Free concert will mark Soviet invasion

It has been 49 years since tanks rolled in to end Prague Spring

The Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia took place Aug. 21, 1968, making this year the 49th anniversary of the event.

People over the weekend might have seen filming of a new movie about Jan Palach, with events being re-created around the city for the benefit of the cameras. The film should be released next year.

A public event to remember the invasion will take place at Wenceslas Square starting at 12:40 pm and run to 10 pm on Monday, Aug. 21.

Several musical acts are expected to participate including the Primitives Group, Luboš Andršt Blues Band, and George & Beatovens with Karel Kahovec.

The Primitives Group was a Czechoslovak psychedelic band active from 1965 to 1969. The group was forced to break up after the 1968 invasion. Some members have gotten back together in recent years.

Organizers of the event warn people not to let history repeat itself, and to be cautious against one-party rule.

Next year, for the 50th anniversary, some exhibitions are being planned including one at the National Gallery at Veletržní palác that will focus on art and culture from the communist era and 1968 in particular.

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.

Historians are still debating the invasion. The number of victims was recently updated. A total of 137 Czechs and Slovaks died in consequence of the 1968 invasion and more than 400 people in the following years, historians Prokop Tomek and Ivo Pejčoch wrote in a new book. They based the findings on additional archival material in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as information from victims' family. The authors also rejected the notion that Soviet soldiers were killed by Czechs and Slovaks. Information in Russian archives remains inaccessible.

A number of Western celebrities were in Prague during the 1968 invasion. A war film called The Bridge at Remagen was being filmed just south of Prague. Actors George Segal, Robert Vaughn, Ben Gazzara and Bradford Dillman were staying at the Alcron Hotel and Park Hotel, which was newly opened. The cast were all moved to Hotel International and later had to take taxis across the border. Production was moved to Hamburg for the final scenes. Vaughn and Gazzara recount the events in their memoirs. According to them, former child star Shirley Temple Black was also in Prague at the time.

Rock band the Moody Blues was in Prague for a concert at Lucerna, and had to be airlifted out by the British military, along with other stranded people. A video of the Moody Blues performing on Charles Bridge can be found on the internet.

Video on YouTube

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