Eyewitness of the Red Paradise
The 50th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of former Czechoslovakia
By Robert of Prague
“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.” —Winston Churchill
The seeds of the Prague Spring of 1968 had sprouted at the Expo67 in Montreal. The Czech Pavilion was exquisite with long lines the entire time. The Czech artists, engineers, and builders did bring the infectious “freedom bug” to Prague at the end of 1967. The dawn of 1968 came in subdued pastel colors over the permanent gray in the “Red paradise” and whispered of hope. Suddenly, there were changes in the dark Kafkaesque corridors of the still-Stalinist “Nomenklatura” in Prague. The liberal communist A. Dubček and his team came to power. The people woke up from the imposed stupor and embraced the dystopian “Socialism with a Human Face.” Very few people — our family did — saw through it and our warnings were ignored in the general mass euphoria. However, the voices calling for Swiss-like neutrality were rather utopian.
The Prague Spring of 1968 turned blue very quickly, though. Brezhnev and the aging Kremlin Politburo were livid when Dubček’s team opened the Iron Curtain a bit and allowed some freedom of the press and of assembly — beforehand unheard of! My father, sentenced as an enemy of the state and the people to menial labor in 1958 for defiantly riding a 750 cc Knucklehead Harley Davidson through Prague and openly listening to big bands and Elvis when everything American, including jeans and Mickey Mouse, was forbidden/verboten, received a passport. He traveled all over and chose Switzerland. After his return in June, he began to plan his exile.
Yours truly was then a college student and worked in August 1968 with several buddies at a stone quarry east of Prague. During the night of August 20th, we were entertaining the locals with music for drinks and dinner, turning in before midnight since the heavy labor began at 6 AM. Around midnight, a loud banging on the cabin door and a hysterical voice shook us out of sleep. It was the local girlfriend of my buddy: “The Soviet tanks are here!”
In an instant, we were cold sober and ran the half mile to the main highway leading to Prague. Before getting there, we could hear the low rumble of the tracks piercing the dark and shaking the ground. The stunned and silent villagers lined the road as an endless iron caterpillar rattled west; thousands of tanks with the blood-stained red star on the turrets. About every 10 tanks a sentry donning the leather helmet stood in the hatch, with a deadpan stare into the dark.
I couldn’t help it with all the rage and fear boiling over and raised my fist. My buddy’s petite gal hung on my biceps: “Are you crazy? They will shoot you!” I didn’t feel her weight at all.
Early the next morning we took the bus to Prague and talked about how we could poke the Russian bear in the eye. It was already happening all over the country. People along the main highways were taking down and/or switching the road signs — the same was done in Prague — plus taking down the metal plaques with the street names high on the walls. And young and old, when asked by the ignorant Russkies, sent them the wrong way. It was delicious to see the ensuing chaos and riding in circles of the invaders in the countryside or in the narrow, cobblestone streets in Prague. Alas, it lasted but a week.
Very few people anywhere know the following. We were forced to learn Russian from fourth grade on. We hated it but it backfired in 1968. The Soviet soldiers were told by the Kremlin that there was an anti-Soviet/-socialism uprising in the CSSR instigated by the CIA. We told them the truth in Russian: “Can’t you see the entire country is peaceful?” The soldiers were our age — roughly 19 years. Many told us this: “Going through the bigger cities and especially Prague, we thought we pushed too far west and were in West Germany.” We kept demoralizing them thusly: “Hey, Ivan, you’re 2,000 miles from home. Are you sure your Natasha is faithful?” All this worked like a charm. Then, we saw the raw power of Big Brother. The central command got wind of it and pulled roughly 100,000 mostly EU troops and sent in roughly 300,000 mostly Asian and brutal Soviet troops, all within 24 hours! These new guys didn’t talk to us and shot everything that moved. The stone-quarry workers used the same WWII Russian truck ZIL and we were stuck in the endless columns of the same trucks, tanks, and armor; one heading east, the other west. In the middle of the road were MPs and the soldiers weren’t allowed to even look at each other. The Red Army was based on brutal terror and fell apart 10 years later in Afghanistan.
In a week, Prague, the size of Sand Diego, California, was surrounded by tanks. Downtown and the bridges were blocked by tanks and armored vehicles as well. As you can see in the haunting images, the Soviets burnt city buses, shot into apartments from the tanks, or ran over the kids waving the CZ flag (Tiananmen Square 1989, anyone?)! The line of people flanked by the loaded Kalashnikovs is a food line! However, when they shot up the facade of the National Museum with M50 machine guns, thinking it was the CZ Radio, we let them have it in Russian: “Can’t you tell, you barbarians, that it is a museum?” The Schadenfreude was palpable. The radio building still is just a couple of blocks behind and above the Wenceslas Square.
We began to fight back with Molotov cocktails, big construction machinery, etc. My then-13-year-old brother blew up a tank with a Molotov cocktail. He got caught, locked up, and beat up. Within a week, he escaped from the juvenile reeducation prison. He was caught again within a week, put in dungeons for incorrigible youth, and brutally beaten. In a month, he escaped again.
The Czech KGB caught him in three months, threw him into an adult criminals prison, and tortured him. He escaped within a week. It went on for two years until he escaped from a top security prison and got caught in six months. The torture was so brutal (the KGB trained the Gestapo before WWII) they broke him; he was but a shell. It took him 15 years to drink himself to death.
The buddy whose gal hung on my bicep that fateful night was shot to pieces two weeks later by a machine gun on a tank for waving the Czech flag. Another friend was shot at close range by a soldier with a Kalashnikov on a crowded commuter bus. His girl next to him almost had a heart attack. The reason: He refused to take down from his lapel the red-blue-white tricolor with a black beam across. Three more friends were murdered in a like fashion for similar “high crimes” against the Big Red Brother.
The Soviet government called the invasion a “fraternal assistance” against the efforts of the evil CIA and “subversive” Czech elements trying to overthrow the peace-loving Red dictatorship. Similar photos as those by Josef Koudelka were shown in Moscow, but with a commentary that the Czechs and the CIA caused all the mayhem. The German Nazis learned propaganda well from the Kremlin.
My father escaped to Switzerland via Austria in May 1969. I followed in June 1970, five days after my graduation in geology, through Yugoslavia. The 1970s were an era of repression, called the “normalization.” People who didn’t sign their fealty to the “brotherly” help of 1968 lost their jobs or were thrown into prison. A friend of mine got 20 years in the uranium mines and survived.
Lastly, a memo to foolish and misguided Millennials, et al., following like in trance the old greedy crook Bernie Sanders (never had a job in his life!) and the supremely ignorant and vacuous Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez airhead. Communism and socialism murdered 100-200 millions innocent civilians in peace time. Only God knows the exact number. Look at the black and white photos and think! Do you really want to live like this or be a part of the “elite” doing the killing? The choice is yours, for now, because you live in the greatest, most generous, and brave nation ever. It’s better to be dead than Red. Take my word for it. We have the graves and the scars.