Dozens of people gathered in the central Bohemian community of Všetaty, the birthplace of Jan Palach, to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of his death in protest of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague on January 16, 1969, and died in hospital three days later.
Czechoslovakia played an active part in the Soviet Union’s propaganda war with the United States during the 1950s, a time of edginess and paranoia on both sides. There was no shortage of people trying to flee across the Iron Curtain to the West, but every now and then the flight would be in the other direction, and someone from the West would actively seek asylum in the Communist Bloc. For the communist regimes this was a propaganda opportunity not to be missed.
Even after the death of Stalin in the Soviet Union and Klement Gottwald in Czechoslovakia the 1950s remained a period of high political tension between East and West. The Cold War was at its height; with it came the arms race and the space race. Here is Czechoslovakia’s president Antonín Novotný, in a New Year radio address on January 1 1958:
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
Czech born Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka’s unique collection of photographs documenting the 1968 Russian-led invasion of Czechoslovakia opened at the Lumiere Brothers Gallery in Moscow on Friday. At the exhibition’s opening the photographer said he hoped the unique testimony would help dispel the myth that the invasion of Czechoslovakia was an act of solidarity with its people.
Because August 21 is the fortieth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the radio played such a central role in the events of those dramatic days, in this edition of From the Archives we shall be hearing the memories of one of the key journalists involved in those dramatic events. Jiří Dienstbier was one of Czechoslovak Radio’s star reporters at the time. Later he was to become one of the best-known dissidents of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and after the Velvet Revolution he was the country’s first post-communist foreign minister.
The Czech prime minister, Petr Nečas, released a statement on Sunday on
the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of
Czechoslovakia, saying the threat today was no longer from “allied”
military forces but an “invasion” of radicalism, extremism and hatred.
The prime minister said in the near future extremism could threaten
In 1968, Soviet-led troops crushed the period of reforms in Czechoslovakia known as the Prague Spring, ushering in so-called ‘Normalisation’ period that only ended with the fall of Communism in the country in 1989. Five Soviet-bloc armies crossed into Czechoslovakia shortly before midnight on August 20, 1968, totaling 100,000 troops, 2,300 tanks and 700 planes. Eventually occupying troop levels would reach some 750,000. During the tragic days that followed the invasion more than 100 people died.
Ahead of the 43-year anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s invasion by the Soviet Union and her main allies on August 21, a new book offers a hitherto little explored perspective on this traumatic chapter of Czech history. Titled “Invasion 1968. The Russian View”, it explores Russians’ attitudes towards the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia and the trauma that some of the Soviet soldiers involved in it experienced in its wake. Sarah Borufka spoke to the editor, former Russian correspondent for Czech TV Josef Pazderka, about the Russian experience
The former TV programme announcer and host Milena Vostřáková – who was fired from Czechoslovak Television in 1969 for a single statement deemed as anti-Soviet – has died at the age of 77. Her family revealed the information on Friday. In March of 1969, after the defeat of the Soviet Union by Czechoslovakia at the Ice Hockey World Championships, Mrs Vostřáková called the victory not only athletic but ‘moral’ – a statement that would see her banned from the small screen and other media for 20 years. The Communists charged that her statement, which followed the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia by roughly half a year – was intended to stir up anti-Soviet sentiment. Mrs Vostřáková returned to the TV screen in 1990 and continued working in television for a number of years before retiring for good.
The Czech foreign and defence ministers at a conference in Prague on Friday, recalled Ronald Reagan’s contribution to the collapse of communism in the former Soviet-bloc. The conference is being held on the anniversary of Mr Reagan’s birthday: the former US president, who died in 2004 at the age of 93, would have been 100 today. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg recalled Reagan’s courage against the Soviet Union. On Friday, the former US secretary of state under George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, also spoke. On the occasion of the anniversary, a Prague street has been renamed after the 40th US president who famously called the Soviet Union an “evil empire”.
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