The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia began in earnest 50 years ago today, with the intention to destroy the blooming “Prague Spring.” But today, the truths that invasion revealed have been lost, both in the West and among many young people in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
On this date in 1968, armies of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia out of fear that the tiny nation might liberate itself from the yoke of Communism. A nascent liberation had begun in the cultural, religious, and social life of the country, if not its economy. By the mid-1960s, the Marxist government had failed to suppress the Church and extinguish the intellectual quest for freedom of expression, a quest that penetrated all walks of society – from pop music to the Scouting movement. A vigorous defense of religious and human rights came from priests, high literary circles, and even supported to a degree by some honest – though naïve – individuals in the ranks of the Communist Party. This would-be liberation became known as the Prague Spring. The August 20-21 invasion attempted to obstruct this embryonic thirst for freedom, deferring liberation for 21 years. Yet today, people in former Warsaw Pact nations – including young Czechs and Slovaks – seem to have forgotten the lessons of that Czechoslovak summer invasion.
The invasion produced three major losses. The most obvious is the loss of life, as those trying to build “socialism with a human face” were considered expendable by the imperialist Marxism’s faceless bureaucrats. Religion, too, lost out, as government intervention in the church’s affairs continue to impede the spread of the Gospel. And the nation lost the potential for greater personal and economic liberty that would have made its citizens more prosperous and autonomous – and thus, no longer Communist.
Today’s grim memorial reminds us that those three freedoms – religious, economic, and personal – rise, or fall, as one.
Despite the setbacks that liberty experienced, in 1968 and in the many years since the hopeful events of 1989, Krassen suggests that teaching the events of five decades ago might alert people all over the world to jealously guard their freedoms:
As the Prague Spring was suffocated by military force, a generation lost the hope of instant liberation. But the flashes of discontent with the Communist-Soviet rule that sparked across Eastern Europe did not cease to exist. The 1968 generation in Eastern European nations, to which I too belong, put an end to Soviet rule in 1989. Publicly commemorating the invasion of Czechoslovakia and teaching new generations about the misdeeds of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR is necessary to assure we never repeat similar crimes in the future.
You can read his full essay here.
(Photo credit: John W. Schulze. CC BY 2.0.)