Thursday, August 21, 2008


Today is the 40th Anniversary of the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia that ended the "Prague Spring" of political and intelectual openness that flourished briefly in 1968. I lived in Prague for a while and heard a lot of people's stories about the aftermath of the Prague Spring and the Soviet Invasion. Czech history is mostly about aftemaths I think. There was the aftermath of WWI and Independence, the aftermath of the Nazi takeover, the aftermath of the Communist takeover in 1948, the aftermath of the Soviet Invasion, the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution. Many peolpe were still working through the impact of '48 and '68 on their lives. They did so with a sense of irony forged by a history that had made a virtue of patience and resiliance.

One gentleman I knew spoke of his grandfather. He was condemned as "kulak"-he owned a farm- by the Communist authorities. The grandfather spent a year in jail. When his son, my friend's father, went to serve in the army he was designated as having a "bad class background." Recruits from politically undesirable origins had to serve, but weren't trusted with weapons. They tended to be sent to do work in fields that had a labor shortage, generally coal mining. But they were paid coal miner's wages, which weren't too bad. My friend's father was able to save money and buy a house for his father (the farm had of course been confiscated). He bought one on the western border where there was an abundance of unnocupied housing owing to the expulsion of the Germans that lived there.

One lady I knew told me about her parents. She was six in 1948 when her parents were sent to prison. Her father's crime was being a lawyer. She lived with her grandmother for six years until her mother was released. Her father did a full ten. If I recall corerctly she told me she didn't see him for about eight years.

In 1968 her sister was living in an apartment in Vysehrad, an old part of Prague just south of the city center on the east bank of the Vltava. When the Soviet troops occupied the city they imposed a curfew. One night they began firing wildly at nothing in particular. My friend's sister spent the night cowering on the floor, hoping not to get hit by a stray bullet. When dawn came my friend went over to help clean up and give moral support. They found only one bullet had entered the apartment. It had hit a book of Lenin's writings.

When I was in Prague it was a placid place. It stretched out along the river, busily tending its real estate, its art openings, its pubs (ah, Prague's wonderful pubs). The scars of the past were never too far away, laid on one another like layers. But there was always a fresh face on top looking to somethng new. And grumping about it. How I miss that dear, beautiful, frustrating, friendly, golden city.

-Dave Hardy


Charles Gramlich said...

I learn something new about you. I never knew you lived in prague.

Dave Hardy said...

Yes, I did. I was there from Jan 1997 thgough June of 1998. I lived in Libuse, a suburb on the far south edge of the city. I worked as an ESL teacher. It's an amazing place.