A remembrance ceremony on Tuesday marked the 44th anniversary of the beginning of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The first days of the invasion were closely tied to the Czech Radio building in front of which bloody clashes took place and at least 15 civilians were killed.
It’s been already 44 years since Warsaw pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. People woke up early in the morning to discover their country’s future was in danger, with tanks rolling through the streets and soldiers moving in, in full gear. Many Czechoslovak citizens couldn’t believe what was happening. Many of them tuned in to the Czech Radio broadcast to find out more:
“Prague citizens are using their bodies to defend Czechoslovak Radio from being taken over. From the direction of Wenceslas Square hundreds of people are coming. As we can see it from the window, dozens of people are running up Vinohradská street. The upper part of the street has been taken by the occupation army. They don’t have access to the Czechoslovak Radio building, yet, but we are unable to say for how sustainable this situation is.”
Five Soviet-bloc armies entered Czechoslovakia shortly before midnight on August 20, 1968, totaling 100,000 troops, 2,300 tanks and 700 planes. Occupying troop levels would reach some 750,000. During the tragic days that followed the invasion more than 100 people were killed. On Tuesday, a number of politicians spoke during the ceremony held in front of the Czech Radio building in Vinohradská Street. Milan Štěch, the chairman of the Senate, compared the Soviet occupation to that of the Nazis.
“The Nazi occupation was certainly bloodier. On the other hand, the Soviet occupation was a huge disappointment for people. As they didn’t expect anything good from the Nazis, they found it very disappointing to see Soviet tanks invade their country in August, 1968. Many of them had no cluewhat was going on. Our former liberators betrayed us without a cause.”
“While we come to other sites once in a year, here we come twice. In May, we come to remember the Prague Uprising participants, and we meet here again at the end of the summer for a different reason. The invasion by Warsaw Pact troops dismissed all hopes for the end of communist regime.”
The invasion of Warsaw Pact troops ended the reform movement known as the Prague Spring, a short-lived period of greater political, cultural, and economic openness. The invasion was not only swift but brutal: Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda pointed out on Tuesday that many civilians had lost their lives.
“Jan Palach’s suicide is symbolic for most of the people to remember the violent occupation of Czechoslovakia. But we remember less those who died by the hands of the invaders: there was 19-year old student Vladimír Hulík, shot down in front of the Czechoslovak Radio building, 18-year old Ivan Laita, wounded by debris from a Soviet tank that exploded near the station, 19-year old Milan Lamper, shot down at the site. In total, it is estimated there were 108 Czech and Slovak citizens killed during the invasion with 15 of them dying near the Czechoslovak Radio building.”
Soviet units would only leave Czechoslovakia 23 years later: on November 1, 1991 – almost two years after the fall of communism in the country.
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