Exactly 20 years ago, Czechs and Slovaks were celebrating their first Christmas for four decades without a hint of official disapproval. While the communists tolerated the trappings of Christmas – with Christmas trees and traditional Czech Christmas carp in abundance – their tolerance of Christian traditions was never more than skin deep. In the 1950s, priests and members of religious orders were often locked up for their beliefs, and the brief reforms of the 1960s were followed by another wave of persecution, following the Soviet-led invasion
The Czech Chamber of Deputies has passed a proposal put forward by senators for compensation to be provided for victims of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The bill on Friday was supported by deputies from all of the parliamentary parties, other than the Communists. If the bill is approved in the Senate and passed into law, the state will pay up to 30 million crowns to victims.
June 30 could soon be recognised as a notable day in the Czech calendar, marking the historic departure of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia in 1991. On Friday, a bill put forward by the Greens recognising the importance of the date, was passed in a first reading in the lower house. Former Green Party head Martin Bursík said June 30 was significant because it was the day former Czechoslovakia regained independence, no longer being a Soviet satellite country. If passed into law, June 30 will by definition remain a regular working day.
A memorial ceremony was held at the Czech Radio building on Vinohradská Street on Friday morning, marking the events of August 21, 1968. During the previous night, Soviet tanks had rolled into Czechoslovakia, crushing the Prague Spring reform movement and the hopes of a generation. Czech Radio became a rallying point for resistance to the occupation; thousands of people gathered in front of the building, and bloody fighting ensued.
Torches were lit in front of Prague’s National Museum Thursday afternoon and in six other cities, as the country begins commemorations of the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. The commemoration at the National Museum was accompanied by a recording of Czechoslovak Radio announcing the invasion and the music of dissident folk singer Karel Kryl.
In the course of 1969 and 1970 Czechoslovak Radio was transformed back into what it had been in the 1950s, a tool of hard line propaganda. In the process, over 700 radio staff were forced to leave their jobs. Those who stayed found their freedom of expression severely curtailed. To give an idea of the extent to which things had changed by August 1969 - the first anniversary of the Soviet led invasion – I will start with a short extract from Radio Prague’s broadcasts back in 1968, as the tanks rolled into the city. At the time the radio was playing
In last week’s From the Archives we followed the tragic last days of the student Jan Palach, who on January 16 1969 set himself alight in protest against growing apathy in the face of the Soviet invasion five months earlier. The whole country was in shock. Such a drastic and violent sacrifice had little precedent in modern Czech and Slovak history, and perhaps for just that reason Palach immediately became a symbol of the country’s lost liberty and a rallying cry for those who still hoped to save something of the reforms of 1968. Those in power
The Polish parliament on Friday honoured Polish accountant Ryszard Siwiec,
who set himself on fire in 1968 in protest of the Warsaw Pact invasion of
Czechoslovakia in the summer of that year. Addressing the lower house of
parliament, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk praised the deed as a
defining sacrifice of the generation and the parliamentary distinction as
testament to the importance of Polish-Czech-Slovak relations.
Siwiec, a former Home Army officer and father of five, set himself alight during a harvest festival on September 8, 1968, in front of roughly 100,000 onlookers. Several similar self-immolation protests would follow, including that of Jan Palach.
On the airwaves, 1968 ended very much as it had begun. For New Year’s Eve, Czechoslovak Radio chose the same format as the year before, with the light-hearted musical cabaret of the Semafor Theatre. But behind the scenes, the Soviet-led occupation in August had changed everything. The Soviets were only too pleased for the radio to give the impression of normality. A gradual, almost imperceptible drift back to hard-line communism was beginning. The process came to be known cynically as “normalization”, a word that was first used by Alexander Dubček himself
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