Czech PM Petr Nečas (Civic Democrats - ODS) has issued a press release on the 43rd anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion, an event which deprived communist Czechoslovakia of the hope of transforming its totalitarian regime. The PM's statement claims that the country does not face the threat of invasion by a military "alliance" today, but of "invasion" by displays of extremism, intolerance and radicalism. The 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion put an end to the Prague Spring - the attempt by Czechoslovak communists to establish "socialism with a human face" - and began the lengthy "normalization" period which did not end until November 1989.
"Today the threat is not that of an invasion by a military 'alliance', but of invasion by displays of extremism, intolerance and radicalism, as we have witnessed in many countries. This extremism, of various flavors, can pose a threat to democracy and freedom at any time, whether today or in the near future," Nečas said.
The Nečas cabinet is grappling with the problem of political extremism itself these days. Ladislav Bátora, a controversial bureaucrat at the Czech Education Ministry, is guilty of extremist opinions and his work at the ministry has prompted the most recent rupture in the governing coalition. Right-wing extremism in particular, however, most recently shocked Europe in the context of the terrorist attack in Norway.
Czech Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra (ODS) issued a declaration commemorating the symbolic significance of the anniversary. "We should not view this anniversary with resignation, but learn a lesson from it. A state that gives up on defending itself cannot exist independently for long," Vondra wrote in a statement sent to the Czech Press Agency by the press department of the Czech Defense Ministry.
Other politicians commemorated the 43rd anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of what was then Czechoslovakia together with citizens and survivors in front of the Czech Radio building on Vinohradská třída in Prague. Czech MP Miroslava Němcová (ODS), the speaker of the lower house, emphasized that Czechs have been freely commemorating today's anniversary for 20 years but were unable to do so during the era of communist dictatorship and Soviet occupation. "Since November 1989, a new generation has come into the world who knows of the occupation of 21 August 1968 only from the stories of others," Němcová said in her speech.
Mayor of Prague Bohuslav Svoboda (ODS) reminded those gathered that Praguers assembled in front of the radio building to defend it on the day the occupation began. They did so spontaneously, without previously arranging to do so through social networking sites, which did not exist in those days. "Today's younger generation, with its need to be constantly online, almost finds it impossible to imagine how big, not to say crucial, a medium radio was in those days," Svoboda said.
The armies of the five eastern bloc states crossed the Czechoslovak border 43 years ago just before midnight on 20 August 1968, invading the state's territory without the authorities' awareness. The first platoon to invade the territory of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was comprised of roughly 100 000 soldiers, 2 300 tanks and 700 aircraft. The occupying army gradually grew to 750 000 soldiers. People lost their lives during the tragic events that halted social reform in the country.
The press release of Czech PM Petr Nečas is printed in full below:
Today we are commemorating 43 years since the events that deprived people of the hope of changing what was a totalitarian regime. Those events proved that communism is irredeemable, that it is capable of exploiting an atmosphere of fear, of using tanks and weapons against defenseless people. People who were convinced of their truth soon recognized they had no possibility of fighting off this brute force, but they gave their lives for our country in the defense of freedom anyway.
Today we are living in democracy and in freedom. Like everywhere in the developed world, our system is imperfect - but we take it for granted. What was just a dream to people decades ago, that we would return to our rightful place among the traditional democratic states, is a reality today. However, the world is constantly changing and still faces many threats.
Today the threat is not that of an invasion by a military 'alliance', but of invasion by displays of extremism, intolerance and radicalism, as we have witnessed in many countries. This extremism, of various flavors, can pose a threat to democracy and freedom at any time, whether today or in the near future.
We must continue in the process of facing up to the totalitarian past, when August 1968 extended communist domination for another 21 years. However, we must also be capable of responding to current threats, which could endanger our freedom in a much more insidious way. Let us remember that, and not only today.