It was 60 years ago Monday, that Czech President Edvard Beneš, under enormous pressure, capitulated and appointed a communist government led by Klement Gottwald. This event, known as the February putsch is viewed by many as a tragic blunder on the part of the president – had he stood firm, and not accepted the resignations of the non-communist parties in the government, which outnumbered the communists, the ascendancy of one party rule may have been averted.
Monday morning, just below the steps that lead up to Prague Castle, began the first of a number of official events that mark the anniversary of the communist putsch in Febuary 1948. This particular event commemorated a famous march 60 years ago to the day, by Czech students demanding the continuation of democratic principles in the country. The March was brutally suppressed by a police force heavily infiltrated by communist party apparatchiks. The end result – countless students were expelled from their places of study, teachers sacked, activists persecuted.
“Victory is sometimes a question of truth and time – and time also won. That time won after 43 years when again students rose up against the long existing evil, against communist rule and went out onto the streets, when the line of several thousand students stretched from Vinohrady, all the way to the Old Town Square.”
František Šedivý, head of the Association of Czech Political prisoners, addressing the small assembled crowd, pointing out the comparisons between the 1948 student protests and those that led to the ultimate fall of the communist regime in November 1989.
This commemoration, despite its historical significance, was attended by only about thirty or so onlookers, mostly elderly men and women who remembered those days 60 years ago. Next to them stood a number of dignitaries, including the chairman of the Senate Přemysl Sobotka and a military band, in full dress uniform. I spoke with an elderly war veteran who recalled, with great emotion, the events of 1948:
I asked the man for his thoughts on what the events of 1948 mean today.
“When I think about it, I feel completely devastated. When I see what is going on in this country today. We crossed the frontlines, two hundred of our people died en route; then we spent several years in jail. And what does all this mean today? The communists continue to function here and still have things their way. There is no will to deal with them in the manner which they deserve.”
Clearly, emotions continue to run high among those that remember the rise of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. But as this gathering underscored, those that actively remember the events of 1948 are becoming fewer and fewer – while younger generations, faced with the current state of Czech politics, are increasingly finding that they have less and less interest in celebrating or mourning such important events in Czech history.
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