Cheers to the End of a Long Winter…and to The Prague Spring
For those of you who think that involves merely fresh water smells of trout and river mud, carpets of violets and a sun like a dollop of warm lemon curd surrounded by clouds of meringue – you’re not entirely wrong. Prague is like that most every spring and I highly recommend a visit in April or May. It’s better than Paris – honest (except for the food). And you won’t have to deal with the French (I actually like the French; I just enjoy a good joke at their expense).
In the spring of 1968 – what’s known as THE Prague Spring – Prague was like that, too.
In historical terms, The Prague Spring was a brief time of freedom from Soviet tyranny. It was everything that Spring promises – sunshine, fresh air, re-birth. But like Spring, it also came to an end.
The Prague Spring lasted from January 5th, 1968, when the reformer, Alexander Dubček, was elected as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, through August 21st of that same year, when the Soviet Union invaded the country to halt the reforms.
It was a devastating turn of events – not just for Czechoslovakia, which bore the brunt of the invasion – but for the whole world. The Prague Spring had given everyone hope that reason could indeed prevail and the Cold War could thaw just a little bit. Maybe even end.
Although my mother fled Czechoslovakia the hard way – just months before The Prague Spring would have allowed her the freedom to leave without the threat of being shot or imprisoned – my aunts Helen and Viki boarded a train and an airplane unmolested (thank God) and headed to Switzerland and the U.S.A., respectively, where they would be reunited with my mother and their parents. Where they would endeavor to live out the rest of their lives. For all of its obliterated promise, The Prague Spring did at least deliver that – it allowed, for a brief period, the opportunity for people who wanted to leave to do just that.
In retrospect, my mom says, she never really believed the reforms would stick. And they didn’t – not then at least. Real reform wouldn’t come until some twenty years later with The Velvet Revolution. It took the Soviet Union going bust for them to reluctantly, begrudgingly give up power.
If you have time today, I urge you to watch the link I’m providing below. It’s to a film called Czechoslovakia, 1968, and won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short at the Academy Awards in 1968. Its maker, Robert M. Fresco, died just a few weeks ago.
The documentary plays like a silent movie: haunting, beautiful, employing an economy of theme and voice that’ll leave you breathless.
You can watch it on your lunch hour, and I assure you it’ll be fourteen minutes well-spent. You might even walk away feeling something akin to a state of grace. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel kinder towards your colleagues, happier in the presence of your family and sadder. But better.