“I was here the whole time in ’68”: Radio’s role during invasion recalled at ceremony

A ceremony at the Czech Radio building, photo: Jakub Plíhal

The Czech Radio building in Prague saw the most intense violence during the Soviet-led invasion of August 21, 1968 and, as every year, hundreds of people marked the anniversary at the station on Wednesday. Among them were leading politicians – and one old lady who broadcast news of the occupation to the outside world.

Jaroslav Kubera,  Jiří Drahoš and the speaker of the lower house Radek Vondráček,  photo: Jakub Plíhal
A solemn ceremony at the Czech Radio building on Prague’s Vinohradská St. on Wednesday marked the 51st anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of August 21, 1968.

Among the politicians who addressed the crowd – several of whom saw the violence of that time with their own eyes – was Senate speaker Jaroslav Kubera.

“We are here at a symbolic place in front of the building of the Radio, which played such an important role in the first days of the occupation.

“When those days of ignominy and bitter disappointment led to despair, it was the people at Czechoslovak Radio that helped us to raise our heads, sit up and say a clear No to the occupation.”

Also delivering a speech was the mayor of Prague, Zdeněk Hřib, who warned against the distortion and relativisation of history. Afterwards he explained why.

“In the year 1968 this act of the invasion was presented as help from our Eastern brothers, but obviously it something different. It was a pure invasion and an occupation after that.

“So it is important to call events by their proper names.

“And it is also important to do so today, because today there is a massive increase in fake news in the public space and that is something we have to deal with.”

Sitting in the front row among the invited guests was Věra Homolová. Now “only 94”, she was working for the international service of Czechoslovak Radio when Russian tanks entered the country in order to crush the Prague Spring.

“I was here the whole time in ’68. At 4 o’clock in the night the telephone at my flat rang and they told me, The Russians are already at the airport. I came here and the whole time I was here.

“Then I went to Army broadcasting and they sent me to this different transmitter.

“There I translated the news they had given us into English and broadcast it in English.”

Senator and failed presidential candidate Jiří Drahoš, who was 19 when the invasion occurred, also took part in the memorial ceremony.

“We have to remember the people who were killed during the occupation. We have to remember also the situation one year later, when not Soviet troops but our own Czech people shot at Czech people. This is one message and we shouldn’t forget it.

“And also we shouldn’t forget that democracy and freedom are not forever – we have to be careful and we have to do something for that.”

A ceremony at the Czech Radio building,  photo: Jakub Plíhal