Lower house moves to compensate victims of 1969 state violence against freedom demonstrators

August 1969 in Prague, photo: archive of Czech Radio

The lower house of Parliament on Wednesday approved a proposal to compensate victims of state violence that occurred during demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. The move highlights the fact that even 30 years after the fall of the communist regime the country has still not settled with the past.

Exactly a year after the Prague Spring was crushed by the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August of 1968, thousands of people took to the streets to protest against their country’s occupation by Soviet troops. The subsequent brutal crackdown on demonstrators, this time by their own countrymen, resulted in hundreds of arrests, many injuries and even five deaths.

One of those killed was eighteen-year-old Danuše Muzikářová, shot on Brno’s main square by a member of the People’s Militia, the Communist Party’s own armed force made up of groups of ordinary workers who were trained to fight for and protect the regime.

Jakub Jareš,  photo: Noemi Fingerlandová / Czech Radio

Jakub Jareš from the Institute of Contemporary History at the Czech Academy of Sciences says that while their loyalty to the party was much more reliable than that of the soldiers, they were not as well-trained as their counterparts in the official security forces.

“They were nervous, perhaps scared, because demonstrators threw stones and in general these were very violent protests. The militiamen therefore started shooting, unlike their comrades in the police.”

The person responsible for Danuše Muzikářová’s murder has not been found to this day, but it was her tragic story that led TOP 09 MP Vlastimil Válek to draft the compensation bill – albeit 30 years late.

According to official statistics five people were killed and 31 were injured, five of them very seriously in the clashes.

The proposal would give CZK 200,000 to the relatives of 5 people who died during the demonstrations, CZK 90,000 to 5 people who suffered permanent injuries, and CZK 40,000 to 26 people who suffered less serve injuries.

Protests in August 1969,  photo: Czech Television

However, since some historians assume there was a higher number of victims, the bill provides for compensation of up to CZK 4.5 million.

Milan Bárta from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes welcomes the move, despite it being long overdue.

“I see it as recognition of the bravery of those who went out into the streets to protest against the occupation, although they knew the regime would crack down on them.  They believed it important to protest against the fact that their homeland would become a vassal state ruled by Moscow.”

These people’s brave action failed and the brutal crack-down on demonstrators in August 1969 heralded a harsh “normalization” era when the communists purged all reform-minded comrades from their ranks and mercilessly persecuted dissidents of the regime.