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
This spring I worked on a project to explore the Czech Radio archives with a group of international undergraduate students, studying at the Anglo-American University in Prague. This followed up on a similar project last year to mark the radio’s 90th birthday. Czech Radio has one of the biggest radio archives anywhere in the world, going way back to the late 1920s and it includes several hundred recordings in English, most of them from the radio’s international broadcasts. Working in groups, the students spent time delving into the archives and they chose several archive recordings to analyze. Some of the recordings they picked out are well known and have gone down into radio history, but others had not been listened to since they were first broadcast several decades ago. They give us some intriguing insights into radio at different times in Czechoslovakia’s history: into the tense atmosphere before the outbreak of World War II, into the drama of the Cold War and then the thaw of the 1960s, followed by the Soviet-led invasion. As we listen to the recordings, the past quite literally comes to life. In the programme we listen to extracts from these archive sounds and hear some of the insights that the students gained into them. More
Czech Radio is marking 91 years since the start of regular radio broadcasting in the country. The country’s first radio operator Radiojurnal went on air on May 18th, 1923, broadcasting from a military tent in Prague’s Kbely district. At first the long-wave broadcasts lasted for just one hour a day and consisted of a brief lead-in and a concert. The country's broadcasting pioneers were journalist Miloš Čtrnáctý, businessman Eduard Svoboda, and Ladislav Šourek, director of Radioslavia – a company that distributed radio receivers. In December 1924 Radiojournal moved from the tent in Kbely to a building on today's Vinohradská Street in the centre of Prague. Czechoslovakia was the second European country after the UK to have regular radio broadcasting.
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
Today in Mailbox: response to Radio Prague's programmes, answers to our December mystery person quiz question. Listeners/readers quoted: Jaroslav B. Tusek, Jayanta Chakrabarty, Hans Verner Lollike, Jaroslaw Jedrzejczak, Valery Luhouski, Ian Morrison, Charles Konecny, Colin Law. 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