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August Occupation

I want to tell you that frankly we consider this fact to be a gross shortcoming, a mistake, and that we consider the entry of troops into Czechoslovakia to be a premature act which has greatly harmed, and will continue to greatly harm, not only our Communist Party, but also the international movement of workers and Communists.

Alexander Dubček at a meeting of the CPSU and Communist Party of Czechoslovakia delegations in Moscow (26th of August, 1968)

The leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia learned of the launch of the invasion by the armies of the five Warsaw Pact countries in the late evening hours of the 20th of August 1968. Most of its members rejected the forcible occupation of Czechoslovakia and labelled the move as an occupation. At the same time, however, the army was instructed not to resist the advancing occupation troops due to their numerical superiority. A significant part of Czechoslovak society openly opposed the occupation, which led to many dead Czechoslovak citizens in the streets. The violated Czechoslovakia experienced great sympathy abroad, these events being compared with the bloodily suppressed Hungarian revolution of 1956.

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Soviet tanks on Wenceslas Square, 21st of August 1968 (National archive)

On the 22nd of August 1968, an extraordinary congress of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was held in Vysočany, Prague, where for the first and last time the Czechoslovak communists stood up to Moscow. The first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party Alexander Dubček was abducted and taken to the Soviet Union on the 21st of August 1968, together with Prime Minister Oldřich Černík, Chairman of the National Assembly Josef Smrkovský, Chairman of the National Front František Kriegl, Secretary of the Central Committee Josef Špaček and Bohumil Šimon. The President of the Republic, Ludvík Svoboda, later flew to Moscow together with several other politicians and tried to reach an agreement with the Soviet side. The result of which was the signing of the Moscow protocol, which equated to capitulation. Dubček and his associates’ efforts to maintain at least a partial course of reform were unsuccessful and ended with his resignation in April 1969. After Gustáv Husák became head of the Communist Party, the return of the authoritarian model of government was accelerated. On the first anniversary of the occupation, mass street demonstrations in Prague, Brno, Bratislava and other cities were suppressed by the Czechoslovak security forces, members of the Czechoslovak People’s Army and the People’s Militia.

Soviet soldiers on Wenceslas Square, August 1968. In the background a teaser for an exhibition on Soviet art of the 1920s (National Archive)

The most radical form of resistance was chosen by Jan Palach and his followers. Among them was also Evžen Plocek, a member of the District Committee of the Communist Party in Jihlava and an employee of Motorpal. Members of the People’s Militia also held a guard of honour at his funeral on the 12th of April 1969 (Aleš Plock archive)

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A map of Czechoslovakia with the sketched movements of invading troops on the 21st of August, 1968, Operace Dunaj (Operation Danube)

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On the first anniversary of the August occupation, street demonstrations were also suppressed by members of the People’s Militia. This picture from the 21st of August 1969 in Brno, shows the prone body of Danuša Muzikářová (ABS) who had been shot.

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People’s militia uniform patch (archive of Jaroslav Čvančara)