Czech Radio 1968 memorial partly overshadowed by anti-Babiš protest

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK / Roman Vondrouš

One of the key events marking Tuesday’s anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion was a memorial at Czech Radio, scene of the worst violence on August 21, 1968. However, the ceremony was partly overshadowed by a raucous demonstration against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK / Roman Vondrouš

René Zavoral at the Czech Radio building on Prague’s Vinohradská St., photo: Michaela Danelová, Czech Radio
The high point of Tuesday morning’s memorial ceremony at the Czech Radio building on Prague’s Vinohradská St. was the unveiling of a plaque bearing the names of two people who died at the station during the Soviet-led invasion but were not previously known: Pavel Albert and Miloslav Málek.

The unveiling was performed by the station’s director general, René Zavoral, and Rudolf Matys.

Now 80, Mr. Matys was an editor at Czechoslovak Radio in 1968. He recalls fire and smoke as the station was attacked by Soviet tanks – and a spirit of defiance.

“I was happy about one thing. For a few days at least, a certain inner strength and national solidarity became stronger and stronger. And that I hadn’t expected. I knew that such things could come along when conditions are more positive. But for the nation to unite in such a critical moment… Unfortunately it was only for a year.”

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK / Roman Vondrouš
Among the speakers at Tuesday’s ceremony was Senate chairman Milan Štěch, whose comments on public service media met with applause from the large crowd in front of Czech Radio.

“We can see around us abuse of the freedom that comes with democracy and of opportunities that we can’t always defend effectively. This includes a flood of information of all kinds – and it is very hard to orient oneself. 1968 showed the fundamental role of public service media in critical moments.”

When Prime Minister Andrej Babiš attempted to speak he was almost completely drowned out by protestors, who whistled and chanted “shame” and “StB”, in reference to the fact he has been accused of collaborating with the Communist-era secret police.

However, the ANO leader attempted to soldier on.

Protest against Mr. Babiš, photo: ČTK / Roman Vondrouš
“Freedom and democracy are above all about being able to admit that others have the right to different opinions and different preferences. The Czech Republic has many talented people, with great potential, but little is written about them… If we continue to fight among one another and to start conflicts, talented people will have no desire to become socially active.”

This man, who said he was not a member of any party, explained why he had come out to protest against Mr. Babiš.

“It’s 50 years since the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Russian soldiers and this anniversary should not be sullied by an StB man who has enabled the Communists to be in power. No other democratic party wants to enter government with them… I don’t want my children to live through what I did.”

Countless other events have also been held around the country observing Tuesday’s landmark anniversary.