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A Prague Spring for Credit Unions?

Matt DavisComment

In 1968 Alexander Dubček replaced Antonin Novotný as the head of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia. Dubček quickly exclaimed, "We shall have to remove everything that strangles artistic and scientific creativeness." This was a far cry from what the Czechs had experienced under Novotný who, with the blessings of the Soviet Union, strictly repressed freedoms of speech, information, and personal expression in the fear that such influences might encourage the country to reconsider communism in favor of capitalism. The result became known as the Prague Spring, a brief period of social and creative catharsis from decades of oppression described as "socialism with a face."

Society got infected, so to speak, with this virus of freedom, and people realized, 'OK, now it is our turn.' 

Jiri Pehe, director of the New York University program in Prague

Artists made things. Thinkers thought things. Speakers spoke things. Singers sang things. For a short time Czechoslovakians began to feel like humans again.

Strict systems don't like creativity, though. For as many amazing things it creates, free expression also breeds dissent, unpredictability, and loss of control. Before long the Warsaw Pact invaded with upwards of 750,000 troops. By September 21, 1968, only 7 months after it began, the Prague Spring and the brief break from Stalinism were over.

For the past three years I've seen credit union professional after credit union professional blame the NCUA, the credit union system, competition, the economy, the government, and a million other third parties for our collective inaction, financial woes, and growth challenges. No doubt times have been tough. Still, it's clear to me that we've gone much too far with playing the victim card. Credit unions are not oppressed, they're depressed.

What would happen if credit unions had their own Prague Spring? What would happen if we stopped making excuses, and started making good on our promises again? What problems would we solve for consumers if we started creating again? Helping again? Risking again? Laughing again?

Our revolution doesn't carry the risk of invading tanks or blood in the streets. No, we must only revolt from ourselves...on a battlefield no bigger than the 7 inches between our ears.



Matt Davis lives in Madison, Wisconsin. He is the Innovation Director of the Filene Research Institute specializing in implementation. Matt presents, advises and completes project work with credit unions based on Filene's i3 ideas and innovative processes. The thoughts posted here are his own, and do not reflect those of his employer.