After the Invasion Commemoration
So the commemoration of the thirty year anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia has passed. Here in Prague, the anniversary was noted with exhibitions, TV specials and unique supplements in the newspapers, but it still seems that people were not sure what to make of the day.
The Western news groups -- including the BBC -- pointed to the Czechs' lack of interest with the whole Prague Spring. They noted that the older generation has mixed feelings about that era and that the younger generation couldn't care less. Society has new problems, and rehashing the past is often a wasted effort.
That sentiment is easy to understand. After all, it was hard to know exactly what to commemorate last week. The world is so different: all the regimes which took part in the invasion have disappeared, as has the country which was invaded. What is there to do: vent anger at the non-existent Soviet Union? Feel patriotic toward the non-existent Czechoslovakia?
What I witnessed over the past few days was a bit strange, however. While few people seemed to talk about 1968 themselves without prompting, the press had a field day with the anniversary. I have certainly seen enough photographs of tanks in the streets of Prague in the media over the past few days.
Today's media coverage of events would lead one to believe that the forces of the Warsaw Pact only invaded Prague and not a whole country. Apart from the normal Pragocentrism, this focus on scenes depicting nationally evocative historic monuments and buildings in the capital has its reasons. Commentators and editors are searching for national continuity in the absence of any clear continuity with the former state. Because it is difficult for one to feel upset about Czechoslovakia being violated today, when Czechoslovakia no longer exists, there is an effort to show that it was the Czech nation that was violated in 1968.
The subject matter of photographs in the press in recent days has truly been noteworthy. The majority of them showed heroic events in the streets: protesters standing up to tanks against hopeless odds, flags defiantly waved at the invaders, a plain-looking group of young men shouting at or trying to reason with a Soviet soldier, a crushed bus, a fire.
Of course, resistance was a fact, and it should not be forgotten. The myth some people hold that society instantly buckled under needs to be exposed.
But I wonder if these dramatic and heroic events really ought to have been the main focus of the media's coverage. Czechs do not seem to feel as heroic about that time as the media --- and some of the exhibitions -- seemed to be implying.
As traumatic and troubling as the invasion was, there is a much more critical aspect of the year 1968, which needs airing in Czech society: it is not 1968 per se that is important for today's Czech society, but what happened after.
Of course, no one ever took a heroic photograph of Normalisation. There is no clear date, around which the whole of society can mark an anniversary. No one can capture in pictures or slogans the multitude of personal dramas which took place in the years after 1968, and in which every person somehow had to accommodate himself to the new reality (to say collaboration is too strong in most cases). The feeling of hopelessness, the thought of the system's life-long finality and the gradual resignation which affected almost every citizen in the years following 1968 were more influential and more long-lasting. The scars of the invasion seem to have healed, but the scars of Normalisation have not.
I wonder when people will start talking about that.