Accessibility links

Press Review: Prague Spring Recalled, Terrorism Must Be Prevented

By Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba

Prague, 20 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet and other Warsaw Pact troops. Western press commentary recalls the historic event and assesses the "Prague Spring" crushed by the invasion. Commentators also continue to focus on terrorism following recent anti-U.S. bombings in East Africa.

NEW YORK TIMES: Moscow feared the Prague Spring could spread

In an editorial The New York Times says "the (Soviet-bloc) invasion wiped out what the government of Alexander Dubcek called 'socialism with a human face,' which had established a free press, some political rights and intra-party democracy." The paper cites a new book, "'Prague Spring '68' (that) helps answer the question of why the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, as it had Hungary (in 1956), while it overlooked insubordination elsewhere. The book," the N.Y. Times says, "was compiled by a committee of scholars in the former Czechoslovakia who combed their country's archives and, with the help of the National Security Archive, a non-governmental group in Washington, found documents from Soviet and other East Bloc files."

According to the editorial, the book shows that "Moscow feared the Prague Spring could spread. The most rabid proponents of invasion were from East Germany and Poland, not the Kremlin. The heresy that seemed most to exercise Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was the free press. In repeated conversations with the mild Dubcek, Brezhnev complained of (Czechoslovak) newspapers' anti-Soviet attacks. He continually urged Dubcek to surround himself with 'reliable' party members." The editorial goes on: "The documents reveal that Moscow may have worried about protecting nuclear weapons it was planning to base in Czechoslovakia or deploy there in an emergency. A draft of a Czechoslovak report on military doctrine shows that officials were considering rejecting nuclear weapons." The paper concludes: The invasion, however, greatly diminished support for Moscow among Western Communist parties, and the Prague Spring provided a model for the reforms that came later. In 1987, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's spokesman, Gennadi Gerasimov, was asked the difference between perestroika and the Prague Spring. 'Nineteen years,' he replied."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The Prague Spring could not have had a better outcome

Britain's Daily Telegraph today carries a commentary by David Pryce-Jones, who argues that "Dubcek's reforms stirred the collapse of the Soviet empire." Pryce-Jones write: "As decent as he was naive, Alexander Dubcek was an unlikely man to leave his mark on world events....A streak of melancholy, almost fatalism, further deprived him of the inner strength to stand up to Brezhnev and Soviet violence." The commentary recalls another, more recent event: "In November 1989, a million or more Czechs gathered in the center of Prague and jangled their bunches of keys. It was enough to bring in democracy. Ghost-like, (Dubcek's successor Gustav) Husak faded away and died....Vindicated, the unfortunate Dubcek died in a car crash..." Pryce-Jones sums up: "The Soviet world is no more. Against all expectations, the Prague Spring could not have had a better outcome."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Most Czechs are ignoring the anniversary

The same paper runs a brief news analysis from Prague today. Correspondent Francis Harris says that "most Czechs are ignoring the anniversary....A recent ceremony at the graveside of Jan Palach, the student who immolated himself to protest against Czech indifference at the invasion, attracted fewer than 20 people. Members of the tiny Jan Palach Society said most Czechs cared more about the price of bread than what they regarded as ancient history." The analysis quotes "Daniel Anez, a journalist at the country's biggest-selling newspaper, Mlada Fronta Dnes, (as saying): 'During Communism, the events of 1968 were surrounded by myth and the heroes of that time, like (Vaclav) Havel, attained something like legendary status. Since the 1989 (Velvet) revolution, people have come to realize they are fallible."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The presence of ministers had a symbolic character

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, Prague correspondent Peter Brod writes in a news analysis of the recent (Aug. 17) opening of an official exhibition on the Prague Spring and its suppression: "With their Prime Minister Milos Zeman, most members of his new Social Democrat minority government sweated under the hot sun. Government members appeared in virtually full force at the exhibition documenting the invasion....The presence of ministers had a symbolic character. Their predecessors in the former Right-wing governments of (Vaclav) Klaus and (Josef) Tosovsky were far less numerous at the event."

The analysis continues: "Opening the exhibition....Premier Zeman hit out at some of the veterans of the reform movement...One has to remember, he said, that the protests in August 1969 (marking the first anniversary of the invasion) were suppressed by the local police and army: 'We have to ask ourselves, why so many traitors and collaborators surfaced.'" Brod adds: "Many Czechs would also like to know why none of the traitors have been put on trial and why those who before 1989 were set on Communist Party career advancement during the 'normalization' period are among Zeman's advisors. It's worth noting, too, that long-time (Communist) Party member Vladimir Vetchy is now Zeman's Defense Minister, who is pressing for the Czech Republic to join NATO."

