Not all important dates in the calendar of the Czech Republic are for celebrating, and 21st August 1968 is among them. However, that does not mean that we should not remember this date and learn about the events, which had such an impact on recent history of Czechoslovakia and later the Czech and Slovakian Republics.
The Communist party won the election in 1948, soon after took over all the ministries and quickly destroyed the democratic principles in which the country had been founded in 1918 (of course, with the exception of the Nazi occupation during WWII). The first two decades of the communist regime where tough, full of false accusations of treachery, death penalties, the creation of work camps and the division of society between regime supporters and “others”. A change came in the second half of 1960’s, where strict rules eased up a little, and the so called “Socialism with human face” became the political and social norm. This period is also known as the Prague Spring. Unfortunately, the leaders of USSR did not welcome these changes in one of its satellite states (a country, which was not officially part of the USSR but under its direct influence) and felt that the communist ideology could be in danger. Therefore, they called to other communist states to come to “help” and “save” the communist regime in the Czechoslovakia. The five armies of the Warsaw Pack (Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland and USSR) counting around 200 000 troops then crossed the borders of Czechoslovakia from all sides during the night from 20th -21st August 1968. The majority of these forces left by the fall of 1968, but 75 000 Soviet soldiers remained in the country for 21 long years. The last Soviet soldiers left well after the emancipation of Czechoslovakia on 21st June 1991.
The Czech people were shocked and felt betrayed. Nobody understood what was happening. Nobody could believe that the Soviets would do this. Some people tried to resist and protest, but the Czech political elite gave up under Soviet pressure. Soon the Soviet presence became the norm, and the dark time of so called “normalization” began. Many tried to immigrate to the West. Just in 1968 70 000 people fled. 300 000 in total fled during the occupation period.
If you are in Prague right now, you might see in the city center (mainly around the Wenceslas Square) some gatherings, public speakers and exhibitions with pictures to remember this sad event. Stop by and ask the locals what they think about this event and how it impacted their lives.
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