In August 1968, tanks from the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary crossed the border into Czechoslovakia to crush what was known as “the Prague Spring”.
Czech society had been becoming more liberal under Alexander Dubček, with people wearing jeans and listening to pop music – and so the alarmed Russians put a stop to it and restored strict Communism.
Amidst massive protests, 2,000 Soviet tanks and more than 600,000 troops rolled into Prague, and hundreds of people (including the government) were arrested. The invasion made clear that that the Soviet system was unwilling and unable to change, and reform would not be tolerated.
By the morning of 21 August, Czechoslovakia was occupied.
A period of ‘normalisation’ then ensued, during which a new leadership introduced curbs on the press and a prohibition of the formation of any other political parties.
Civilians purposely gave wrong directions to invading soldiers, while others identified and followed cars belonging to the secret police. On 16 January 1969, student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague’s Wenceslas Square to protest against the renewed suppression of free speech.
But on the whole, a few scuffles were the best the civilian population could offer by way of resistance, and most were left to keep sad vigils in Wenceslas Square.
Dubček was deposed the following April.
Most countries offered only vocal criticism following the invasion. On the night of the invasion, Canada, Denmark, France, Paraguay, the United Kingdom and the United States requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at which the Czechoslovak ambassador Jan Mužík denounced the invasion. Soviet ambassador Jacob Malik insisted the Warsaw Pact actions were “fraternal assistance” against “antisocial forces”.