1968 - The end of European modernism

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Thirty-two years ago, on the 21st of August, 1968, Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia, dashing all hope for this country's lone attempt, within the Soviet Bloc and the confines of a bipolar world, to reform communism. A solemn ceremony was held outside the Czech Radio building on Monday to remember the tragedy. Dita Asiedu was there and is bringing this report.

In August 1968, scores of people died in isolated outbreaks of fighting. The scene in and outside the Broadcasting Building here on Prague's Vinohradska Street resembled something out of the Apocalypse. Amateur photographs and professional film footage show bodies crushed by Soviet tanks, ambulances caught in a Russian-to-Russian crossfire, and people with empty hands rushing in to help the wounded and the dying.

The body count may be horrible but nobody will ever come up with the ultimate toll of August 21, 1968, and the Stalinist purges that ensued. Who will tell today how many thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of Czechs and Slovaks were denied decent living and working conditions, were banned from doing what they knew and how to do it properly, were humiliated in every possible way and--this is perhaps the greatest tragedy for this country--were forced into emigration. The damage caused to this country by the massive brain drain that followed the invasion and the subsequent ideological purge, is incalculable.

And yet, as the noted Czech publicist Karel Hvizdala, himself a post-68 exile, points out, the Prague Spring of '68 wasn't even remotely an attempt to lend a human face to communism, although reform communists of every hue and description would take issue with his statements. Communism and those who believe in it, are beyond reform. Sixty-eight, Hvizdala claims, was the end of the world as we knew it. It was the death of modernism, suffered on the barricades of Paris in May that year, on the Berkeley University campus--remember the old Crosby, Stills & Nash song, Four Dead in Ohio?--and, ultimately, when Soviet paratroopers landed at Prague's international airport and set the invasion going.

Communist reformer Alexander Dubcek, Mr Hvizdala points out, was immortalised not because of what he believed in, socialism with a human face, but because with him, one whole era came to an end. The era that believed in someone some day finding the formula which would p make this world a better place.

Europe, and the world at large, needed 30 years to find out that there is no recipe for that and that nobody has the right to be larger than life. The world foolishly hoped in the Sixties that history must have a happy ending, the final solution that would make everybody happy, well fed and well provided-for till their dying day, Amen. The smile Dubcek wore on his face way back then, shortly before the tanks rolled in, is a grotesque grin of history today.