Czechia commemorates 55th anniversary of deadly Warsaw Pact invasion

President Petr Pavel, Prime Minister Petr Fiala, and other senior members of the government paid tributes to those who lost their lives in 1968. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 21.08.2023 15:13:00 (updated on 21.08.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

Prague and other cities across Czechia today mark the 55th anniversary of the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops led by the Soviet army with meetings, speeches by state representatives, concerts, and exhibitions. The invasion, which started during the night of Aug. 20-21, 1968, sought to suppress efforts from the liberal wing of the Czechoslovak Communist Party to reform the system.

In Prague, the Czech Radio building on Vinohradská Street is holding a solemn memorial ceremony where state representatives and witnesses gather to pay tribute to those who lost their lives. President Petr Pavel, Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Markéta Pekarová Adamová, and President of the Senate Miloš Vystrčil are among those who deliver speeches and lay wreaths.

Learning from the past

Pavel today emphasized the importance of addressing past historical trauma. He highlighted his personal experience as a seven-year-old during the Prague Spring events and subsequent invasion. Recalling his confusion when his grandmother informed him of the Russian invasion despite previous liberation, he referenced the film Pelíšky (Cozy Dens) that delves into the late 1960s period.

He described the invasion as a violation not only of international law but also of a fundamental principle. "As just because someone helps you get your freedom back does not mean they want to keep it. Or it also means that they have a completely different idea of freedom than you do," he said.

The NeverMore 68 festival to commemorate the events kicks off at the Výstaviště in Prague 7. This festival includes exhibitions, concerts, and thematic projections addressing the theme of disinformation.

Nationwide commemorations

Other cities also join in the remembrance. In Brno, a program begins with flower-laying at Moravské náměstí, followed by events at various commemorative plaques. In Liberec, a memorial gathering takes place at the Monument to the Victims of the 1968 Occupation, accompanied by a performance by the Prague group Missa.

An exhibition titled "České Budějovice – August 1968" is on display in České Budějovice, while the town of Vyškov unveils a commemorative plaque to remember those who were persecuted for their political views and opposition to the occupation.

In 1968, a total of 108 people lost their lives during anti-communist protests against the invasion. The subsequent regime's harsh suppression of anti-occupation demonstrations led to further casualties, marking the beginning of the "normalization" era. This period saw political purges, censorship, and the curtailment of freedoms.

Drawing on the present Ukraine-Russia war

In light of the ongoing situation in Ukraine, Liberec's Mayor Jaroslav Zámečník also emphasized the importance of solidarity with the Ukrainian people. He warned against questioning Czech aid and urged vigilance against misinformation and political populism that could destabilize democratic values, just like they did in the 1960s.

Fiala also said this afternoon that the current war in Ukraine is proving to the whole world that Russian complexes remain as dangerous as they were in 1968. The Czech prime minister also said that the criminal regime in former Czechoslovakia eventually collapsed under the weight of its own mistakes, two decades after the Soviet invasion. He noted that freedom should not be taken for granted.

The invasion by the Warsaw Pact states halted Czechoslovakia's path toward political reform and democracy. Liberec, a city significantly impacted by the occupation, remains a poignant example of the human cost. The legacy of Aug. 21, 1968, serves as a testament to the need for remembrance and vigilance in the face of challenges to democratic principles.

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