Warsaw Pact invasion to be remembered

Exhibitions and concerts will mark the turning point in Czech history

The 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion is being remembered with a series of events. The invasion by 250,000 troops from the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany and Poland on the night of Aug. 20–21, 1968, brought an end to the Prague Spring social and economic reforms and ushered in two decades of harsh Soviet-dictated policies called Normalization.

The National Gallery at Veletržní palác is planning an exhibit of photos and films called Koudelka: Invasion 1968 & Archival Footage by Jan Němec. The opening is Aug. 21, the anniversary of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. It will run Jan. 6, 2019. Josef Koudelka's black-and-white photos have become synonymous with how the invasion is remembered, and film director Jan Němec shot rare film of the event. He spent much of the era of Normalcy in exile due to his opposition to the occupation.

Another exhibit of photos called Soviet Invasion – August 1968 (Sovětská invaze - srpen 1968) starts Aug. 4 and runs to Aug. 31 at the Cloister and Knight's Hall in Old Town Hall.

Some 190 photographs taken by the 40 photographers capture events in Prague, Brno, Liberec and Bratislava including the aftermath with Jan Palach‘ self-immolation and celebration of the hockey victory over the Soviets in 1969.

Two places that were key locations in Prague were the National Museum on Wenceslas Square and the Czechoslovak Radio building on Vinohradská Street.

The historical building of the National Museum is still undergoing renovation, but the facade even though it has been cleaned and repaired will carry graphic reminders of where shells from the invading tanks hit the facade.

But the National Museum is more than just one building. The institution will be cooperating with Czech Radio (Český rozhlas) and other institutions on a big program.

“We agreed a year ago with many institutions to make a joint program with the National Museum, the National Film Archive, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, the Institute of Contemporary History of the Academy of Science and Prague City Hall. The center will be at Český rozhlas, where we will make a 13-hour special starting on the evening of Aug.20, which will remind people about the occupation minute by minute,” Ondřej Suchan, editor-in-chief of Radiožurnál, told the press.

Some 30 correspondents will be in the field in places where events took place throughout the country, and some foreign correspondents will also be involved.

On Aug. 21, a new memorial plaque will be unveiled on the radio building with the names of two more people who died in the area of the radio headquarters. New research has helped to identify more of the people who died during the invasion, as many of the details were covered up at the time. Exact numbers are still disputed, but one estimate is that 137 civilians were killed and 500 were wounded.

The program culminates in an evening concert at Wenceslas Square, where 1960s pop star Marta Kubišová will perform, among others. Kubišová is known for the song “Modlitba pro Martu.” Her criticism of the invasion led to her being banned from performing until the Velvet Revolution.

Prague isn't the only city with a program. A festival called How Much is Freedom? (Kolik stojí svoboda?) looks at the August events in Plzeň. It will be held Aug. 10–21 and has theater, concerts, talks and films. Spitfire Company will feature an award-winning performance of Antiwords, influenced by the work of Václav Havel.

Part of the festival will include concerts by songwriters including Jan Kryl, the brother of the late protest singer Karel Kryl.

The big celebrations planned for October to mark 100 years since the establishment of Czechoslovakia will be more upbeat. They will include the opening of the renovated National Museum and the unveiling of the restored Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square.

Related events
21.08 - Prague 1968 | Fotografie Paula F. Goldsmithe - Americké centrum, Tržiště 13, Prague 1
21.08 - Koncert ´68: Největší hity 60. let, Václavské náměstí
21.08 - The Plastic People of the Universe a přátelé: 50 let, Atrium na Žižkově

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