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History is a blend of triumphs and tragedies.

Today marks the 55th anniversary of the USSR orchestrated invasion of Czechoslovakia.

On the night of August 20th, 1968 a Warsaw-Pact army consisting of 500,000+ soldiers from five neighboring countries and led by the Soviet Army, violated the national borders of Czechoslovakia.

As the half a million armed men marched down the tranquil and unsuspecting streets of Slovak and Czech cities. A total of 6,300 tanks and 800 planes poured into the country to execute the orders of the Kremlin.

Czechoslovakia stood no chance at defending itself.

The thawing of Czechoslovakia’s totalitarianism saw a political relaxation take over the country towards the end of the 1960s. ‘The Prague Spring’, represented by Alexander Dubcek, was a promise of more freedom in the heart of Europe.

Life became more free. Media censorship began to be lifted. Borders began to slowly open. And the forbidden West began to oscillate from forbidden enemy to tentative ally in the eyes of a more open minded Czechoslovak leadership.

Unfortunately, the USSR’s iron grip over the Soviet Bloc would not tolerate Czechoslovakia’s flirtation with democratic socialism. Moscow feared losing the industrially advanced heartland could lead to the collapse of the entire Eastern Bloc. To stop the Czechoslovak political reforms, the Kremlin decided to take matters into its own hands.

As the tanks rolled through Czechoslovak towns and cities on that fateful August night, a clear message was communicated to the people of the republic, the entire Soviet realm and the world beyond the Iron Curtain.

Communism was here to stay. Any aspirations for reform, would be crushed- literally and brutally.

The invasion was universally condemned by the international community, but that is where their actions stopped. Czechoslovakia received no military help from anyone, including the West.

The invasion was turned into an invisible occupation of Czechoslovakia for two decades. Soviet military bases were set up around the country, discreetly hidden from public sight. These soldiers did not walk around in their uniforms and they did not make their presence explicit to the public. It would take until 1991 for all the Soviet bases in Czechoslovakia to be officially shut down and for the 70,000 occupying soldiers to depart.

The scars of this event endure, reminding us that ordinary people often pay the price in the power games of global politics.

Let's ensure this memory never fades.

It was an honor for Global Slovakia to take part in today’s 55th commemoration of the invasion, also via the unveiling of the Ladislav (and Alica) Bielik monument at Slávičie údolie cementary in Bratislava. The man behind one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century continues to be a celebrated figure in Slovakia and in particular on the anniversary of the fateful date.

The Bielik family has generously provided their father’s photographs to Global Slovakia to featured in the book ‘Czechoslovakia: Behind the Iron Curtain’ so as to forever serve public memory.

Thank you once again to Peter Bielik, son of Ladislav Bielik and family, for their generosity and support of Global Slovakia’s message and work.

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