Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia claimed over 400 lives
Desk Report: The day that Soviet-led armies rolled into communist Czechoslovakia to put an end to a pro-democracy movement changed Milan Tesar’s life.
“I saw tanks coming down this road here. I threw a stone in their direction and then I heard the bullets whizz by,” he told AFP in the small town of Hostivice just west of Prague.The invasion crushed the so-called “Prague Spring” movement led by reformist Communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek, which had tried to put “a human face on socialism” through democratic reforms to the totalitarian regime.Tesar’s spontaneous resistance against the invasion had consequences for the then 16-year-old: “I wasn’t allowed to study.”But at least he did not lose his life, as was the fate of more than 400 of his fellow citizens — men, women and children caught up in the crackdown.
On August 20, 1968, some 14 million Czechs and Slovaks enjoyed a quiet summer evening, unaware of the tragedy to come.Certain Communist party officials and members of the secret police opposed to Dubcek were the only people who knew.
That evening, state television broadcast “A River Performs Magic”, a lyrical comedy about an old man who finds his lost youth in his childhood region.The Communist party daily Rude Pravo discussed a change to the party’s articles of association and announced the coming visit of United Nations Secretary General U Thant.
Overnight, everything changed.
Three dozen Soviet divisions, backed by Bulgarian, East German, Hungarian and Polish troops, crushed the “Prague Spring” movement that had shed censorship and introduced unprecedented press freedom.The dawn brought the first victims, with 50 people killed by the invaders’ bullets and tanks on the first day of the crackdown.”Overall, 137 people died in Czechoslovakia between August 21 and December 31, 1968,” says Libor Svoboda, a historian at the Prague-based Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes.