“The only defense against Moscow’s imperialism is an alliance with the West. That is the main lesson of August 1968.”–Czech Premier Mirek Topolanek
[Image © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos]
I haven’t had much time for blogging lately. I’m getting ready to head out of town for a few days and have been busy with guests. But I wanted to post something on the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Not only for the event’s historical importance but it seems relevant to what’s happening today in Georgia.
Forty years ago, on the night of August 20-21, 1968, 2,000 tanks and 200,000 Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops entered Czechoslovakia. Failed negotiations in Bratislava over a program of political liberalization known as “Prague Spring” served as the precipitating event.
The 1968 invasion was successful in stopping the partial democratization reforms begun by Czechoslovak Communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek. That August night, Eastern bloc armies from five Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, and East Germany – joined the invasion.
A Czech Perspective
The invasion was followed by a wave of emigrations, about 300,000 in total, typically of highly qualified people. Among those who came to the United States was Jiri Fisher, formerly a broadcaster in VOA’s Czech Service, who was 19 years old at the time. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Fisher says he was returning home after an island vacation in Yugoslavia. He was incredulous when a German family on the ship told him that there was “einen Krieg” [a war] in Czechoslovakia. Together they tuned into Radio Prague on a little transition radio, Fisher says, and they heard that Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Soviet Army and Warsaw Pact and that “people were getting killed.” To this day, he says, it gives him “chills” to remember that night.
Jiri Fisher says he and his friends ended up in the northern port city of Rijeka on the Adriatic coast. Yugoslavia’s President Tito went on TV, Fisher recalls, telling his people that “we have to take care of all Czechs and Slovaks who are trapped in our country” because the Soviet Army had shut down the borders. He says he and his friends then went on to Zagreb, where thousands of people were gathered in front of the consulate, and where people from Zagreb were “fighting for us – for whom they would take home.” Later he made his way to Vienna, and then to his hometown of Brno in the region of Moravia, and ultimately to the United States. Like many of his countryman, Fisher says, his life had been changed forever.
[read it all and listen to Latham’s report here]
Dubček Jr.: People cannot be blamed for their leaders
Czechs and Slovaks held ceremonies Thursday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed the liberal reforms of Alexander Dubcek and ended an era known as the “Prague Spring.”
Czech President Vaclav Klaus traveled to the Slovak capital, Bratislava, while Slovak Premier Robert Fico joined his Czech counterpart Mirek Topolanek in Prague for the commemoration ceremonies.
Symbols of that era such as a Soviet T-54 tank and homemade posters protesting the invasion were on display in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, the main location of clashes between Soviet troops and Prague citizens.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia also marked the anniversary with speeches, conferences and film screenings.
“Communism is beyond reform. Every attempt to liberalize it leads to its destruction,” Topolanek wrote in an opinion piece in Thursday’s Lidove Noviny daily. “The only defense against Moscow’s imperialism is an alliance with the West. That is the main lesson of August 1968.”