Communist party official shocks nation ahead of freedom celebrations

Stanislav Grospič, photo: ČTK/Kamaryt Michal

As the Czech nation celebrates 30 years of freedom and democracy the words of a leading Communist Party official have caused a public outcry. In an interview for Czech Radio, the party’s deputy chair, Stanislav Grospič argued that the 1968 Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia was not an invasion and that the people killed had died mostly in road accidents. While his words evoked widespread condemnation, the Communist Party has not distanced itself from the statement.

Stanislav Grospič,  photo: ČTK/Kamaryt Michal
The lower house of Parliament last week passed a bill declaring August 21st a day in memory of the victims of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. According to the bill, the night of August 20 to 21, 1968, when Soviet-led troops invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring reform movement, was one of the most tragic days in Czechoslovak modern history.

The bill won support from MPs across the board, with the exception of the Communist Party, whose deputies abstained from the vote with one exception. Communist MP Jiří Dolejš, who broke party ranks, said he was voting according to his conscience.

Explaining his reasons for not supporting the bill, Communist Party deputy chair Stanislav Grospič said that while the invasion was a tragic moment in the country’s history, it shouldn’t be regarded as a day of special significance.

“Our main premise is that it wasn’t an occupation. It was a tragic moment, and it wasn’t right. It was a forced entry by foreign troops, which was unfortunate, but the people who died were mainly victims of traffic accidents. They deserve to be remembered and honoured, but they were not victims of any armed fights.”

Photo: Anefo,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC0 1.0
Mr Grospič’s words were immediately condemned by politicians across the board, including Prime Minister Andrej Babiš:

“If he was serious, then he should definitely apologize. It is unbelievable, everyone knows that it was an invasion, it was an occupation and it had a terrible impact on the country.”

The head of the Civic Democrats, Zbyněk Stanjura, said Mr Grospič should resign as head of the Mandate and Immunity Committee in the lower house:

“I think his words are scandalous, although they don’t come as a surprise. He claims that it wasn’t an invasion. So what was it, then? But clearly, he is not going to apologize.”

Zbyněk Stanjura
Not only is an apology unlikely, but the Communist Party has failed to distance itself from Mr. Grospic’s words. Party leader Vojtěch Filip said after a meeting of the party’s leadership on Tuesday that its members should be more restrained in expressing themselves in public and should make sure their statements do not go counter the official party line. But, speaking to Czech Television, he indirectly supported Mr Grospič’s claim:

“From the perspective of international law it was an invasion, a forced entry, but it was not an occupation, because there was an agreement between the leadership of Czechoslovakia and the Warsaw Pact troops.”

The shocking statement by one of the leading figures of the Communist Party and the party’s attempts to play down its significance have once again revived a media debate regarding the philosophy of the Communist Party and just how much –or little –it has changed in the past 30 years.