967–1974 · Six-Day War · War of Attrition · Cultural Revolution · Sino-Indian War · Prague Spring · Goulash Communism · Sino–Soviet border conflict 1970sDétente · Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty · Black September in Jordan · Cambodian Civil War · Realpolitik · Ping Pong Diplomacy · Four Power Agreement on Berlin · 1972 Nixon visit to China · 1973 Chilean coup d'état · Yom Kippur War · Strategic Arms Limitation Talks · Angolan Civil War · Mozambican Civil War · Ogaden War · Sino-Albanian split · Cambodian–Vietnamese War · Sino-Vietnamese War · Iranian Revolution · Operation Condor · Bangladesh Liberation War · Korean Air Lines Flight 902 1980sSoviet war in Afghanistan · 1980 and 1984 Summer Olympics boycotts · Solidarity (Soviet reaction) · Contras · Central American crisis · RYAN · Korean Air Lines Flight 007 · Able Archer 83 · Star Wars · Invasion of Grenada · People Power Revolution · Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 · United States invasion of Panama · Fall of the Berlin Wall · Revolutions of 1989 · Glasnost · Perestroika 1990s Foreign
IdeologiesCapitalism (Chicago school · Keynesianism · Monetarism · Neoclassical economics · Supply-side economics · Thatcherism · Reaganomics) · Communism (Marxism–Leninism · Castroism · Eurocommunism · Guevarism · Juche · Left communism · Maoism · Stalinism · Titoism · Trotskyism) · Liberal democracy · Social democracy Organizations Propaganda Races See also Eastern Bloc Formation Annexed as, or into, SSRs Annexing SSRs Related organizations Revolts and oppositionWelles Declaration · The Goryani Movement · Forest Brothers · Operation Jungle · State continuity of the Baltic states · Baltic Legations (1940–1991) · Cursed soldiers · Uprising in Plzeň (1953) · Uprising of 1953 in East Germany · 1956 Georgian demonstrations · Poznań 1956 protests · Hungarian Revolution of 1956 · Novocherkassk massacre · Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia · 1968 Red Square demonstration · Polish 1970 protests · June 1976 protests · Solidarity, Soviet reaction and Martial law · Reagan Doctrine · Jeltoqsan · April 9 tragedy · Romanian Revolution of 1989 · Black January Conditions Decline
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