GOVERNMENT representatives, social and cultural figures, and members of the general public have been marking the 40th anniversary of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of the former Czechoslovakia. Commemorations culminated on August 21, the day in 1968 when the armed forces of five Warsaw Pact countries invaded, ending the hopes of Slovaks and Czechs for the “socialism with a human face” envisioned by the communist leader at the time, Alexander Dubček.
Slovakia’s president, Ivan Gašparovič, and his Czech counterpart, Václav Klaus, laid flowers in Šafárikovo Square in Bratislava on August 21. One hundred and eight people were killed and 500 seriously injured in the invasion and ensuing occupation of Czechoslovakia.
According to President Gašparovič, the invasion by Warsaw Pact troops was for Slovaks and Czechs, who at that time had started to realise that it was possible to live more free lives, a joint suffering.
“This is a black part of our common history,” he said.
President Klaus said he regarded August 21, 1968, as the beginning of the end of the communist regime in the Czechoslovakia, adding that the regime continued to decline over the next two decades until it ended in November 1989.
The Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, paid tribute to Alexander Dubček on August 19. Dubček led the Prague Spring, a political movement which sought to liberalise communist rule, during 1968. Fico spoke at a ceremonial gathering at the Cabinet Office to mark the 40th anniversary, the SITA newswire wrote.
“The name of Alexander Dubček, in spite of all those who are jealous of him, shines on in the European political sky and symbolises Slovakia,” Fico said.
At the gathering he also praised the contribution of the guests present - including writers, journalists, artists and scientists - to the modern history of the Slovak Republic.
The prime minister said he sees a lesson from August 1968 for present-day politicians. He commented that the governing parties and the opposition will probably never praise each other, as the political struggle seeks truth through argument.
“But we can at least promise each other always to keep our clashes of opinion within the bounds of parliament, justice and the law. This is for me and my generation the lesson of 1968,” Fico said.
Historian Ivan Laluha, a close colleague of Dubček, added that many current politicians should learn the lessons of 1968. They should not forget that politics should be done as a service to the people and that it should have a moral foundation.
25. Aug 2008 at 0:00 | Compiled by Spectator staff from press reports