Young Russians in Prague find that 1968 Russian-led invasion casts long shadow

The number of Russians residing and working in the Czech Republic has been steadily growing in recent years. Many come here in search of a better life, to escape the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin or homophobia in their homeland. And many find that the Russian led-invasion of Czechoslovakia casts a long shadow.

Russian-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, photo: CIA, Flickr, Public DomainRussian-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, photo: CIA, Flickr, Public Domain Today Russians are the fourth strongest foreign minority in the country, after Vietnamese, Slovak and Ukrainian nationals. In the last decade their number rose from 23,000 to 37,000.

According to statistics three in ten Russians come here to do business. 40 percent of the 37,000 strong Russian minority are students, forming the second biggest group of foreign students after Slovaks. If they study in Czech, they do not pay university fees at public schools, just like Czech students.

Twenty percent of the Russian minority have moved here to join their family and ten percent are here on humanitarian grounds. One in twenty-five asylum seekers in the Czech Republic are Russian nationals.

For young Russians Prague is an attractive city free of the constraints of the Putin regime, and a good place for business and entertainment. The language barrier is easily surmountable due to both nations speaking a Slavic language. However there is one barrier that is harder to cross and that is the stigma of the Russian-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, engraved deeply in the nation’s memory. Most Russians here say they have come across expressions of hostility at one time or another.

Jana Svobodová, the author of a multi-media theatre performance about how young Russians in Prague come to terms with this painful legacy, says it was a subject that needed addressing.

“This is something you can’t erase, it is something we Czechs all have buried deep inside us, even young Czechs have it from their parents, it is part of the nation’s memory -what happened back in 1968.”

The theatre performance is in the form of a dialogue between young Czechs and young Russians. Roman Mikshin is one of the young Russians taking part. He believes that performances such as this can be a form of therapy.

“1968 is the main source of the negative feelings for Russians; it is like a wound that is still fresh. It is important to talk about it, to open up the subject and to try to come to terms with the past.”

Russian student Marina Sokol says that she has not met with hostility because having lived here since she was a child she has no Russian accent. However her mother has experienced it. Marina says that once people get to know them the hostilities are easily overcome.

“You know I think that in reality Czechs’ attitude towards Russians is better than they themselves think; because the most hostilities come from people who do not know any Russians in person. I think they are not judgmental of specific Russians, but of Russia as such.”