This week in Mailbox: The 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, Joe Hewer’s memories of a 1956 trip to Czechoslovakia, a 1970 Radio Prague print to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Czechoslovakia, weapons used by two Czech Olympic medallists, Kateřina Emmons and David Kostelecký. Listeners quoted: Jayanta Chakrabarty, Joe Hewer, Bill Smith, Steve Price.
This week no topic in the Czech Republic was more dominant than the 40th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. On August 21st, tanks and soldiers moved in, and forever changed the course of the country, crushing reforms that had made life in Czechoslovakia tolerable compared to the Stalinist 1950s. But all too soon, the reforms came to an end. In the weeks which followed, many Czechs and Slovaks opted to escape, among them my parents – only a few years married. They were among the first to leave: that same night of the 21st crossing
The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia resulted in a permanent Soviet military presence on Czech soil. Between 1968 and 1991 –when the last of the Soviet troops finally left the country – they operated in 73 localities. The environmental damage they caused is taking years to repair and has already cost billions of crowns. Jakub Kašpar is a spokesman for the Czech Environment Ministry:
Soviet propaganda described the invasion of Czechoslovakia as “brotherly help” to a nation threatened by “counter-revolutionary forces”, and the Warsaw Pact forces that occupied the country in August 1968 came from Russia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. But not all the citizens of those countries agreed with the invasion, and several of them risked their lives to protest against Moscow’s crackdown. On Thursday, nine of them received medals in gratitude from Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek.
Do you want to learn something about Czech history but have only an hour to spare? Well, it’s not impossible. A group of young actors from Prague have put together a theatrical show called History of Czechs in 68 Minutes. They have been staging the play at the Disk theatre, right in the city centre, luring the viewers among the crowds of tourists heading towards the Charles Bridge.
Czechs are marking the 40th anniversary of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, which crushed the reform movement known as the Prague Spring. In the early hours of August 21st of 1968, Soviet tanks rolled across the border taking over all key institutions. Disbelieving Czechs took to the streets to defend their capital. Over 100 people were killed and more than 500 injured in the clash with foreign troops. The public revolt was suppressed and the invasion marked the beginning of a dark period of Czech history. Thousands of people fled the country, and thousands lost their jobs or faced persecution for speaking their minds, as communist hardliners regained their grip on power.
A commemorative ceremony was held outside the Czech Radio building on Thursday where a fierce battle for control of the radio took place forty years ago. Fifteen civilians lost their lives in the clash with Soviet troops, who eventually seized the building. Broadcasting continued from a number of secret locations for a few days longer, informing Czechs about what was happening and that the invasion had been condemned by the international community.
In a special ceremony, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek awarded medals of bravery to ten foreign dissidents who publicly protested against the invasion in their homeland. The protests took place in Russia, Poland, Bulgaria and other former Soviet satellites and the people who condemned the invasion paid a high price for their bravery. They were locked up in psychiatric clinics, persecuted by the secret service and were unable to find work for many years after. The Czech prime minister said that his country was deeply grateful for what they had done and noted that their bravery had been inspiring, for they had acted as free people although they lived in a totalitarian state.
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