Citizens across the Czech Republic commemorated the 53rd anniversary of the events of August 1968, which saw Warsaw Pact troops cross the border of Czechoslovakia and remain in the republic for another 20 years starting on the night of Aug. 21.
The traditional pieta also took place in front of the Czech Radio building, which was attended by, for example, Deputy Speaker of the Chamber Vojtěch Pikal, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Alena Schillerová, and Senator Miroslava Němcová.
During the ceremony, both Pikal and Schillerová reminded the victims of the invasion, the wounded, and the people who left Czechoslovakia due to the events of 1968. They also appreciated the role of employees of the radio and television in the first days of the occupation.
“It should be a reminder of how important freedom of speech is for democracy and how important a role is played by the media, especially public broadcasting,” Pikal said. Only in a society where media are independent of the number of “clicks” and the owner of said media can democracy flourish, he added.
Schillerová said she appreciated the sense of belonging that Czechoslovakia received from abroad in 1968.
“The Czech Republic must never close its eyes to the difficulties and hardships that are happening beyond our borders, no matter how far,” she said.
She also praised witnesses who were not afraid to tell the truth about the events of August 1968 at a time when it was associated with the threat of losing a job, career, or prison.
“It is because of this that freedom has remained in our hearts throughout normalization,” she said.
According to her, freedom and democracy are precious values, “with which there always comes considerable heroism of individuals.”
She referred to Ryszard Siwiec, a Polish citizen, who self-immolated in the Eastern bloc on Sept. 12, 1968, to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops.
Slow coming to terms with the communist past
Senator Miroslava Němcová thinks that Czechia has still not come to terms with its recent past, explaining that the deputies allowed the head of the Communist Party, Vojtěch Filip, to perform the function of the vice president of the Chamber of Deputies.
“I consider it a shame that we have allowed the Communist Party leaders to hold high constitutional positions,” she said.
She criticized Filip for his recent remarks, in which he spoke of the dictatorship of the EU and NATO in connection with the fact that “it has taken over the sovereignty of European states and is trying to take away or destroy their national identity.”
Even former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev did not conceive of such enslavement, Filip said.
According to Němcová, the deputy speaker of the Chamber of Deputies thus seems to consider it normal to “imprison, torture, and hang” opponents of the totalitarian regime. The senator added that it reminds her of current terrorists who want to destroy the will and freedom of the individual through terror.
In addition to the witnesses, the director of Czech Radio, René Zavoral, took part in the event to commemorate the victims of the Warsaw Pact invasion. Among those present at the laying of wreaths on the memorial plaque to the victims of military aggression on August 21, 1968, were also representatives of political, cultural, and social life, the army, and several dozen people watching.