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Cheers to the End of a Long Winter…and to The Prague Spring

March 18, 2014

Prague swansIn honor of winter’s dying breath, I’d like to train my eye on spring this week – The Prague Spring, specifically.

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.

prague spring

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.

prague spring cartoon

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. Havel and Velvet Revolution

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.

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From → family

22 Comments
  1. Hello Victoria. Just wanted to let you know we have the award post up & running & your blog address on our post. Thank you so much again, for this incredible award as it is an unbelievable honor getting it from someone we respect and love so much!!! ❤ 😉 http://inionnmathair.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/the-versatile-blogger-x-2-one-great-friend/

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  3. You ladies are the best! I just read, shared and tweeted your wonderful post!

  4. ~meredith permalink

    This was such a beautiful post to read. Watching the film… Thank you so much. It’s so worthwhile to save your posts for quiet times with room at the end to look out the window. You have such gracious insight.

  5. I’m a little late in responding to this particular post — my computer hard drive is ‘sick’ and I’m off to get a new laptop — but wanted you to know I love it! 🙂

  6. Visto che non c’è il pulsantino ”Mi piace” te lo scrivo 🙂 . Renzo

  7. Hi Victoria. You probably know Kundera’s book, Unbearable Lightness…, which pivots on the Spring and aftermath. Some Czechs dislike him because he left for Paris while Havel stayed, but this is my favorite novel

  8. renzodemasi – thank you. Maybe you can teach me Italiano!

  9. In 1971 I was an American student at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. My were, and still are, left of center, but they’ve never been CRAZY left. I never equated being against the Viet Nam war with being pro-Soviet Union or, for that matter, infatuated with Mao. In any event, in one of my literature classes there was a young woman–Kristina? Kristin?–whose family had left Czechoslovakia in 1968, one step ahead of the Soviet troops. She explained their departure to me in a couple of sentences in a way that made it clear she didn’t want to discuss it further. I think her family was then living in France. One afternoon a group of us were sitting in the student cafeteria talking politics. I don’t even remember the original topic but somebody was holding forth about Lenin (somebody was always holding forth about Lenin–at the time Fribourg was the home of the Eastern Institute of Soviet Ideology) and about how ideology justified the necessity of his actions which were always distorted by capitalist politicians and historians, etc. when this girl stood up and looked at him. “You have no idea what you are talking about,” she said, and then left the table. The scene has never left me. Ken

  10. In 1971 I was an American student at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. My politics were, and still are, left of center, but they’ve never been CRAZY left. I never equated being against the Viet Nam war with being pro-Soviet Union or, for that matter, infatuated with Mao. In any event, in one of my literature classes there was a young woman–Kristina? Kristin?–whose family had left Czechoslovakia in 1968, one step ahead of the Soviet troops. She explained their departure to me in a couple of sentences in a way that made it clear she didn’t want to discuss it further. I think her family was then living in France. One afternoon a group of us were sitting in the student cafeteria talking politics. I don’t even remember the original topic but somebody was holding forth about Lenin (somebody was always holding forth about Lenin–at the time Fribourg was the home of the Eastern Institute of Soviet Ideology) and about how ideology justified the necessity of his actions which were always distorted by capitalist politicians and historians, etc. when this girl stood up and looked at him. “You have no idea what you are talking about,” she said, and then left the table. The scene has never left me. Ken

  11. Ken, that’s a very powerful story. That woman could’ve been my mother or grandmother for that matter. My grandmother used to speak to local community groups in the 50s and 60s – she was trying to get public support for aid in getting her children back (my mother and her sisters were being held by the Czech government), and what always shocked her was how many people – mostly I guess what you could call limousine liberals – were convinced that her story was a lie and that the American government had somehow put her up to this. And her chief advocates and lawyers at the time were Adlai Stevenson and Newton Minnow, so it’s not as if she was on Team McCarthy. It was a crazy time.

  12. thank you for this it has been interesting to read, i used to live in czeckoslovakia as a child i was eleven when we arrived and around sixteen when we left, i have tried to think back and i beleive it was late 1970s through very early 1980s? my memory is a little rusty ^_^ it was still a communist state but being young and not having parents interested in the background of the place we were living in i didn’t have much idea how the country i lived had come to be that way, in my adult years i have learned a little and it is good reading here as you fill in the gaps for me, of all the countries i lived in czecksy was my fave and i loved it, i loved the architecture, i loved the people, as kids my brother and i had no problem mixing with the local children and we considered ourselves all just one big family, to me my memories are happy ones though it is awful now to know what this place went through, thank you and i hope you have a great sunday x

    • Kezia – thanks for reading. I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece and your time in Czech. I love the place, too – I feel like my time there changed me forever and for the better. Have a wonderful Sunday as well. Rest up 🙂

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. ASMSG Horror-Thriller Emagazine – Cheers to the End of a Long Winter…and to The Prague Spring
  2. Cheers to the End of a Long Winter…and to The Prague Spring | Tal faràs, tal trobaràs

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