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Friday, 22 August 2014

Czechs, Slovaks Remember Soviet Invasion in 1968, Think of Ukraine in 2014 - Emerging Europe Real Time - WSJ

Czechs, Slovaks Remember Soviet Invasion in 1968, Think of Ukraine in 2014 - Emerging Europe Real Time - WSJ:

A few of us will recall these events, indeed I was on holiday at my family vacation home in Wales, and I was glued to the radio and, when permitted, the television, a grainy black and white portable!

The student uprising in Paris had acted as a touch-paper, but ultimately the #DubcekSpring came about because of the unity amongst the Czechoslovak citizens.

As the Czechs and Slovaks mark the anniversary today of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion that ended Czechoslovakia’s western-oriented political shift, they can’t escape drawing analogies with this year’s push by Russia to crush Ukraine’s pivot toward the European Union.
Forty-six years ago in the early hours of Aug. 21, the Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia on Soviet orders to end the Prague Spring reform movement, which centered on ending Soviet-style totalitarianism. The invasion culminated in the appointment of new Moscow-friendly leaders, and the return of Czechoslovakia to the Soviet bloc.

Front page of the Czech Mlada Fronta Dnes daily newspaper on Aug. 21, 2014, the 46th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.
The Wall Street Journal, Leos Rousek
Czechoslovakia’s drift away from Soviet influence began in 1967, when its citizens began to enjoy free travel to the West after two decades in which there were strict travel bans. For a brief period, censorship was done away with and there were discussions about how to let the market play a role in the economy and to reinstate private property, which had been sacrificed in the post-1948 nationalization of assets large and small.
After the invasion, the Soviet-backed hardliners suppressed freedoms of travel, speech and political debate in Czechoslovakia. They kept their tight control over the country until their fall in late 1989 during the Velvet Revolution led by dissident playwright-turned politician Vaclav Havel.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia ended their federation peacefully in 1993 and both states joined the EU in 2004.
Just as in 1968, when the Soviet Union sought to retain control over Czechoslovakia, today Russia does all it can to prevent Ukraine from slipping from its orbit, the leading Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes wrote Thursday. It ran a photo of Soviet soldiers riding on tanks in Prague in 1968, asking whether something similar awaits Ukraine.
“Russian leaders invaded this small country to keep it in its sphere of influence. Today they don’t want to allow Ukraine to become western-oriented,” the newspaper said.
Current Czech leaders share the newspaper’s view, owing to their memories of 1968.
“We can’t let down Ukraine today because later one day we may wake up to find out our own freedoms are threatened,” Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said recently when praising U.S. and European Union sanctions against Russia over its meddling in eastern Ukraine.
Mr. Zaoralek also said that until recent developments in Ukraine he had been ready to put aside his grievances about the Soviet-led invasion.
“Now I find it difficult to trust Russia that it won’t abuse its push to send peace keeping troops to Ukraine to achieve something else,” he said.
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