Anniversary of Soviet invasion of Prague

PRAGUE -- Czech citizens are preparing to mark the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Soviet tank in Prague
Soviet tank in Prague

The invasion claimed more than 80 lives, while around 300 people were injured.

This year’s Russian invasion of Georgia reminded many of the turbulent events of 1968, when approximately 200,000 Warsaw Pact soldiers occupied the country, under the guise of keeping it under the Soviet model of socialism.

The invasion started on August 20, after midnight, and it took Prague citizens by complete surprise.

"My wife woke me up around midnight and told me that the Russians had occupied us. I could not believe it, so I asked her to repeat it to me several times,” writer Karel Srp recalls.

"She said that Russian, Hungarian, Polish, Bulgarian and East German soldiers were there. We did not understand their reasons, and we could not believe that our allies would occupy us,” he said.

"At first I went to the scene of the first clashes. Tanks were in flames and people were throwing Molotov cocktails,” Vladimir Tuma, a cameraman remembers.

"I saw a man running, carrying a Czech flag, all covered in blood. The Russians had even fired shots at the National Museum building,” he says.

The invasion was provoked by the reforms known as the Prague Spring, led by Alexander Dubček. The reforms were intended to decentralize the totalitarian regime and to get rid of the remaining elements of Stalinism.

Even though the Czechs traditionally focus more on the celebrations of the Velvet Revolution that took place in 1989, August 20 might have a more symbolic meaning in the light of the recent events in South-East Europe.