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
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
For the younger generation that had grown up after the end of World War II, the Soviet-led invasion of August 1968 was traumatic. The Prague Spring had brought an atmosphere of optimism and genuine enthusiasm for change, and all these hopes were crushed overnight. In this week’s From the Archives, we’ll hear what students had to say at the time, as recorded by Czechoslovak and foreign radio stations as the occupation unfolded.
In this week’s From the Archives we continue our look at how radio covered the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Today we follow the part played by the United Nations. Within just a few hours of the tanks crossing the border, the UN Security Council met for a special meeting to discuss what to do about the invasion. Czechoslovakia’s Ambassador to the UN, Jan Mužík was unequivocal:
In the course of 1968 the Soviet Union made it increasingly clear that it disapproved strongly of the Prague Spring reforms. Yet, despite mounting tensions with Moscow, the Soviet led invasion on the night from August 20-21 1968, came as a huge shock. Today we are going to hear some of the broadcasts from that fateful day. We start with Radio Moscow, with an official Soviet version of events.
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.
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