What would happen if Russia invaded Mexico?

Prague 1968

Holger Kulick

The journalist Holger Kulick has worked at the Federal Agency for Civic Education since 2015. His main focus is dictatorship research, in this context he created the Stasi dossier of the bpb: www.bpb.de/geschichte/stasi. In 2006 he produced the DVD "Feindbilder - The photos and videos of the Stasi" in cooperation with BStU, WDR and bpb. From 1983 he worked on German-German for the ZDF magazine "Kennzeichen D", also for ASPEKTE, the children's news program "logo" and later for the ARD magazine Kontraste. In addition, several years as a correspondent for SPIEGEL ONLINE and as an author for several newspapers, film documentaries, specialist magazines and book projects, including as editor for the "Mut-ABC für Zivilcourage", Leipzig 2008 and "Das Buch gegen Nazis", Cologne 2010 together with Toralf Staud . From 2011 to 2015 he worked in the internet editorial department of the Stasi records authority. Before that, he headed a specialist website for the magazine "stern" and the Berlin Amadeu Antonio Foundation on racism and right-wing extremism in Germany for five years.

On the night of August 21, 1968 the military crackdown on the "Prague Spring" began in the CSSR. The GDR was also involved.

"I don't know how that came about, the tanks rolled through our neighborhood and everyone knew where they were going, I stood on the road and saw them." (Jürgen Fuchs)[1]

The total number of soldiers deployed during the occupation of the CSSR in August 1968 adds up to around 400,000, of which 300,000 to 350,000 came from the Soviet Union, 17,000 from Hungary, 24,341 from Poland, 2,168 from Bulgaria and at least 9 liaison officers from the GDR ] Only the Eastern bloc country Romania had refused to participate.

The first Warsaw Pact troops landed at Prague airport on the evening of August 20, 1968 around 9 p.m., around 250 other transport planes full of weapons and paratroopers followed on 11 routes in the hours that followed. In addition, 550 fighter jets were in use as part of "Operation Danube", according to contemporary witnesses, some of them got lost in the German airspace over Nuremberg due to a lack of radio beacons. [3]

6,300 tanks, the first to come from the GDR

In the course of the night a total of 6,300 [4] tanks penetrated the CSSR - coming from the direction of the GDR, Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union.
Soviet tank in the streets of the Old Town Square in Prague in August 1968. (& copy picture alliance / UPI)

The first Russian T-55 tank crossed the border on August 20 at around 9:40 p.m. near the community of Bärenstein in the Ore Mountains [5]. On the GDR side, the 11th Motorized Rifle Division of the National People's Army (NVA) and the 7th Panzer Division (PF 19941) of the NVA were also ready for action [6], but the GDR tanks were stopped on Russian orders. The reason: it should not be possible to make comparisons with 1939, when National Socialist troops also occupied the territory of what was then the Czecho-Slovak Republic with tanks. Contemporary witnesses from the GDR report, however, that on August 21, 1968, "at least 70 GDR infantry fighting vehicles with GDR identification" were sighted in Bohemian territory whose crews "spoke German" [7], and NVA soldiers in Altenberg also had them Czechoslovak border guards disarmed and cleared the barrier aside [8].

But also in the headquarters of the intervention troops in Milovice near Prague held up no later than 23/24. August officers and communications engineers of the National People's Army, including at least 20 members of the NVA communications regiment 2 (Niederlehme). [9] In addition, the writer Doris Liebermann researched, "GDR border troops guaranteed that top Soviet units stationed in the GDR could quickly cross the border to Czechoslovakia on August 20, 1968 between 11.30 and midnight". [10] In addition, the SED leadership sent propaganda in the Czech language from Dresden to the spring of 1969 in Czechoslovakia from five o'clock in the morning, the temporarily operated camouflage transmitter was named "Vltava" after Smetana's Moldau. [11]

Invasion planned for July 1968?

