Today, I would like to tell you about another “significant eight”, but this time focusing on the newest history – the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, or simply the Soviet occupation of 1968.
If you’ve been living in the Czech Republic for a while, you have probably noticed that Czech mood slightly changes every year at the end of August. The scale of national trauma caused by the invasion had been so enormous that it still echoes in the free-spirited hearts.
In 1968, the Communist Party’s rule marked exactly 20 years in the land, and Czechoslovak people lost all their illusions, feeling like the course towards socialism was actually the wrong path. The country was struggling with enormous levels of censorship, communist political monopoly, isolation from the western countries, and the economic downturn. The reforms, announced by the newly elected Communist Party chairman, Alexander Dubček, in April 1968, were like a breath of fresh air for the nation. The proclaimed “Socialism with a human face” was the program based on the traditional Czech democratic values, designed for the liberalization of the society.
Prague Spring (the set of reforms) had been loathed by the Soviet Union’s officials, who saw the reforms as an attempt to leave the sphere of the Soviet influence. On the night of 20 – 21 August 1968, the Eastern Bloc armies – Soviet, Polish, Hungarian, and Bulgarian, – started the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Approximately 500 thousand soldiers, 400 thousands of whom were Soviets, 6300 tanks, and about 800 aircrafts crossed the borders of Czechoslovakia, causing havoc and deaths. Although the resistance was nonviolent, 137 civilians were killed and about 500 were severely injured.
The invasion resulted in the political crises, and although it was followed by the Gustav Husak’s “normalization”, several decades of fights for freedom led to the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
Most of the countries condemned the occupation, and even some of the Soviet people took the events negatively. On the 25th of August, eight peaceful protesters, also known as “the Brave Eight”, gathered on the Red Square with the placards and slogans, including “for your and our Freedom” and “we are losing our best friends”. The protesters were brutally arrested and sentenced to several years in prison or psychiatric institutions. The invasion wrecked thousands of lives in Czechoslovakia and a minimum of eight in the Soviet Union.
The national tragedy was reflected in culture, predominately music, and literature, including one of the most famous novels of Milan Kundera “Unbearable lightness of being” and highly ranked 1999’s film “Cosy dens” (Pelíšky). I would highly recommend both of these pieces of art to gain a better understanding of the beautiful Czech culture.
Come back next week to find out who started the imperial educational reforms and since when all Czech pupils have to go to schools. See you next week!