Czech Radio recreates dramatic night of invasion with 13-hour broadcast

Jan Pokorný, photo: Khalil Baalbaki, ČRo

Czechoslovak Radio was a focal point of the Soviet-led invasion of 1968, with the streets around the station seeing the worst violence and the highest number of deaths. Today’s Czech Radio is marking those momentous events with a special 13-hour broadcast featuring both archival materials and new interviews with eye-witnesses.

Warsaw pact troops on Vinohradská st.,  August 1968 | Photo: Czech Radio

The first announcement that the country had been invaded came on Czechoslovak Radio in the very early hours of August 21, 1968.

People soon started gathering at the station in a vain bid to protect it from takeover by Warsaw Pact troops.

Those dramatic events are being recalled on Monday night with a special 13-hour broadcast on today’s Czech Radio.

Jan Pokorný,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  ČRo
Jan Pokorný is the station’s head of news and will be one of the co-presenters of the special show.

“We want to reconstruct a key night for the then Czechoslovak Radio.

“We’re going to have dozens of reporters at places where things happened. For instance at Prague Airport, where a mysterious plane landed in the evening.

“It remained on the runway and then asked the control tower if it could turn on its engines.

“It turned out to be a mobile air traffic controller which controlled the occupying planes that then landed.”

The special broadcast, which gets underwayon the station Radiožurnál at 9 p.m., will also feature archival recordings from 1968, new interviews with many who lived through those dramatic times and studio guests.

The event is open to the public, who can get a taste of the atmosphere at the large S1 studio, which has been made up to look like a studio 50 years ago.

Pokorný says the interviews with witnesses will be preserved for posterity after Monday night’s broadcast.

“We recorded one-hour interviews with each of them. It was very emotional, for them and for us.

“For example, you’re in the studio with your colleague Jitka Borkovcová, who still teaches young journalists here, and she hands you shards from a grenade that went off when she was in the canteen here at the Radio.”

Photo: Miloš Turek
When they use the main Czech Radio entrance on Vinohradská St., employees today pass large plaques dedicated to those who died defending the station in both May 1945 and August 1968.

I asked Jan Pokorný how he felt reading those names today.

“The older I get, the more emotional it is for me to see those plaques.

“I say to myself, You work in a media organisation that meant so much to people that they laid down their lives for it – so appreciate that.

“The more we learn about those people, the more I imagine their specific stories.

“And that makes me value all the more the fact that Czech Radio is here in the form that it is in today.”

The names of previously unknown victims of the Soviet-led invasion will be unveiled on a plaque at the station’s entrance on Tuesday.