The freshly released files of the so-called Mitrokhin archive shed light on Soviet intelligence activities during the Prague Spring of 1968. The files, smuggled by senior KGB officer Vasiliy Mitrochin to the UK in the 1990s, have been opened to the public by Cambridge University. They suggest that the KGB aimed to undermine Czechoslovakia’s democratization process, with Soviet illegal agents targeting dozens of Czech and Slovak public figures. More
On Monday, the Archive Centre at Churchill College, Cambridge made available to the public for the very first time the results of one of the biggest intelligence leaks in history. The documents, collected by Vasili Mitrokhin, a KGB defector, were handed over to the UK authorities in 1992 and include details on the Soviet agency’s infiltration efforts regarding the 1968 Czechoslovak Prague Spring. In total, 19 boxes of Mitrokhin’s notes will be made available, and could help Czech historians shed more light on a painful chapter in the country’s history. I spoke with Vilém Prečan of the Czechoslovak Documentation Centre, and asked him for his take on the significance of this trove of information: More
When Jan Palach burned himself to death in January 1969 over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, his radical protest was echoed by a number of young men in the Eastern Bloc. Among them was Eliyahu Rips, who put a match to his petrol-doused clothing in the Latvian capital Riga on April 13, 1969. But unlike the others, Rips survived, after passers-by put out the flames. More
A book by Vasil Bil’ak, a former hard-line communist leader who paved the way for the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, has hit bookshelves just two months after his death. In the book, which revolves around the crucial year 1968, Bil’ak admits that he knew about the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia a week in advance, but insists that he did not sign a letter of invitation to the former Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev which served as a pretext for the invasion. Bil’ak was charged with high treason in 1991 but the case was later closed for lack of evidence. The book’s publisher said Bil’ak had refused to release it for publishing before his death.
A monument to fallen soldiers, recently unveiled at a major Prague cemetery, has provoked some strong reactions from Czech politicians and other public figures. The group behind the monument, which bears Russian and Czech inscriptions, says it is tribute to all soldiers who have died in modern-era peacekeeping missions. But some believe the memorial also celebrates troops who invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. More
Former Czechoslovak Communist party ideology chief Vasil Bilak, the last surviving hardliner who sent a letter of invitation to Soviet leaders, officially justifying the Warsaw Pact invasion that crushed the Prague Spring reform movement in 1968, has died in Bratislava at the age of 96. Bilak was charged with high treason in 1991 but the case was later closed for lack of evidence. I asked prof. Jan Rychlik, who specializes in Czechoslovak history, how Vasil Bilak will be remembered. More
For many Czechs, Russia’s Natalya Gorbanevskaya was nothing less than a hero, one of eight people in 1968 who protested on Red Square in Moscow against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. All of the protesters were arrested and as punishment she was sent to a psychiatric hospital. A few years after her release in 1972, she emigrated to France where she continued to work as a poet translator and human rights activist up until her death at the age of 77 last week. More
In a chilling echo of the past, Russian police on Sunday arrested a group of human rights activists commemorating the 45th anniversary of a 1968 protest against the Russian-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Although the protesters were reportedly detained for taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration and soon released, the move has evoked widespread condemnation in Prague. More
Ten people were detained by the police at Moscow’s Red Square on Sunday, after a small commemoration of a demonstration held at the same place exactly 45 years ago in protest of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Around a dozen people held up a sign with the same slogan as was used in 1968: “For your and our freedom.” The demonstrators stood silently for approximately 10 minutes, after which they were led away by the police. The only person who was not detained was Natalia Gorbanevskaya, who was among the protesters 45 years ago. On August 25, 1968 eight people who held up signs with slogans on the Red Square in protest of the Czechoslovak occupation were arrested after only a few minutes. Seven of them were sentenced to years in prison, internal exile or forced psychiatric treatment.
This week the 45th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia was commemorated in this country. What some may not realize is that many of the iconic images from the tumultuous August of 1968 appearing in the media belong to one person – Josef Koudelka. A world renowned photographer whose career spans almost six decades and across all of Europe, Mr. Koudelka decided six years ago that he wants his life’s work to have a home in the Czech Republic. More