One hundred and sixteen soldiers of the occupying armies of the Warsaw Pact died on Czechoslovak territory during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia launched on August 21st, the daily Hospodarské Noviny writes on the eve of the anniversary. The paper says that the vast majority died in traffic accidents or by mishandling their weapon in a skirmish. Only one was killed by a local protesting against the invasion. Historians estimate that over 100 Czechs and Slovaks were killed in the first days and weeks of the Soviet-led invasion.
A monument was unveiled in Prague on Friday morning to Ryszard Siwiec, the Polish man who set himself alight in September 1968 in protest at his country’s participation in the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Siwiec committed suicide in Warsaw just weeks after the invasion and six months before the Czech student Jan Palach made his own terrible sacrifice in Prague. The monument was unveiled on the eve of the 42nd anniversary of the invasion.
US intelligence agency, the CIA, had a very good picture of the Soviet build up of forces before the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 and warned the then president Lyndon Johnson it was about to happen. That is the message from around 500 archive documents relating to the Warsaw Pact clampdown collected and released by the agency at a recent seminar in Austin, Texas. The papers show that the CIA warned of the build up of forces on August 2, saying an invasion could happen two weeks later. On August 20, the CIA noted that Soviet leaders had cut short their holidays for an emergency meeting. They said this was likely connected to an invasion. President Johnson rejected that interpretation. The Warsaw Pact forces rolled in that night to stamp out the liberalising moves by Czechoslovak authorities in the previous months. Some previous interpretations suggested the West was surprised by the Soviet-led invasion.
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
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