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Events of 1968 are memento for Czechs to cherish freedom

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Prague, Aug 21 (CTK) – Czechs cannot lose freedom otherwise but on their own initiative, which is why they should permanently keep in mind the developments following the August 21, 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia as a warning memento, Jiri Nemec writes in Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) on Monday.

The aggression “of befriended armies” of five Warsaw Pact countries 49 years ago was a milestone in the life and thinking of everyone who witnessed the occupation, Nemec, a university teacher of law, writes.

August 21, 1968 nipped the country leadership’s attempt at a certain change to the totalitarian regime, Nemec writes, referring to the Prague Spring communist reform movement.

This movement was undoubtedly an immensely positive effort at the time and in the historically given geopolitical conditions, in which people of different political political views and different professions joined in search of a more human and more democratic arrangement of Czechoslovak society’s life, Nemec writes.

Probably everybody remembers the then freedom of opinion and the chance for people to express even a different view, and the then popular newspapers such as Reporter or Literarni listy, which really wrote differently and more freely [than usual in communism]. The ruder was people’s awakening that followed, Nemec writes.

The small hours of the ugly Wednesday 49 years ago were a shock for most Czechs, but still the situation was actually simple at the time. On the one side, there were the occupiers’ tanks. On the other side of the barricade, often real, not merely an imagined one, stood the Czechs and Slovaks, Nemec writes.

All citizens of the nearly 15-million Czechoslovakia, with only few exceptions, clearly backed the country’s leadership with the then very popular [pro-reform Communist leader] Alexander Dubcek at the head, he writes.

The nation supported its leaders against the massive force of tanks, machine guns and automatic rifles. The occupiers shot at protesting Czechs at many places and there were casualties, Nemec writes.

On the invasion’s first anniversary on August 21, 1969, thousand-strong crowds rallied in town squares, calling for the continuation of the Prague Spring reform and democratisation of public life, and demonstrating against re-emerging censorship and in support of the freedom of speech. Unlike a year ago, they were no longer faced with foreign hostile units but by the Czechoslovak police (SNB) and the People’s Militia communist paramilitary units, Nemec writes.

Immediately after the invasion in 1968, all Czechs jointly denounced and condemned the Soviet occupiers, but now, in 1969, Czechs stood against Czechs. The police used truncheons and tear gas against the demonstrating crowds, and the fear of many people quickly developed into hatred. This was the first practical action in support of “normalisation” of life in communist Czechoslovakia, Nemec writes.

The previous temporary unity which the nation showed after August 21, 1968, was destroyed now and the society quickly split into those only orthodox or adaptable on the one side, and the rest on the other, Nemec writes.

Hundreds of thousands of people were afflicted by the consequences of “normalisation,” or the reimposed communist hardliners’ rule. Many lost their jobs. Not only they but also their families and their children, even the yet unborn ones, often were not admitted to a secondary school or a university due to their parents’ “guilt,” Nemec writes.

Is anyone still interested in all this now? he asks.

“The events of August 1968 but even more those of August 1969 annually remind us again and again that democracy is objectively the best way of governance, in spite of all twists and turns, problems and occasional ‘bad moods’ and that we can never consider freedom completely a matter of course,” Nemec writes.

“We can lose freedom only on our own initiative! Like after 1969. This is probably a memento which is still valid and of which we should be aware anytime,” Nemec writes.

Any life experience is difficult to transfer onto the successors, but still the witnesses of the late 1960s events should try to do so in order to prevent such horrible experience from repeating, he concludes.

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