When Joseph Stalin died on March 5 1953, it sent shockwaves round the world. In Czechoslovakia his personality cult had been almost as overwhelming as in the Soviet Union itself. At the time of his death, work was already well under way to build the biggest statue of the Soviet dictator in the world – unveiled two years later in Letná Park. Stalin had a close ally and kindred spirit in the Czechoslovak President, Klement Gottwald, and Gottwald ignored warnings from his doctors in order to attend his friend and protector’s funeral. Before leading
An exhibition of rare photos showing the crushing of the Prague Spring reform movement in 1968 is on display at a gallery in Vienna. The photographs were taken by Austrian photographer Franc Goess who worked for Paris-Match magazine and happened to be in Prague at the time of the Soviet led invasion. He made 100 shots of the groundbreaking event but they were never published, languishing for decades in an archive. Following an April premiere in Prague – to mark the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia – the collection is now on show at the Westlicht Gallery in Vienna. It will remain on display until mid-October.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
Forgotten Czech net bag makes a comeback
Czechs and Germans in 1930s Czechoslovakia: a complex picture
Wide range of events in store for Czechs this weekend as 30-year anniversary of Velvet Revolution reaches climax
Škoda unveils 4th-generation Octavia ahead of model’s 60th anniversary
15 years later – was ending military service right move for Czech Republic?