Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated he would welcome the
presence of Czech President Miloš Zeman at next year‘s Victory Day
celebrations in Moscow. In his New Year’s greetings to the Czech head of
state, President Putin wrote that President Zeman’s presence at the end
of war celebrations in Moscow would symbolize “friendship and mutual
respect between the two nations”.
The message comes in the wake of news that President Miloš Zeman is considering cancelling his planned visit to Russia next year in protest against what he described as Russia’s outrageously insolent reaction to the Czech Parliament’s decision to recognize the day of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia as a day of remembrance for those who had been killed by the invading forces.
Moscow said in response to the news that Prague's efforts to return to the 1968 events in order to incorporate them into the current political context, would not contribute to good relations and cooperation between the two countries.
The Czech Republic looks set to officially declare August 21 a state
holiday, in memory of victims of the Warsaw Pact troop invasion of
Czechoslovakia in 1968 and subsequent Soviet-led occupation.
Senators voted overwhelmingly on Friday to amend legislation to create the new holiday.
In total, 90 lawmakers from all parliamentary groups apart from the Communist Party voted in favour of the bill, which must be signed by President Miloš Zeman in order to become law.
According to the bill, the night of August 20-21, 1968, was among of the most tragic times in modern Czechoslovak history.
As the Czech nation celebrates 30 years of freedom and democracy the words of a leading Communist Party official have caused a public outcry. In an interview for Czech Radio, the party’s deputy chair, Stanislav Grospič argued that the 1968 Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia was not an invasion and that the people killed had died mostly in road accidents. While his words evoked widespread condemnation, the Communist Party has not distanced itself from the statement.
The leadership of the Communist Party has not distanced itself from
shocking statements made by the party’s deputy chair Stanislav Grospič
who said in an interview for Czech Radio that the 1968 Soviet-led invasion
of Czechoslovakia had not been an invasion and that the people killed had
died mostly in road accidents. His words were condemned by politicians
across the board.
Opposition politicians are calling for his resignation as head of the Mandate and Immunity Committee in the lower house.
The head of the Communist Party Vojtěch Filip said after a meeting of the party’s leadership that its members should be more restrained in expressing themselves in public and should make sure their statements do not go counter the official party line.
The lower house of Parliament has passed a bill declaring August 21st a day
in memory of the victims of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in
1968. The bill was supported by 130 out of 137 deputies present.
The Communist Party MPs present failed to suport the bill, with the exception of Jiří Dolejš who said he was voting according to his conscience and regarded the invasion as „a terrible blow to the country“.
The bill will now go to the Senate for approval.
On Wednesday evening, thousands of people attended a protest march in
Prague initiated by Million Moments for Democracy, the organization behind
the largest demonstration in the Czech Republic since the Velvet Revolution
in 1989, which brought an estimated quarter of a million demonstrators to
Prague’s Letná plain in June. Organisers say the event was attended by
10,000 people and served as a reminder of the events of the Soviet invasion
in 1968, the brutal Communist crackdown on protesters in 1969 and as a
protest against the current prime minister and president.
Attendees met on Prague's Wenceslas Square in the evening hours before heading to Hradčany Square in front of Prague Castle.
The march was part of a wider string of demonstrations organized by the group this Wednesday. These were held in 93 sites across the country, including all of the Czech Republic’s major cities.
The Czech Radio building in Prague saw the most intense violence during the Soviet-led invasion of August 21, 1968 and, as every year, hundreds of people marked the anniversary at the station on Thursday. Among them were leading politicians – and one old lady who broadcast news of the occupation to the outside world.
Events are being held in the Czech Republic marking the anniversary of
August 21 in both 1968 and 1969. Czechoslovakia was invaded by Soviet-led
troops on that date in 1968, while the following year a number of
participants in demonstrations on the first anniversary were killed in
clashes with Czechoslovak security forces.
The main memorial event on Wednesday will take place in front of Czech Radio, which was a focal point of defiance and violence in August 1968. Senior elected representatives and people who lived through that time are expected to attend.
The events of August 1969 are to be marked by a march from Wenceslas Square to Prague Castle organised by the group Million Moments for Democracy.
Dozens of other memorial events are also being held around the Czech Republic.
Exactly a year after the Prague Spring was crushed by a Warsaw Pact invasion, many thousands of Czechoslovaks went into the streets once more to protest their country’s occupation. The subsequent brutal crackdown on demonstrators, this time by their own countrymen, resulted in hundreds of arrests and even five deaths. It crushed the last vestiges of hope and persuaded the public that “normalisation” was here to stay.
The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes has launched an
interactive map showing where victims of the 1968 invasion met their
deaths. It details the victims’ names and where, when and how they died
in connection with the Soviet-led invasion between August 1968 and August
The map’s co-creator, historian Milan Bárta, said that while people initially died in big cities, later victims met their deaths on country roads as the result of traffic accidents as soldiers were barred from entering cities and withdrew to the regions.
Link to map (in Czech): https://obetiokupace.dejepis21.cz/