The AWOL Czech President

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

This week started off with a commemorative occasion of note, at least if you live in the Czech Republic or Slovakia. Monday, 21 August, marked the 49th anniversary of the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the broad-based Communist reform movement underway there known collectively as the Prague Spring.

OK, the 50th anniversary next year will presumably be a much bigger deal. But for remembering officially the event in those peoples’ political history which, in its long-standing trauma, probably corresponds to the 9/11 attacks in the US, at the least, every year’s 21 August is surely worth some official attention. But not from the Czech Republic’s President, Miloš Zeman, at least not this year: there was nothing from the Presidential Palace, no attendance at any ceremony, no statement.

Naturally, then, the State Radio’s news channel, Radiožurnál, wanted to find out how come. Gaining no access to Zeman himself (perhaps somewhat understandably), they turned to his official spokesman, Jiří Ovčáček.


The interview was brief, three questions, amounting to “Did the President express anything in relation to the 49th anniversary of the Occupation, and does he intend to do so going forward?” What it yielded was no so much obfuscatory as, frankly, outrageous. The President had already expressed himself on that subject, Ovčáček maintained, and that at least 47 years ago when he made it clear he was against the invasion and paid for his opinion by losing his job. And then check this:

In other words, the President bravely expressed himself during that period when it was no cheap thing to do so, [whereas] today the sort of people who opine on this sad anniversary are those who during Normalization [the period following the ’68 invasion] were satisfied with digging in to the gravy-train [CZ: chrochtali u koryta].

Now, Zeman is getting old, perhaps he momentarily forgot that he is, after all, President of the country.

And then: “Isn’t he going to return to the subject at future anniversaries?” “The President puts forth his views on this almost every day, when he speaks of how the Czech Republic must remain a sovereign nation” and bla bla bla . . .

It’s as if Zeman has no further obligation to have anything to do with that Warsaw Pact “brotherly assistance” simply because of how he is alleged to have behaved in the years immediately afterwards. Let’s take a quick look at what that behavior actually was; for this, I go to his page in the Czech Wikipedia. I know, the particular nature of that source is such that you never can discount someone with a political point to prove distorting what you find there, but still, there’s some interesting material. (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

The Freeze Came from Within

Friday, August 22nd, 2003

Yesterday, 21 August, was the 35th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 that put an end to the “Prague Spring,” and here in Prague that story is getting big play in the media. This is even though it’s all about the past, specifically a quite unpleasant incident from the past which presumably nearly every Czech knows about (whether s/he experienced it directly or not) and which perhaps s/he would just rather forget. Respekt is probably the leading Czech journal of commentary, with a quite impressive battle-record of offending (and being threatened by) post-1989 governments, and in its current issue it approaches the event from a different angle. It was not the case that the Red Army invaded the country (accompanied by symbolic contingents from Warsaw Pact “allies”) and that was that: end of the “Prague Spring.” Rather, the Communist tightening-down of the country back to the pre-1968 level of repression (or, in some respects, an even worse state) actually proceeded over the course of a year-and-a-half, into 1970. In other words, not that much changed in Czech society right after the invasion; the oppressive changes came later, gradually, in the face of a Czechoslovak populace which could see what was happening but did little about it. It was this same populace which had been enthusiastic for its new freedoms in the first part of 1968, prior to the invasion, introduced by the then-government led by Aleksander Dubcek. So how could the re-introduction of a Communist dictatorship happen? What are the lessons for today? These sorts of questions are intelligently explored by Tomas Nemecek in his article entitled Mráz prišel zevnitr, or “The Freeze Came from Within.” (more…)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)