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It's Not Easy Being Russian



Especially if you are in Prague. On the anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia 40 years later.

As Prague remembered the invasion of 1968 with a mix of solemnity and emotion, there was a ripple of anti-Russian feeling running through the throngs of otherwise well-behaved Czechs. There was an agitated woman who broke through the crowd of photo-takers and came towards me and my camera crew. "Don't ask questions of the Czech people here, ask those Russians over there. They are laughing and disrespecting what this day means to us." We looked for them, and listened for the language, but didn't find them. (Watch a video of the memorial here).

Further down Wenceslas Square crowds studied the exhibit of photographs and artwork from 1968 by Austrian photographer Franz Goesse. Parents with their children used the day as a "teaching moment" and passed on history and memories.

I approached one man standing with his son, arm protectively around his shoulder. Would he talk to us about what he is telling his son today? He refused, saying he was too upset by the amount of Russian speakers in the crowd. Someone else commented bitterly that there were more Russians on the square now than there were in August 1968.

Finally we found a group of Russians visiting from St. Petersburg. The woman we spoke to said she felt shame being in the presence of Czech people on that day.

So what to make of this? With the words "Russian invasion" in the news again, perhaps old fears are re-ignited. Perhaps the exhibits -- a tank here and a black-and-white photo from 1968 there -- brought memories of futures changed and hopes diminished by Soviet policies after the invasion. One spectator yesterday, Jindra Suchardova, who was 10 at the time of the invasion, told us tearfully, "Our parents knew that was the end of everything they hoped for.... I have two siblings, we were not allowed to study. Our parents lost their university degrees. I have three sons and, God willing, they will be happier."

It is common these days for an American in Europe to be told, "I don't dislike American people. It is the policies of their government I don't like." But in Prague on the 40th anniversary of the invasion of their nation by Soviet tanks, I guess one might forgive Czechs for not making that distinction.

-- Ricki Green

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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