Protests against the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia in Warsaw Pact countries

One of the first initiatives of the newly established Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in 2008 was to attempt to document the protests against the occupation of Czechoslovakia in the states which took part in that occupation, and to record the recollections of selected actors in the protests. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the occupation in August 2008, the Institute succeeded in inviting, in cooperation with the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, some of the participants in the protests from the former Soviet Union, the former GDR, Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary. In connection with the anniversary, the Institute prepared an extensive exhibition on the subject of the protests and a publication on Richard Siwiec’s protest. While the dissidents were visiting it was possible to record their memories of more than just the protests themselves. The interviews touched on their family, culture and in some cases religious backgrounds, studies, employment, social engagement and perceptions of the Prague Spring. The main aim was to map the life stories of people who were willing to publicly come out against the invasion of Czechoslovakia; to document their motivation, participation in the protests and the consequences they had to bear; to explore everyday life in the socialist states of the Soviet Bloc by means of their personal experiences; and to obtain a picture of the political and social situation in those countries, their opposition movements and the individual regimes’ methods of repression. In 2009, the Institute was behind the renaming of the street on which it is located to Siwiecova, in honour of Polish man Richard Siwiec who immolated himself in protest at the occupation. A monument to him was unveiled in front of the Institute. That same year the Institute invited Elijah Rips to the Czech Republic on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of a protest in which, as a young student, he decided to follow Jan Palach and set himself on fire in the middle of the Latvia capital Riga. On the basis of the interviews conducted and research carried out in the given countries, a book on the subject was put together and published in 2010 in conjunction with the Torst publishing house under the title For Your Freedom and Ours. There were thousands of acts of protest in the countries of the Warsaw Pact against their armies’ participation in the crushing of the Prague Spring. For instance, in 2008, Gennady Kuzovkin and Alexei Makarov from the Russian civic association Memorial put together a list of 160 people (under the title of Ljudi avgusta 1968, People of August 1968) who protested in the USSR. The Russian historian Alexander Daniel, who was one of the authors involved in the publication For Your Freedom and Ours uncovered another 50 cases in 2010. In other states, protests numbered in the tens or hundreds. The Institute continues to do its utmost to record interviews with other protestors and to record their stories. In 2011, the Institute issued in collaboration with the publishing house Torst Josef Pazderka’s book a href=”/cs/prezentace-knihy-invaze-1968-rusky-pohled” title=”Anotace publikace: Invaze. Ruský pohled”>Invaze. Ruský pohled (Invasion: The Russian View). In 2012, again working with Torst, it published the Czech translation of the book Poledne (Noon) by Natalya Gorbanevskaya – a key document on the demonstration on Red Square The dissident Vladimir Bukowsky came to the Czech Republic in spring 2013 at the invitation of the Institute, the publishers Volvox Globator and the Václav Havel Library on the occasion of the publication of his book A vítr se vrací (And the Wind Returns), which touches on protests against the occupation; Bukowsky had known several of the actors personally. In the same year, on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the occupation, the Institute has succeeded in recording interviews with two hitherto unknown protesters from Latvia, Aldis Cilinskis and Ivan Jachimovich; the former also accepted an invitation to visit the Czech Republic on the anniversary of his protest. The majority of interviews with participants have been translated into Czech and published in the book For Your Freedom and Ours.

Sample from publication and separately published interviews


Interviews with participants of protest

Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics

Participants in a demonstration on Red Square 25.8.1968

Zpráva předsedy KGB Jurije Andropova ústřednímu výboru KSSS o činnosti moskevských disidentů a jejich zájmu o dění v Československu, 5. 9. 1968. (1/2) (Archiv V. Bukovského) Zpráva předsedy KGB Jurije Andropova, ministra vnitra Nikolaje Ščelokova a zástupce generálního prokurátora Michaila Maljarova ústřednímu výboru KSSS o demonstraci na Rudém náměstí, 20. 9. 1968 (1/3) (Archiv V. Bukovského) Zpráva předsedy KGB Jurije Andropova, ministra vnitra Nikolaje Ščelokova a generálního prokurátora Romana Ruděnka ústřednímu výboru KSSS o soudu s účastníky demonstrace na Rudém náměstí, 11. 10. 1968 (1/2) (Archiv V. Bukovského)

Discussion with Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Pavel Litvinov and Viktor Fainberg in Prague on 25 August 2008 – exactly 40 years after the demonstration on Red Square

German Democratic Republic

People’s Republic of Poland

People’s Republic of Hungary

People’s Republic of Bulgaria