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Friday, August 21, 1998 Published at 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK

World: Europe

Remembering the Prague Spring

Citizens of Czechoslovakia make fierce resistance to Soviet tanks

Thirty years after Soviet tanks rolled into Prague to crush the Czechoslovak experiment in "socialism with a human face", there is still ambivalence about the meaning of the event.

As ministers lay commemorative wreaths at the Czech radio building - which has come to be a symbol of resistance - Czechs at either end of the political spectrum disagree about the value of the 1968 reforms.

Czech radio announces invasion - August 1968
The Czechoslovak Communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek tried to liberalise the country's communist regime by introducing free speech and freedom of assembly.

But the period - that came to be known as the Prague Spring - ended when Warsaw Pact troops invaded on the night of the 20-21 August 1968.

"Our people will never accept this occuption" Czech leaders 1968
More than 100 people were killed, and the Communist leaders, including Alexander Dubcek, were arrested and taken to Moscow.

Despite fierce resistance, a protocol was issued within days of the invasion that banned all parties and organisations which "violated socialist principles".

Paying tribute to '68

On Thursday the Czech President Vaclav Havel said the Prague Spring was "a beautiful time because after 20 years it was possible to breathe and speak freely."

Vaclav Havel:"Anyone who experienced that time will never forget it"
But the former dissident - who led the 1989 peaceful overthrow of the Communist government and was a young playwright in 1968 - also said the Prague Spring was a conflict between two groups of Communists, and "revealed the totalitarian nature of that system."

[ image: Helping the wounded during the '68 invasion]
Helping the wounded during the '68 invasion
When the Social Democrats proposed this week that parliament approve a motion to commemorate the anniversary, a group of right wing deputies opposed it, saying they did not want to voice approval for the Prague Spring.

Those on the left have accused the right-wingers of trying to deliberately discredit the reform efforts of the 1960s for political advantage today.

But in Russia, President Yeltsin described the Prague Spring as an attempt "to escape from ideological dogmatism and lies."

"Even shy attempts of reform called down terror from those who wanted to preserve the totalitarian system," he said, adding that the new Russia had no intention of imposing its wishes on any other country.

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