PRAVO: 1968 was about the unity of reason and conscience

Two Czech commentators today offer differing assessments of the Prague Spring and the invasion that ended it. Writing in the Left-of-center Prague daily Pravo, the Czech philosopher-historian Vaclav Belohradsky says: "1968 was about the unity of reason and conscience. But the awakened conscience was once again stunned and the chance for a reform of socialism was destroyed forever....We think of the abortive reform of 1968 as one in a series of European attempts to renew in this bloody century the unity of reason and conscience....Communism was not reformable because it failed to pass the test of people, who did not give up believing in the unity of reason and conscience. And what about capitalism? Does it pass the test?"

LIDOVE NOVINY: The price of Czechoslovak national unity was terrible

In a commentary that is part of an eight-page supplement devoted to what is called the "August Tragedy" in the Center-Right Prague daily Lidove Noviny, Michal Musil writes: "The year 1968 really meant a splendid restoration of civic activity: People realized -- if only for a moment -- that they belonged to one nation (even if this was blemished by the Czechs and Slovaks being (parts of) that 'one nation,' and clearly the two sides understood the term nation differently.) The price of this national unity was terrible: After the Soviet invasion came the 'wiping out of the Czech political and intellectual elites' in the spiritual and, in part also in the existential, sense of the word. The effect can be felt to this day. The purge in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, which took place after the defeat of the reformists, created one of the most intractable totalitarian parties in Central and Eastern Europe."

WASHINGTON POST: There are steps that can be taken now to ensure against conventional terrorism

Two commentators today --one German, one Israeli-- discuss the aftermath to the recent murderous terrorist bombings aimed at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In the Washington Post, Ehud Sprinzak of Israel's Hebrew University in Jerusalem begins by posing a question: "Will we learn the right lessons from our failure to protect the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam? It's worth asking," he says, "because there is good reason to assume that the most relevant questions about this painful matter involve the Clinton Administration's habit of worrying so much about terrorism conducted with weapons of mass destruction that it may be neglecting the ever-present risks of conventional terrorism." Sprinzak's commentary goes on: "Security services are reasonably learn from experience, to identify dominant terrorism trends and to prepare for these contingencies. In both domestic and international terrorism there has been, since 1983, no more visible trend than car bombs --the kind used at the Marine barracks and American Embassy in Beirut, the World Trade Center, the federal building in Oklahoma City, the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. A terrorist pattern has been systematically established: unclaimed car bombings. To believe that anti-American terrorists would refrain from using this tactic against U.S. embassies just because these commonly targeted symbols are not located in Tel Aviv, Riyadh or Kuwait City was naive and unprofessional."

Sprinzak adds: "That the CIA and the State Department were aware of the problem is evident from the (Washington) Post's reports on the success of the agency's operatives in foiling several recent attacks on American embassies, and from (U.S.) Ambassador (to Kenya) Prudence Bushnell's warning letters to her superiors in Washington about the embassy's security problems." He concludes: "There are steps that can be taken now to ensure that there are no more Nairobi's and Dar es-Salaams. The most important would be to rediscover conventional terrorism and reallocate the nation's counter-terrorist resources accordingly."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Catching Laden won't be easy

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Tomas Avenarius says U.S. authorities are "closing in on the Nairobi bomber." He writes: "After the confession of a Muslim extremist arrested several days ago in Pakistan, it is becoming increasingly clear that Saudi Arabian extremist Osama bin Laden is really behind the bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. The arrested Palestinian has been extradited to Kenya in the meanwhile and is said to have admitted to FBI specialists that he was sent to Africa for the attacks together with several other men by the Saudi millionaire."

The commentary continues: "The 'banker of terror' (that is, Laden) was also said to have paid for the attacks. An FBI raid on a derelict hotel in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, in which some of the attackers lived and made the bombs, also revealed further evidence such as explosives. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright compared the attacks to 'open war against the USA,' especially because Laden's new 'International Islamic Battlefront against Jews and Crusaders' has now threatened the Americans with further attacks....The question is, how can Laden (who is a guest of the militantly Islamic Taliban in Afghanistan) be caught?"

Avernarius believes catching Laden won't be easy: "Air attacks lack precision," he writes. "Laden...studied engineering and has reinforced his (Afghan) camps with bunkers. He is supposed to reside in a blast-proof bunker. In addition, he has anti-aircraft weapons, including stingray missiles, that can bring down modern fighter jets. A swashbuckling U.S. commando operation would also be dangerous. A prisoner taken by the FBI claimed that Laden is protected by 4,000 fighters."

(NCA's Jolyon Naegele translated the two Czech-language comments)