An exhibition of photographs taken by American Paul F. Goldsmith in Prague during the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia is being held in the city. Then a student, Goldsmith was touring Europe in August 1968 and found himself in Prague when the tanks rolled in; on leaving the country he gave his photographs to the AP news agency in West Germany and they were soon seen around the world. He is due to attend Tuesday evening’s opening at the café Krásný ztráty. The exhibition runs until November 9.
Prague 2 district council on Monday rejected the proposal to make 1968 invasion hero František Kriegel an honorary citizen. Kriegel was the only member of a government delegation in 1968 who refused to sign a declaration approving the Warsaw Pact invasion of former Czechoslovakia. The controversial proposal from independent councillor Michal Uhl has divided the council. Centre-right members of the Civic Democrats and TOP 09 have argued that Kriegel’s active involvement in the Communist coup brought the party to power in February 1948. Kriegel, who also participated in the Spanish civil war, died in Prague in 1979.
Thursday is the 46th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed the Prague Spring reform movement, ushering in two decades of so-called normalisation. That traumatic event was commemorated at a ceremony at Czech Radio, scene of the most brutal repression in August 1968 – and comparisons were drawn with Russia’s actions today.
The Czech Republic on Wednesday commemorates the 46th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. A series of events held to mark the anniversary include a chain hunger strike and a gathering outside the Czech Radio building which saw clashes between civilian protesters and the occupying forces. The invasion of five Warsaw Pact armies quashed efforts by Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party to reform the regime in a period known as the Prague Spring, ushering in an era of renewed repression lasting until the late 1980s.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.