"Communism with a human face." That was how First Secretary Alexander Dubcek described his liberal reforms after assuming leadership of Czechoslovakia in 1968 from President Antonin Novotny, who had been forced to resign earlier that year.
Under Dubcek, the communist country tiptoed toward democracy, with increased freedom of expression and the beginnings of a decentralized economy. This jubilant period became known as Czechoslovakia's "Prague Spring" — but it would be short-lived. With Soviet concerns over Dubcek's liberal policies mounting, 250,000 Warsaw Pact troops were deployed to Czechoslovakia on August 20, 1968, bringing an end to the country's blissful idyll. Soviet forces would remain in Czechoslovakia (today the Czech Republic and Slovakia) until 1991.
During this tumultuous period in 1968, celebrated LIFE photographer Bill Ray found himself dispatched to the Central European country, twice: first, in early 1968, when he captured joyful men and women in the countryside and bustling capital city; and later, as tanks lined the streets of Prague and protesters rallied against the occupation.
Here, Ray takes FOTO on a trip back to Czechoslovakia through his images — many rarely seen until today.
More Stories From FOTO
More From Photographer Bill Ray
For more FOTO stories directly in your inbox, sign up for our free weekly newsletter.