A political & historical interlude: exactly 50 years ago, on the night of August 21, 1968, Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia.
The invasion sought to crush the Prague Spring—a period, during which the Czechoslovak leadership began to gradually liberalize life in the country.
The pre-invasion 1960’s also spurred a geyser of literary creativity (Milan Kundera and Václav Havel), accompanied by a new wave of Czechoslovak movies (Miloš Forman), with many of the works gaining international recognition.
Then, it all came to a crushing halt. The tanks arrived to ensure the communist party regained control over all aspects of people’s lives.
These events had a far-reaching effect on the lives and worldview of the then-young Czechs and Slovaks—my parents’ generation.
They had never seen tanks of another country before, and the scene of invasion came as a shock to them, unimaginable to today’s Czech or Western youth.
A sense of anger and helplessness overpowered them (most vividly expressed in the act of self-immolation by Jan Palach, a twenty-year old student). For the next 20 years, dubbed as the “normalization” period, the country was run by a communist leadership subservient to the Soviet Union. Some of the country’s talent emigrated (Milan Kundera to France and Miloš Forman to the U.S.), while others ended up serving time in jail (Václav Havel). The tanks left the country only after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 that swept the communist regime away and reinstated democracy.
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