Commemoration of the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia
Today's commemoration of the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the armies of the Warsaw Pact, which took place at the instigation of the Soviet Union in August 1968, began at 10 AM in front of the National Museum in Prague. The event was held by the "Without Communists" (Bez komunistů) initiative, and was advertised as "More significant than ever given events in the east."
The initiative is also holding an anti-communist chain hunger strike. Czech actor Jan Tříska joined it today from Los Angeles.
An official assembly was held in front of the Czech Radio building on Vinohradská Street in Prague. A concert is also taking place on the lower half of Wenceslas Square in Prague from 14:00 - 22:00 featuring the legendary band The Plastic People of the Universe and folk singer Vladimír Merta this evening.
The more well-known faces attending the event at the National Museum today included Czech MEP Jaromír Štětina, who recently returned from liberated sites in eastern Ukraine around Donetsk; Martin Bursík, chair of the Liberal Environmental Party (Liberálně ekologická strana - LES); and Miroslava Němcová, the former speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. Yaroslav Gorbanevsky, the son of Natalya Gorbanevskaya, the Russian poet, translator of Polish literature and civil rights activist who passed away last year, was also there.
The fight for freedom is common to us all
Miroslava Němcová spoke about Czechoslovakia's loss of its elites as a result of the country's successive totalitarian regimes. She emphasized that Nazism had murdered off Jewish and other elites and that the Communist regime did the same, causing an enormous "brain drain".
Yaroslav Gorbanevsky also spoke today. He is the son of Natalya Gorbanevskaya, an activist who, on 25 August 1968, demonstrated against the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia directly in front of the headquarters of Soviet power on Red Square in Moscow together with seven other people.
Gorbanevskaya was arrested on the square and was the only demonstrator released because her son Yaroslav was just a few months old. "I see Czech and Ukrainain flags here and I would be glad to add the Russian flag, because not all Russians agree with what is happening in Ukraine. The fight for freedom is common to us all," Gorbanevsky said.
In December 1969, the Soviet regime shut Gorbanevskaya up in a "psychiatric treatment facility". She was released in 1972.
"In reality they tortured people there by forcing them to take medicines that influenced their minds. They did experiments on them," Gorbanevsky reminded those present.
Russia violates the sovereignty of another country yet again
Eyewitnesses to the August 1968 events in front of the Czech Radio building such as Olympic athlete Věra Čáslavská attended the ceremony, as did representatives of the Czech President, the ministries, and Prague City Hall. The politicians compared the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to the current conflict in Ukraine.
"Russian tanks are at this moment once again violating the sovereignty of another country," noted Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL). Mayor of Prague Tomáš Hudeček (TOP 09) added that Russia, just like the USSR in 1968, is once more attempting to maintain the greatest possible influence, even at the price of armed conflict.
"It is my wish that the anniversary of the August occupation, one of the greatest symbols of the complicated path our history has taken, will always remind us that democracy and freedom are movements aiming toward a continually more humane social order with no guarantee of success, not permanent states that can be achieved once and for all," said Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Social Democrats - ČSSD). "The radio in particular was one of the occupiers' first targets because it was broadcasting truthful, unbiased information about the invasion by the troops and calling for quiet resistance to this arbitrary act," said Jan Hamáček (ČSSD), the current speaker of the Chamber of Deputies.
August 1969 - the regime's harsh reprisals against its own citizens
Today we also commemorate the brutal intervention of the Communist regime against its own citizens on the first anniversary of the occupation in August 1969, which also resulted in fatalities. Two protesters were murdered near the Powder Tower in Prague by members of the People's Militia.
"Militia members near the Powder Tower respond to the rock-throwing with gunshots. They fire directly into the crowd. The shots hit two men, one in the head, the other in the chest. They fall to the ground, the others quickly carry them away and transport them to the nearest hospital. The receiving physician at the Na Františku Hospital views both men. Nothing can be done to help them, their injuries are too serious. The physician pronounces 18-year-old František Kohout and 19-year-old Vladimír Kruba dead," reads the Facebook page called Srpen 1969, which publishes details of that history in the form of reportage.
Commemorations of this tragic anniversary were also held today in Brno and Liberec. Current events in Ukraine were also compared to the occupation of Czechoslovakia by right-wing opposition politicians during commemorative ceremonies in Slovakia, where August 1968 was remembered in Bratislava.
Troops from five Warsaw Pact countries crossed Czechoslovakia's border during the late night of 20 August and the early morning hours of 21 August 1968. The invasion brought a violent end to the attempt to reform socialism that was underway at the time.
By the end of 1968 the invasion had cost the lives of 108 people as well as wounding 500 others seriously and causing less severe injuries to many hundreds more. Several people died directly at the radio building when they attempted to defend the staff there.
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