Wednesday is the 60th anniversary of the death of the second president of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš. Beneš remains a controversial figure: he was one of the architects of the modern Czechoslovak state, but he was also in power during the Munich agreement of 1938 and ten years later he allowed the Communist Party to take over. Probably his most controversial decision was issuing decrees that led to the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans after the Second World War. What was Edvard Beneš like as a politician, and what is his legacy today?
In From the Archives this week we carry on where we left off at the end of July in our chronological journey through the Czech Radio archives. We had reached the point just after the end of World War Two; after the initial euphoria, the hard work of rebuilding the country began: not least at the Czechoslovak Radio building itself, which had been shot to pieces in the Prague Uprising and received a direct hit from a German aerial torpedo.
This week no topic in the Czech Republic was more dominant than the 40th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. On August 21st, tanks and soldiers moved in, and forever changed the course of the country, crushing reforms that had made life in Czechoslovakia tolerable compared to the Stalinist 1950s. But all too soon, the reforms came to an end. In the weeks which followed, many Czechs and Slovaks opted to escape, among them my parents – only a few years married. They were among the first to leave: that same night of the 21st crossing
The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia resulted in a permanent Soviet military presence on Czech soil. Between 1968 and 1991 –when the last of the Soviet troops finally left the country – they operated in 73 localities. The environmental damage they caused is taking years to repair and has already cost billions of crowns. Jakub Kašpar is a spokesman for the Czech Environment Ministry:
Soviet propaganda described the invasion of Czechoslovakia as “brotherly help” to a nation threatened by “counter-revolutionary forces”, and the Warsaw Pact forces that occupied the country in August 1968 came from Russia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. But not all the citizens of those countries agreed with the invasion, and several of them risked their lives to protest against Moscow’s crackdown. On Thursday, nine of them received medals in gratitude from Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek.
August 21st, 2008 marks 40 years since Warsaw pact troops moved into Czechoslovakia, crushing the reform movement known as the Prague Spring. The invasion shocked many Czechs who came to the defence of the Czechoslovak Radio building (now Czech Radio) on Vinohradská Street. Dominik Jun was there in the run up to the commemoration and filed this report.
Exhibitions have been taking place all over Prague recently to commemorate the Warsaw-Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968. But perhaps the biggest of all the displays was unveiled on Thursday, exactly 40 years after the Soviet tanks rolled in. ‘… And the tanks arrived’ sees Prague’s National Museum – to this day a symbol of the occupation – returned to the way it looked in 1968. For one month only, a 1960’s-style kiosk, vintage cars, and of course, a Soviet tank stand outside the museum.
Because August 21 is the fortieth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the radio played such a central role in the events of those dramatic days, in this edition of From the Archives we shall be hearing the memories of one of the key journalists involved in those dramatic events. Jiří Dienstbier was one of Czechoslovak Radio’s star reporters at the time. Later he was to become one of the best-known dissidents of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and after the Velvet Revolution he was the country’s first post-communist foreign minister.
This August 21st marks 40 years since the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops, an invasion meticulously planned by the Soviet Union to crush the period of economic and political reforms known as the Prague Spring. Within hours of late August 20th and early August 21st some 2,000 tanks as well as an estimated 200,000 troops had poured in. It was the beginning of the occupation which changed the course of Czechoslovak history.