chapter14

August-September 1968

T
he next day was a hot day, and I went to the art-deco bathing resort of Slovansky Ostrov. It was a tatty place but still popular with urban dwellers. Sun worshippers queued patiently and went through the rusty turnstiles. The old kiosk was handing out wire baskets. Towels could be rented out from the drab-looking woman at the stalls. I and a few people behind me in the queue had just been served, when news on the radio announced that the whole government had been arrested and taken to Moscow. An older person told us to remember what happened to Jan Mazar
ýk in 1948. Someone older added that in 1938, Hitler kidnapped the incompetent Czechoslovak president Emil Hácha.  Someone who was older than me reminded us that in 1956, the Hungarian Secretary General Imre Nagy was killed by the Warsaw Pact. And now we feared that Brezhnev was going to send our government to a Gulag in Siberia. The group felt silent. Nobody changed into their swim wear, and nobody reclined under the willow trees. Like most people, I sat hunched over the transistor radio in my city clothes. The crowd had already been feeling down since the invasion and how could people be expected to show optimism or even put a brave face in a country ? And on top of that, these latest news!Did Anton Schaden know that all this was going to happen? How did he feel about his people being rescuers and persecutors? How did he feel about me? Then I thought that I was being neurotic. At best people don't care about me as long as I don't happen to be under their nose. Furthermore, I was in the same boat as everybody else on this island. If Brejnev's people were able to abduct our Secretary General and the rest of the government, handcuff them and take them to the Kremlin, what was in store for the rest of the KSČ who approved of Dubček's policies? The troops also stopped everyone from taking private pictures of soldiers and tanks. Radio silence in the country meant that news did not filter abroad. Czechoslovakia had become a fortress island.

In the end, the Kremlin did not send Alexander Dubček, Prime Minister Černik, and Assembly Chief Smrkovsky, to Siberia, however, they manhandled them and they let us stew in our silent fear for a few days. With hindsight, it was shrewd of Moscow not to harm our political representatives because had they done so, a civil war might have broken out on our soil. On August 25th, a full five days after the invasion, an official press-release was read out in the news: “Dear fellow Citizens, We send you today our warm greetings on behalf of the whole delegation. Discussions went on today and will continue during the night. We know that you are thinking of us. We are thinking of you as well. We appreciated your calm and wisdom which are a great help to us here. We beg you to go in the same way. Once more we send you our greetings and we are thinking of you at home. Yours, Svoboda, Dubček, Černik, Smrkovsky, and the others. From Moscow, August 25th at 9.45 pm”

Later we were able to hear Dubček's voice on the radio as he was solemnly addressing the nation. I remember listening to him at  Kávarna Modrá and how the staff and guests were shocked because his voice sounded tired, weak and we all sensed that he could barely contain his tears. He explained that after talks in Moscow, reforms were unavoidable and that the task was heavy:
“Our situation just now is very complicated indeed. One may say that this is tragic. Yet our people expect us to do something to solve the situation. The proceedings of the Slovak Party Congress and the Moscow Protocol proved that our people are capable of grasping the situation. But we must tell them the truth... The question is: is there any possibility of our leading nations out of this situation? The answer is: there is. Is there a sound relationship between our people and our party? Yes there is. So let's go to work." Alexander Dubček – radio speech on the 25th of August.”

Frantisek Kriegl of the KSČ refused to sign the Moscow Protocol but this could not stop the reforms from being cancelled. This meant that we would go back to how things were when Novotny was in charge. At the UN, the motion was withdrawn. George Ball, the US ambassador in Prague oversaw a convoy evacuating US citizens from the country. On August 28th, all Czechoslovak media publishers agreed to stop the press for a day. Writers and editors subsequently agreed with Dubček on re-introducing limited censorship for a period of three months. On September 6th, Kriegl was dismissed from his post.A day later, the International Confederation of Trade-Unions sent a message of solidarity: 
“The International Free Trade Union Conference on Czechoslovakia salutes the Czechoslovak people and especially the workers, and pledges the continued solidarity of the whole international free trade union movement with their heroic struggle for full human and trade union rights.” Statement by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Brussels, Belgium September 7th 1968.”

According to a rumour, President Svoboda had threatened to shoot himself if Dubček and the others weren't released.
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