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NEW POLL SHOWS PEOPLE ARE LOSING INTEREST IN THE INVASION THAT ENDED THE PRAGUE SPRING

A year to forget - Czechoslovakia '68

AT A CEREMONY commemoration the 36th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops, around 30 people gathered at the grave of Alexander Dubček, the former communist leader who stood behind the pro-reform policies launched during what history calls the Prague Spring of 1968.
The meagre attendance at the grave of the reformer, who, along with a group of progressive communists, dreamt of "socialism with a human face", seems to illustrate the fading interest of the general Slovak population in the events that followed the Prague Spring.
Hopes for an improvement on the communist establishment ended abruptly that year as tanks rolled into the country on the night between August 20.

AT A CEREMONY commemoration the 36th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops, around 30 people gathered at the grave of Alexander Dubček, the former communist leader who stood behind the pro-reform policies launched during what history calls the Prague Spring of 1968.

The meagre attendance at the grave of the reformer, who, along with a group of progressive communists, dreamt of "socialism with a human face", seems to illustrate the fading interest of the general Slovak population in the events that followed the Prague Spring.

Hopes for an improvement on the communist establishment ended abruptly that year as tanks rolled into the country on the night between August 20.

"I remember the feelings of bitterness I shared with the other citizens, and the protests of people who did not understand and saw no reason for the display of brute force here," said historian and author Ivan Laluha, who was also a friend of Dubček.

A recent poll carried out by the Statistics Office revealed that as much as 58 percent of those asked were not interested in what happened in August 1968.

Of those who were aware of the events, 81 percent said they thought the invasion of "brotherly troops", as the hard-line pro-Moscow communists described them, helped maintain the socialist establishment in Czechoslovakia.

Of the respondents, 69 percent thought that August 1968 meant the isolation of the country from the developed world and 66 percent thought that it also meant the prosecution and oppression of people who shared democratic beliefs. Nearly 50 percent thought that the violent end of the Prague Spring brought about an overall economic, cultural, and moral decline.

Ján Langoš, head of the recently founded National Memory Institute (ÚPN), which documents the crimes of fascism and communism between 1939 and 1989 and helps people look at the files that the communist secret service once kept on them, said that the lack of interest in the historical events of such national impact was "definitely not going to help the achievement of social peace".

"Unidentified, un-sentenced, and unpunished crimes evoke unrest," the ÚPN wrote in a statement issued to commemorate the anniversary.

Langoš also noted that, after more than a year since ÚPN was founded, its archives still lack several important documents on the crimes of communism.

In Slovakia, no former communists were punished in relation to the events in 1968 and the only jailed official is Karol Hoffman, who was recently sentenced to four years in prison in the Czech Republic. Hoffman was found guilty of sabotage during the invasion of the Warsaw pact troops for ordering the closure of the public Czechoslovak Radio to keep it from informing the people of the invasion.

In Slovakia, former communist official Vasiľ Biľak remained out of prison although he was suspected of inviting Soviet troops as one of the hard-line communists who felt threatened by the policies of Dubček. He became secretary general of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Acording to Laluha, the pro-reform communists at that time hoped that "Czechoslovakia could become a sort of experimental laboratory for the humanisation of socialist ideals, for the transformation of the ossified regime so that it would become effective and flexible."

He also said that in 1968 people in Czechoslovakia welcomed the changes with enthusiasm. In his words, "It was a wave of optimism and hope."

The non-parliamentary Social Democratic Party of Slovakia organised the memorial meeting at Dubček's grave. In attendance were Dubček's son Peter and the well-known Slovak writer Ladislav Ťažký.

Troops from five communist countries participated in the invasion - Hungary, Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union. Historians estimate that 450,000 communist soldiers came to Czechoslovakia. Although meant as a temporary measure, many of the troops stayed until the fall of the communist regime in 1989.

Only recently the cabinet approved a Sk63 million (€1.6 million) package for next year to fix areas and facilities that were damaged by the Soviet troops in their former bases around Slovakia.

According to data revealed after the fall of communism, almost 100 people were killed by the arriving Warsaw troops in 1968 and 345 were injured, not including the number of people prosecuted after 1968 and throughout the so-called normalisation period in the 1970s.

According to Ján Kovarčík, the vice chairman of the opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, the Warsaw Pact troops "for years halted, but failed to kill, our hope to live in a democratic political system that would secure all human and civic rights for us all."

When the Soviets managed to replace pro-reform communists with hard-liners who persecuted their own people under Moscow's dictate until November 1989, Laluha said, "We lost militarily and politically, but we remained the moral winners."

According to Laluha, the 1968 events showed the way to positive change, which took place 21 years later in the form of the Velvet Revolution when communism was overthrown peacefully.

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