World-famous Czech-American director Miloš Forman is celebrating his 80th birthday on Saturday. Around the world, Czech Centers are honoring the filmmaker with exhibitions of posters for his films and screenings of his popular works. Mr. Forman, who was born in Čáslav in 1932, left his native Czechoslovakia after the Soviet-led invasion of his home country in 1968. He settled in the United States, where he established himself as one of the most successful directors alive today. His films “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and “Amadeus” (1984) were awarded five and eight Academy Awards, respectively.
The political reforms of the 1960s accelerated dramatically when on January 5 1968 Alexander Dubček became First Secretary of the Communist Party, the most powerful position in the country. Dubček immediately set Czechoslovakia on a course of economic and political reform, to create what was described as “socialism with a human face”. Today we are going to hear two recordings of Dubček from 1968 that show both the hopes with which the year started and the despair which followed the Soviet invasion in August.
It was one of the most remarkable single acts in Czechoslovak history, one that still today evokes mingled shock and admiration. Now the documents, reports, essays and films relating to the self-immolation of Jan Palach - five months after the invasion of his country by Warsaw Pact forces – is available to the public through a new website launched to commemorate the life and sacrifice of the young activist.
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.
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Hundreds of thousands again gather in Prague to voice their opposition to prime minister