Tuesday, March 07, 2006

About that Invasion, No Hard Feelings?

In a little reported development, Russia came closer to offering a formal apology for the 1968 invasion of then Czechoslovakia, acknowledging their “moral responsibility” last Wed. Czechs have long sought a formal apology, and I doubt this will fully satisfy them.

Even though the invasion took place nearly thirty-eight years ago, you can still feel its effects on the streets of Prague. Communism’s legacy is everywhere and nowhere. New Czech realities are papering over Communist-era buildings that are literally falling apart. The former secret-police headquarters is now a low rent casino.

The Invasion certainly took its toll. At least 120 were killed. Families were separated. Political liberalism ended. The reform minded Alexander Dubček was purged, replaced by Moscow’s puppet, the hard-line socialist Gustáv Husák.

The flowering of Prague Spring culture was also strangled in its crib. American jazz drummer Bill Moody, now a mystery novelist, was performing as a guest soloist with the Gustav Brom big band, when the Soviet Tanks rolled into Wenceslas Square. Moody was able to return to the U.S., but the burgeoning Czech music scene would stagnate. Czech visual artists were also forced to work in furtive isolation. It was not until 1987 that like-minded artists were able to come together as the “12/15 Better Late Than Never” Group.

As a result, Anti-Communism is the foreign policy of the Czech Republic. When I was last in Prague, Czech Senator Karel Schwarzenberg was expelled from Cuba for attempting to meet with dissidents. This led the Czechs to redouble their efforts in the EU to reinstate sanctions against Cuba. Condemning the soft-line on Castro, Foreign Ministry spokeman Vit Kolar bluntly stated: “It is now apparent that this road leads nowhere.” (Prague Post May 25-31, 2005, no longer archived on-line)

The final word on Czech Communism comes from the Museum of Communism. A fascinating place, filled with Marxist memorabilia and statuary saved from the dustbin of history, the Museum of Communism celebrates the Velvet Revolution and commemorates the victims of Communist rule. Its brochures declare, “We’re above McDonald’s, next to the casino.” That pretty much says it all.