25 Years since the end of Soviet occupation
In 2016 we mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of end of the Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia and the departure of the last foreign soldier. That tragic period had begun with the treacherous invasion by five of our Warsaw Pact ‘allies’ aimed at ending the attempts at democratization known as the Prague Spring. By the terms of an interim agreement with the Soviet Central Group, nearly foreign 70,000 troops, backed up with heavy armour and aircraft, crossed our borders. By the 1980s there was even a medium-range missile brigade stationed here. With characteristic irony the Czechs and Slovaks dubbed the ‘temporary’ presence ‘eternal’ – as the Soviets, without any kind of permission, set up entire communities complete with their own shops and schools. The twenty-year occupation caused incalculable harm, not least to the over four hundred civilians who died as a result of the inconsiderate and illegal behaviour of the occupation forces. The economic and environmental damage they caused has taken many years to repair, as have the deep psychological wounds they inflicted. The black (or rather grey) period of ‘normalization’ under communist president Gustav Husak would not have been possible without the bloody events of August 1968. The repressive and morally devastating policies of those years could only be enforced thanks to the foreign troops, whose ever-menacing presence ruled out any further attempts at democratization.
The withdrawal of the last Soviet forces was a fundamental factor in the renewal of our democratic system that began in November 1989. At last Czechs and Slovaks were free of an unwelcome and unpredictable presence that had hung over them like a sword of Damocles for so many years.
- Ivo Pejčoch, historian -