chapter13


August 1968

All that time, my colleagues from the SVAZARM and the army had been guarding the Iron Curtain side of our country to protect us from invading Germans. The West-German pulled back their troops from the border to quell rumours from Moscow. However, there were manoeuvres in the Eastern part of our country. The troops from the East Germany, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary and the USSR did not leave at the end of the manoeuvres.

Subsequently, Alexander Dubček met Leonid Brezhnev in a village called Cierna nad Tisou on the Slovakian/Soviet border and negotiated the withdrawal of the troops. Dubček defended his reforms and said that the country was loyal to Communism, the Warsaw Pakt and the Comecon. After four days, the negotiators reached a compromise: The Warsaw5 agreed to withdraw the troops from the ČSSR but in exchange Dubček had to re-introduce press censorship, disallow the Social-Democratic Party and check on anti-socialist tendencies within his party. 

On the 3rd of August, the Warsaw5 and the KSČ signed the Bratislava Declaration which affirmed loyalty to Marxist-Leninism and proletarian internationalism. The Soviet Union stated that it would intervene if a bourgeois multiparty system was introduced. Then the troops left the ČSSR but stayed behind its borders. 



Later that month, on the 21st of August, I heard a commotion outside. The neighbours were shouting on the streets, there were young people on scooters clamouring that there were Soviet tanks in the Nerudova Street. In fact, one quarter of a million Warsaw Pakt soldiers were marching in a country with a population of six millions. In villages outside town, protesters had  removed or painted over signposts but to no avail.

“Those Fascists! Those murderers!”. I rushed down holding my transistor-radio to my ear. Crowds make me anxious but I had to brave my phobia and join them. It seemed that everyone in Prague was on the streets. Some people waved the national flag.

Now a tank arrived and parked by the Jan Hus statue on Old Town square  and it pointed its guns on City Hall. Angry and anxious people with red faces and wild hair were pleading, shouting, panting or raising their firsts against the tank.

Someone shouted at the Politrouk (political kommissar) who was standing on the tank's gangplank: 'Idite domoi, rouskije fasciste! (= some muddle of Czech and Russian meaning: 'Go home you Russian fascists!'), Someone else shouted: 'Imperialisticheskaya!' (Cz/Russ: Imperialists!). The young tank-driver, who wore a brown uniform, looked puzzled. If Europe were a haven of fraternity, he would not be our enemy. 

I felt ashamed to have a father in Leningrad. I shouted in Russian:
“Мы приветствуем Вас! Что ты делаешь с нами? (mii prinretstvyem vas! Chto tii delaesh s nami?) (Russ: we welcomed you! What are you doing to us?!”)

Next to me, a young woman in a fashionable minidress screamed:
“Почему? Контрреволюция нет здесь! 'Patchemou? Kontrarevolutsii niet iedec!' (Russ: Why? There is no counter-revolution here!)
I looked behind me and saw some banners: 'To Moscow, direction East 1,800 km' 'Nobody called you!' 

The Politrouk who looked a bit like Maxim Gorki hectored the mass whilst brandishing his Lenin fist:
Смерть фашизму! смерть контрреволюции! 'Smiert fascismou! Smiert kontrarevolutsii!' (Russ: Death to Fascism! Death to Counter-Revolution!).

A middle-aged man who was wearing an anorak shouted back:
"смерть советским фашизмом! смерть советской контрреволюции! идти домой! " 'Smiert sovietskim fascismom! Smiert sovietskoi kontrarevolutsii! Idite domoi!' (Russ: death to Soviet Fascism! Death to Soviet counter-revolution! Go home!')

'домой фашистов'- 'domoi, fascistov!' the crowd echoed. 

I heard an announcement on the radio : “When you hear the national anthem, you will know that the Russians will have stormed broadcasting house. For us, this will certainly mean the end but freedom shall prevail” 
The Politrouk said in broken Czech:
'I am just executing orders! Why are you making our task so difficult? I don't want this either!'

The tank-driver looked at us with a puzzled Ukrainian expression. What did he, the Politrouk and the others Soviets expect? What did propaganda in Moscow tell him? That we were a bunch of traitors supported by Fascist elements in West Germany? On a wall, there was graffiti saying: 
'Cain and Abel were also brothers.' 

“Twelve people dead' the radio said

Then it played a song by Marta Kubišova: 
'Let peace continue with this country. Let wrath, envy, hate, fear and struggle vanish. Now, when the last reign over your affairs will return to you, people, I will return. The cloud is slowly sailing away from the skies. Everyone is reaping his own harvest. Let my prayer speak to the hearts that are not burned by the times of bitterness like blooms in the late frost.” 'A Prayer for Marta' was the last song played by Radio Prague in August 21th, 1968 before it fell to the hands of repression. 

At 7.45 am, the tanks reached the Vinorahda and soldiers shelled and stormed broadcasting house. The national anthem was played then radio silence. By the end of that rainy day, the whole country was occupied and 72 people were dead and hundred were wounded. In the days that followed,seventy thousand people emigrated abroad,

Father and 6-year old son
Son: Father, was that tanks firing in the night?
Father: Yes.
Son: Well, why didn't the Red Army come to help us?



When the radio resumed its broadcast, Dubček addressed the nation and urged the population not to resist. He wanted to avoid more civilian casualties. Then we all waited for his instructions. The ČSSR army soldiers were confined to their barracks. I thought of my former colleagues and about their state of mind. I briefly thought about the patrolling wolf-dogs and concluded that the beasts had no idea what was going on. I saw that someone had put a blindfold on the Jan Hus statue on Old Town Square. 

The government said that the Warsaw5 had crossed the border without their knowledge, whilst the Soviet leadership said that it had received a request 'for immediate assistance, including assistance with armed forces.' The rumour in the corridors was that some KSČ members, hostile to Dubček, had been negotiating behind his back. Another rumour was that state police and the home office had been in contact with the Soviets, this meant that we had to be  prepared for arrests by the SNB. Many were sure that it was Brezhnev's intention to remove Dubček from office but the public support was too strong. Some villages had renamed themselves 'Svoboda' and 'Dubček'. 

The invasion was severely criticized abroad. Albania withdrew from the Warsaw Pakt calling the invasion  an act of 'social-imperialism'. Romania's General Secretary Nicolae Ceaucescu who had been on a state visit here two week earlier, harshly criticized Brezhnev's policies. These two countries were strange bedfellows because regarding civil rights, their own brand of communism was even worse than Brezhnev's, however it was important that someone in Eastern Europe stated that they did not believe in invading other countries. The trade-unions in Western Europe as well as the communist parties in France and Italy condemned the invasion. The Greek communist party condoned it. The Portuguese Communist party was the most outspoken and its general-secretary was planning a visit to Prague. 

At the UN special conference called by Canada, the USA, France, Paraguay and the United Kingdom, the Soviet ambassador Jacob Malik reiterated that this was a 'fraternal assistance against antisocial forces'.
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