August 21 march in Prague will mark 50 years since Czechoslovak forces fired on their own citizens

A march on August 21 starts at 6 pm on Wenceslas Square

A march to mark the 50th anniversary of protests in 1969 and highlight the current political situation will take place August 21 starting at 6 pm on Wenceslas Square and going to Hradčanské náměstí.

The group Million Moments for Democracy (Milion chvilek pro demokracii) is organizing the event and related rallies in towns across the country. The group since 2018 has organized over a dozen events critical of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) and President Miloš Zeman. An anti-Babiš rally at Letná on June 23 attracted close to 300,000 people, the largest turnout for a political rally since 1989.

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So far, only 2,200 people on Facebook have said they will attend the August 21 march, and 8,500 said they are interested, but more are likely to show up.

“Let us recall from our history the turning point of the Soviet occupation of August 21, 1968, and the lesser known events of August 21, 1969, when massive civil protests were brutally dispersed by the police, the army and the People’s Militias. Tens to hundreds of people were injured. Five young people were shot [dead]. None of the perpetrators came to justice after the 1989 revolution. Neither victims nor survivors have ever been compensated,” Million Moments for Democracy said on Facebook.

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The group adds that in addition to reminding people of past events, they also want to inform people about current issues.

“We are concerned that the President of the Republic deliberately divides society, advocates the interests of Russia and China, grossly violates the Constitution of the Czech Republic and inappropriately interferes with the composition of the government. We are concerned that the government is kept alive only by the votes of the Communists. We are concerned that the Prime Minister — a prosecuted former StB agent — is hurting our country with a huge conflict of interest. We are concerned that this weak prime minister is not able to confront the president’s arbitrariness,” the group adds.

Babiš denies allegations that he cooperated with the Czechoslovak security police (StB) in the communist era, but a Slovak court definitively ruled against him in 2018.

“We are no longer threatened by Russian tanks. Yet Russia is waging an effective information war against us. Today, we do not face the violent suppression of civil protests (as is still the case in Russia). However, we are at risk of indifference and gradual disintegration of democracy. We want to show that we are here and that we are ready to defend democracy and its institutions.” the Facebook post inviting people to the march states.

letna rally
Protesters call for the demise of the Babiš government. via Raymond Johnston

Mass protests began August 19, 1969, with people in Prague, Liberec, Brno, České Budějovice, Ostrava and other cities voicing opposition to the Normalization policies of the new communist leadership that took over after the Warsaw Pact invasion a year earlier.

Many historians see the events of August 1969 as a bigger tragedy than those of 1968 because in 1969 it was Czechoslovak forces, and not invaders, that fired on the Czechoslovak people.

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Protests against the occupation had been taking place fairly regularly since the invasion, but the response to the August 21 protest was different, with police and other security forces in Prague aggressively arresting protesters.

letna rally
Woman with a sign saying “Truth will win,” a national motto. via Raymond Johnston

This led to fighting in the streets, with protesters building barricades and throwing stones. The police responded with tear gas and eventually live bullets. Tanks were called in to break the protests.

The fatalities have been attributed to the People’s Militias. Officials, though, claimed they were forced to fire out of fear for their lives. The names of the militia members who fired into the crowds has never been released.

Million Moments for Democracy plans another large demonstration at Letná for November 16, the day before the commemoration of the Day of the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy.

august 1969
Plaque on Bělehradská Street to remember a 14-year-old boy killed in August 1969. via Raymond Johnston

Recently, there has been an effort to declare August 21 a national holiday called the Remembrance Day of the Victims of the Invasion and Subsequent Occupation by Warsaw Pact Troops . It is support from most Czech political parties except the Communists (KSČM), but has yet to be voted on in the Chamber of Deputies.

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