1969: Radio Prague goes back to the bad old days

Liberec in 1968, photo: www.usd.cas.cz

In the course of 1969 and 1970 Czechoslovak Radio was transformed back into what it had been in the 1950s, a tool of hard line propaganda. In the process, over 700 radio staff were forced to leave their jobs. Those who stayed found their freedom of expression severely curtailed. To give an idea of the extent to which things had changed by August 1969 - the first anniversary of the Soviet led invasion – I will start with a short extract from Radio Prague’s broadcasts back in 1968, as the tanks rolled into the city. At the time the radio was playing a crucial role in keeping the world informed of what was really happening – including reports of violent incidents as the invading troops opened fire on civilians:

“Sad news has reached us from the North Bohemian town of Liberec, where deplorable incidents and conflicts with the occupation armies have taken place today. The clash is reported to have ended with six dead and 47 wounded Czechoslovak citizens.”

Exactly a year later, we can hear a very different message from Radio Prague, as it reports on the huge protest demonstrations to mark the first anniversary of the invasion. Unnervingly, the following report is read by the very same announcer, this time praising the units that put down the protests:

“Crowds of gawkers began to form and in order to cope with the confusion riot units had to use batons, tear-gas and water from fire-hoses. This continued on Thursday afternoon and evening. However, police and army units and People’s Militia had been well prepared and by Thursday night the situation was fully under control.”

Using the heavy-handed techniques that became so familiar in the years that followed, Czechoslovakia’s new hard line leaders made it clear that they had the country firmly under their thumb – and that included Radio Prague’s broadcasts, which in August 1969 took the official line quite uncritically:

“So after those few excited days, we are now able to pose the question – what is the result of all this? On the one hand the sum is discouraging – five people dead, a number of wounded, material damage in the streets and on public installations. On the other hand, the result is a failure for the forces that are openly hostile to socialism. The bulk of the population – the workers in the first place – could not be persuaded to stage a massive strike or some other national demonstration.”

The process of discrediting the reforms of the Prague Spring accelerated at a pace, and in 1970 the radio went so far as to broadcast a whole series devoted to proving that the reforms of 1968 had been hijacked by rightist reactionaries. Here is a short extract:

“In radio and television programmes, in newspapers and magazines, engaged journalists are continuing to expose the real intentions of those right-wingers. On the basis of factual evidence, the public is beginning to understand that the seemingly noble words of those people concealed nothing but careerism and anti-humanism, goals that have nothing at all in common with socialism.”

By 1970 the process of turning the Prague Spring into a “counter-revolution” was more or less complete.