Prague 1968, My First (and Belated) Disappointment

Warsaw Pact Tanks invade Prague, capital of the then Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 August 2018 — On the cover of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde on that Tuesday, 20 August 1968, a disturbing headline surprised everyone: Czechoslovakia Invaded. The subheading added that Warsaw Pact troops were the executors of the action.

On Wednesday the 21st, a group of students from the School of Journalism of the University of Havana was urgently summoned to the offices of the People’s Opinion of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. There we were given the task of collaborating in a survey to determine as quickly as possible what the state of mind of the people was in the face of these transcendental events.

One day later, some of us who did the interviews worked long hours to compute the results. We felt privileged to know the opinion of the people and especially by the encouragement of knowing that the Commander in Chief was waiting for the results before making a public statement.

Obviously, I do not remember the exact numbers, but three answers predominated. In first place, the majority rejected the invasion, defending their position with the argument that “nonintervention in the internal affairs of a country” was something sacred and that accepting what happened in Czechoslovakia would legitimize the right of the United States to invade Cuba.

The second most expressed response was: “I’ll tell you my opinion after I hear that of the Commander.” And the third, frankly a minority, was limited to expressing that “if the Russians were behind it, they would have had their reasons.” The remainder was made up of those who had not even heard about it or the usual cautious ones who opted for silence.

On the night of Friday, August 23, Fidel Castro made a special appearance before the national television cameras to publicize the position of the Revolution, that is, his.

Having just turned 21, the fool that I was expected a strong condemnation of the unspeakable invasion. Surely our survey had already been studied.

But the Commander in Chief had his own way of looking at the matter:

“The essential thing that is accepted or not accepted, is whether the socialist camp could allow or not the development of a political situation that would lead to the breakdown of a socialist country and its fall into the arms of imperialism. And our point of view is that it is not permissible and that the socialist camp has the right to prevent it in one way or another. ”

After that affirmation, Fidel Castro extended himself in criticizing the economic reforms of the Prague Spring, mentioning the details of the self-financing and the material stimuli that he described as “liberal bourgeois reforms.”

In what can clearly be considered a political negotiation, Castro wondered if perhaps the troops that had invaded Czechoslovakia would be sent to Vietnam or North Korea to defend those countries from imperialism and concluded by asking: “Will they send the divisions of the Warsaw Pact to Cuba if the Yankee imperialists attack our country, or even before the threat of attack (…), if our country requests it?”

With his applause for the invasion of a brother country, Fidel Castro tried to buy military backing for his outrages on the island, as long as he requested it.

That same year, 1968, Fidel Castro unleashed the war against bureaucracy on his island, imposed the Revolutionary Offensive, initiated the Havana Cordon, and the madness of 10 million ton sugar harvest. That year the microfaction process* took place, Cuba refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the program of schools in the countryside began and Castro announced the simultaneous construction of socialism and communism.

A week after those ominous statements by the Maximum Leader supporting the invasion, the ICAIC news program, directed by Santiago Álvarez, dedicated its space to what happened in Czechoslovakia.

The image of the Wenceslas Square occupied by Soviet tanks and the soundtrack with the initial notes of the Tocata and fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, remained forever in my memory, not as the testimony of the tragedy of Prague but as the reference to my first disappointment.

Then I knew that disappointment had come too late.

*Translator’s note: In 1968, the ‘microfaction’, nine pro-Soviet members of the Central Committee including Anibal Escalante, were tried as “traitors to the revolution” and received jail terms.


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