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Czech Republic sees many events commemorating the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia - Romani man was among those killed, other Roma joined the protests

21.8.2020 15:21
The occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 - Soviet tanks in front of Czechoslovak Radio on Vinohradská třída In Prague. (PHOTO: YouTube.com)
The occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 - Soviet tanks in front of Czechoslovak Radio on Vinohradská třída In Prague. (PHOTO: YouTube.com)

Commemorations of the victims of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia 52 years ago are being held in many places around the Czech Republic today. One of those killed by the occupiers was a Romani man, and other members of the Romani community disagreed with the invasion and joined the protests against it.

Commemorative Events

In front of the headquarters of Czech Radio in Prague at 11 AM, as is traditional, there will be a commemorative ceremony with a wreath-laying. This year it will be attended by the speaker of the Senate, Miloš Vystrčil (Civic Democratic Party - ODS), Mayor of Prague Zdeněk Hřib (Pirates), ODS chair Petr Fiala and the Ambassador of Slovakia to the Czech Republic, Petr Weiss.

The Million Moments for Democracy movement is holding more than 80 events today countrywide. The comemmorations will feature speeches, eyewitnesses to the invasion recounting their memories, concerts, films, a reenactment of the invasion, and assemblies honoring the dead.

After the event at Czech Radio finishes, Gallery Vinohradská 12 in Prague will open and people will be able to view an exhibition by the artists Barbora and Emma Srncová. A procession will be held in the Prague 1 quarter beginning in Politických vězňů ("Political Prisoners") Street.

On Prague's Wenceslas Square, a concert will be produced called "So Dreams Don't Go Gray" (Aby sny nezešedly). In the town of Plzeň, organizers from Million Moments for Democracy say there will be a more intimate event with a moment of silence and the lighting of candles, and the city will install a bronze plaque on náměstí Republiky commemorating 21 August 1968.

In the city of Ústí nad Labem a memorial plaque to Petr Fridrich, a local resident killed during the 1968 ocupation, will be ceremonially unveiled. On Masaryk Square in Ostrava there will be a demonstration, while on Jakubské náměstí in Brno there will be an audiovisual exhibition, among other things.

Romani man was among those killed by the occupiers in 1968

The invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact troops on 21 August 1968 resulted in more than 130 deaths. In Košice (Slovakia) alone there were six people shot dead that first day, including a Romani man named Bartoloměj Horváth.

Mr Horváth was not the only Romani person who disagreed with the occupation, and other Romani community members stood up against it as well, which had a fundamental influence on their fates. "When they invaded, I knew it wouldn't be good. I told myself people would probably be against it, though. They were, but then they became afraid and every single one of them stayed silent. I didn't, it seemed to me like the days of the German invasion. I said to myself: 'If they get rid of [Czechoslovak Communist Party Secretary] Dubček, I will speak out.' They removed Dubček, so I resigned. I was a housing management technician, so they fired me for not agreeing with the occupation," Zdeněk Daniel told the Memory of the Roma (Paměť Romů) oral history project.

"You cannot believe that would have been situation that I, as a Czechoslovak citizen and an officer in the Czechoslovak Army, could normally agree with. So I just said:  'No, this is vulgar agression, and you all know it just the same as I do.' I was already on my way out," Romani community member Karel Holomek described the consequences of his criticism of the invasion.

An audio message about the invasion was written in the Romanes language and recorded for broadcast by the linguist Milena Hübschmannová; unfortunately, just part of it has been preserved. "Dear Friends, in our country, in our republic, more than a quarter million of our fellow citizens who are Cikáni are living. At this moment it is necessary that each citizen of our occupied republic comprehends the situation. For that reason, we are now contacting our fellow citizens of Cikánský ethnicity in their mother tongue," the recording begins.

"Phralale Romale amen sam trin šel ezera Roma, so dživas andre amaro štatos, andre Československo socialisticko republika. Amen Roma varekena phenas Rom Romeha gadžo gadžeha, bo hin ajse gadže, so na den le romenge paťiv, aľe the maškar amende hin ajse manuša, so maťon maren peskere Romenge ladž, nane oda čačipen? Aľe akana hin ajsi situacija, že amen imar našťi phenas Rom Romeha, gadžo gadžeha...."

"Brother Roma, there are 300 000 of us living in this state of ours, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. We Roma sometimes say: 'A Rom belongs with Roma, the gadje belong with the gadje', because there are some gadje who do not consider us equal to them. Among us Roma there are also those who dishonor the rest of us, though - isn't that so? Right now, however, the situation is such that we can't just say 'The Roma belong with the Roma, the gadje with the gadje..." - this is where the recording unfortunately ends.

AUDIO

From August 1968 to August 1969

Troops of the Warsaw Pact, led by the Army of the USSR, invaded what was then the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic 52 years ago. One year later, in August 1969, on the first anniversary of the occupation, civil society protests took place.

Those protests were dispersed by the Czechoslovak security forces, above all by the People's Militia (Lidové milice), composed of party-approved bureaucrats, employees and workers from different enterprises. That intervention cost the lives of seven people and injured many.

Mass protests began on 19 August 1969 during which people expressed their dissatisfaction with the politics of the new communist leadership. The protests came to a head on 21 August.

Demonstrations were held in Brno, Havířov, Karlovy Vary, Liberec, Opava, Prague and Ústí nad Labem. They were smaller in the Slovak part of the country, where they happened in Bratislava, Košice and Žilina.

All of the security units were equipped with special technology such as collapsible truncheons, tear gas grenades, and vehicles that were meant to find illegal radio broadcasts and jam them. The preparation for the crackdown was actually so thorough that it included a campaign in the media - a preventive one - meant to properly warn all potential participants in the protests of what awaited them.

The capital became a closed city, trains did not run, and the highways were closed for good measure. The People's Militia played the most brutal role - a group that basically had no legal standing and had de facto been illegally set up.

The Supreme Commander of the militias was the Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and they were under the direction of the security services during the intervention. Five demonstrators were shot dead during the August 1969 demonstrations.

The militia members had Kalashnikov machine guns and used them to commit those murders. Some of the victims died after being hit by a bullet when it ricocheted off a sidewalk or a building, others were shot in the back of the head as they fled.

Many people were injured during the intervention as well. The militia beat up children, elderly people and women without compunction.

fk, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Civil society, Okupace, Soviet Union, Výročí



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