The biggest public event marking the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia was a concert that filled Prague’s Wenceslas Square on Tuesday evening. The culmination of the free show came with Marta Kubišová’s rendition of A Prayer for Marta, a song that came to symbolise the 1968 invasion.
The whole thing got underway with Vojtěch Dyk performing the Karel Gott hit Lady Carneval. The breezy, up-tempo song was actually first recorded in October 1968, only months after the tanks had rolled in.
Slovakia was represented at the event by Jana Kirschner, who did a beautiful version of Čerešně, a song made famous by her compatriot Hana Hegerová.
The concert, which lasted one and three-quarter hours, featured several songs by Karel Kryl. The great folk and protest singer went into exile after the 1968 invasion and broadcast on Radio Free Europe back into his native country.
Perhaps the most powerful rendition of a Kryl tune came from Honza Křížek, who led a singalong of the stark Bratříčku, zavírej vrátka (Close the Gate, Little Brother), written directly in response to the invasion.
The only sour note came with boos from a section of the crowd for Lucie Bílá. Some had criticised her inclusion on the bill in view of her past performances with the Alexandrov Ensemble, AKA the Red Army Choir. Bílá may not have helped her cause by performing the Karel Gott song Můj bratr Jan (My Brother Jan), a tribute to Jan Palach.
Interspersed among the songs of the ‘60s were short video interviews with then Czechoslovak Radio staff who experienced the invasion at first hand, among them the much-loved actor and writer Zdeněk Svěrák. The old-timers recollections and comments frequently earned loud cheers.
Following a spectacular video mapping show on the National Museum building, the concert reached a climax with – what else? – Marta Kubišová performing the heartrending Modlitba pro Martu, A Prayer for Marta.
The ballad was hastily recorded at the time of the invasion and came to symbolise the tragedy.
Kubišová’s rendition of the song on Tuesday night was the most rapturously received, and moving, moment of a show that had countless highlights and concluded with mass singalongs of the Czech and Slovak anthems.