The Prague Spring: why not to forget

This week, the Czechs and the Slovaks commemorated the 50th anniversary of Operation Danube, the Soviet invasion into Czechoslovakia in August 1968, ending the Prague Spring. This military intervention ended the attempts to build “socialism with a human face” and set off the era of the so-called normalization.

Controversy from within

This year represents the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the independent Czechoslovak state as well as half a century since the Prague Spring has been cut off in a swift and single act. A bitter-sweet commemoration for the nation. This month, the memories have been overshadowed with frustration as it has been a month since the government has won its confidence vote.

The Czech Republic now has its first government since the Velvet Revolution which depends on the Communist party to gain the majority in the parliament. Moreover, Communists managed to recast 8% of overall electoral votes into a major bargaining power in just 9 months of negotiations. No wonder prime minister Andrej Babis has been booed on during the commemorations this week, as he has a major voice in sealing this deal. One needs to say that ongoing fraud allegations linked to his businesses as well as being said to have cooperated with the Communist State policy pre-1989 had rubbed salt into the survivors´ wounds.

A major blow came from the Prague castle too as President Miloš Zeman refused neither to attend any of the official events nor to give a speech. On the one hand, this is no surprise as Mr. Zeman is known for his comradeship with the Russian head of state and often avoids open criticism of Russian Federation or its predecessor the USSR. On the other hand, a few (even vague) lines would not hurt the President and even earn him a couple of plus points. A seemingly adequate reaction came from the Slovak President Andrej Kiska, who has delivered a speech, urging all current democratic politicians to protect liberties and values of like-minded allies. He stressed the need for respect for human liberty, civil rights, and democracy. Simple, adequate, to the point.

Unconcerned from the outside

No major news concerning the 50th anniversary spread through the media outside the Czech and Slovak Republics, apart from minor coverage in some European media (such as the Dutch) about what the Prague spring was. The heads of the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, have delivered short and vague statements appraising freedom and respect for human rights. Although it is more than Zeman delivered, it is surprisingly little taken into consideration that the tensions between Russia and Europe have not been this high since the fall of the Soviet Union. A firmer stance could have sent a message to Mr. Putin.

This firmer stance would be welcomed even more since Russia has attempted to re-write history and portray the ending of the Prague Spring as a benevolent act. In the current ‘war against fake news’ and the attempts to cherish European history, the EU should have acted more firmly in this matter.

Forgetting is not an option

It is our duty to remind ourselves that everyone is entitled to an opinion, however, nobody has the right to own facts. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was not an act of providing a helping hand. Sending troops was an elaborated plan of keeping the Soviet buffer zone complete and forestalling any pro-democratic tendencies.

We need to learn from the history not to keep making the same mistakes. We need to muster the courage to stand up for our own values and put economic ties aside. No Western democracy acted in case of defending the spirit of Prague Spring. We have given it a try in Crimea and failed. It is apparent that some wounds shall just be kept open for the sake of future generations.

Author: Petra Adamková