Music happening will mark the 1968 invasion

A day of music on Wenceslas Square is planned for the 48th anniversary

Aug 21 is the 48th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. A commemoration of the event will take place on the lower part of Wenceslas Square, with a day of concerts, speeches and films (www.vzpominka1968.cz).

The Soviet led invasion took place to end the reforms of the Prague Spring (Pražské jaro) movement, which were meant to show “socialism with a human face.” Troops from other Warsaw Pact countries crossed the Czechoslovak border at 11 pm on Aug. 20 and tanks entered Prague at 6 am Aug 21. Tanks fired at the National Museum, mistaking it for a government building. There was heavy fighting at the main office of Czechoslovak Radio on Vinohradská Street. A plaque there marks the event.

After the invasion, Czechoslovakia was put under a process of “normalization” by the Soviet Union. It lasted until 1989.

The musical happening at Wenceslas Sqaure will begin at noon and last all day, with Luboš Andršt, Jaroslav Hutka and Aktual with Milan Knížák among the headliners.

Also appearing on the bill in the afternoon is The Primitives Group with Ivan Hajniš, which was a Czechoslovak psychedelic band active from 1965 to 1969. The group was forced to break up after the 1968 invasion and has recently gotten back together for the first time since then. The group played covers of The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and The Velvet Underground.

The band was short lived, and never achieved the same fame as The Plastic People of the Universe, which was active in Czechoslovakia under normalization and from 1997 onwards. Both groups shared one member, guitarist and keyboard player Josef Janíček.

Michael Schulz, who was a fan of The Primitives, spoke about its history. As a teenager from East Berlin, he used to come to Prague to see the band, as such music was not officially allowed in East Germany. He could hear rock on the radio from West Germany, on stations such as Radio Free Europe and the Armed Forces Network, but there was little opportunity to see it live. He could also buy records in Prague that were not available in East Germany.

There was some rock and blues music in East Germany, though, but it was part of the underground scene. The German group Speiches Monokel will also perform at the music happening. In addition, The Primitives, Aktual and Speiches Monokel will be at Vagon from 8 pm on Aug. 21.

During the Prague Spring, Schulz could travel to Prague to see bands at clubs like Reduta, which still exists, and Music F, which was on the location of the current Vagon club. He also took part in protests on Wenceslas Square.

As a form of protest, he wore a US Army surplus jacket, which was rather expensive in East Germany at the time, and wore his hair long. Schulz's involvement with Prague and its music scene had consequences. He was in the Prague just before the invasion, and had not even heard about it when the East German secret police, the Stasi, brought him in for questioning. They had photos of him in Wenceslas Square, and lists of times he attended rock music concerts.

The invasion was presented in East German media as an effort to lend friendly support to a fellow communist country. News he got on radio and TV from West Berlin told a different story of a tank invasion with a significant number of casualties.

His involvement with the Prague music scene led to him losing his chance at higher education and a decent job. Band members of The Primitives also had a hard time after the 1968 invasion. Some of them went to visit him in East Berlin and with his help managed to get out of the Eastern bloc. Schultz himself and his wife fled to Turkey via Bulgaria in 1974, as they saw no future in East Germany.

They eventually made their way to West Germany.

Schultz has stayed active with causes to document and remember the excesses of the communist era. He was involved in the making of a documentary about the Stasi, which will also be shown at the Wenceslas Square music happening. Few people realize the closeness of the connection between the German secret police and its Czech counterpart, the StB, as well as the internal security forces in other Eastern bloc countries. Each week, a scheduled plane would make a route across all of the major Eastern bloc capitals to pick up political prisoners and take them to a Stasi prison.

He is also involved in efforts to publicize US civil rights leader Martin Luther King's almost unknown visits to Berlin and other places in Europe in the 1960s. For the 50th anniversary of the invasion in two years, Schulz is working on a project to have a peace train go from Berlin to Prague to promote the ideals of King, who was killed in 1968.

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