The Warsaw Pact military had already rehearsed their joint deployment in extensive maneuvers along the border in the weeks before, and the border to the GDR had already been closed in the run-up to 23 August and GDR vacationers were called back from Prague. So the invasion of the west was not surprising. As early as August 9, 1968, the New York Times reported, citing "high-ranking informants in East Berlin", that an invasion was planned with the involvement of "zone forces", i.e. GDR military personnel. [12]
"In the Saxon Forests - August 1968". A picture by the Dresden painter Peter Herrmann, who accompanied his friend, the painter Peter Graf, on truck tours in the summer of 1968 and met numerous soldiers hidden in the forests of the GDR-ČSSR border area - ready to march into Czechoslovakia. "(& Copy Peter Herrmann)

The newspaper went on to say: The Soviet Union had intended that the Czechoslovak Communist Party leader and President "Novotny and his supporters, who had been deposed in the spring," should "rise and call for help" to give the armed forces from the USSR and GDR an excuse This was originally planned around July 19, 1968, after the Soviet news agency TASS had reported demonstratively that an arms store had been found in western Bohemia, although it remained unclear who deposited it. Prague politicians suspected at the time East Berlin intelligence circles wanted to create a pretext. In July 1968, however, "moderate forces in the Kremlin managed at the last second to avert the invasion," reported the Times. [13] But in August 1968 the tide apparently turned in the Kremlin.

108 fatalities

In the early morning hours of August 21, 1968, the first Soviet tanks reached Prague. At around 7:30 a.m., the Czechoslovak Radio reported that the transmitter building was surrounded by tanks, and at around 9 a.m., the military advanced into the building. Barricades made of empty trucks, buses or trams that were quickly erected by angry citizens were rolled down and soldiers made use of their Kalashnikovs. Most of the 23 fatalities on the first day of the invasion occurred in the vicinity of the broadcasting center.
Photo of the body from August 21st from Prague. 108 people died in 1968 as a result of the military invasion of the CSSR, either from gunfire or from military vehicles running over people. Private photo of the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops on August 21 and 22, 1968 in Prague (& copy Martin Luther King jr Memorial Berlin / Schulz - Linhart)

A total of 108 fatalities were counted by the end of 1968, most of them were run over by military vehicles or fatally wounded by gunshots, for example on August 26, 1968 in the Klarov district of Prague, the 25-year-old student Marie Charousková, who was on the way wanted to hand over her Czechoslovak tricolor, which she wore with a black ribbon on her dress, to a Soviet soldier at the university. Without warning, the soldier shot her in the stomach. [14]

Largely passive resistance

In the early morning of August 21st, Radio Prague broadcast a desperate speech by the incumbent President Svoboda: "At the present moment, I can say nothing more to you as President of the ČSSR than to ask you to remain calm and calm." asked the population: "Do not be challenged! Armed defense is out of the question! ". A civil war was avoided. Instead, many people tried to argue with the Russian soldiers or to demonstratively ignore them. Out of fear, around 50,000 people fled to Austria across the southern border of the CSSR or did not return from stays abroad more back to occupied Czechoslovakia.
Russian tanks were often painted with a swastika by Czechoslovak demonstrators. They were reminded of the Nazi occupation of their country in 1939. (& copy Martin Luther King jr Memorial Berlin / Schulz - Linhart)

Persistent propaganda pressure beforehand

Five weeks earlier, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and the GDR had asked the Czechoslovak leadership to correct course in a joint "Warsaw Letter" [15]. The tenor: "counter-revolutionaries" would dissuade the CSSR from the path of socialism and "open a breach in the socialist system". In the communist propaganda rhetoric customary at the time, the Prague reformers were accused of engaging in “rampant anti-socialist demagogy” which led to “disorientation of the working class” and, in the media, to “downright moral terror”. "We were convinced that you would guard Lenin's principle of democratic centralism like the apple of your eye," warned the signatories.
Excerpt from the joint threat letter from high-ranking Central Committee members from Bulgaria, the GDR, Hungary and the USSR to the government of the CSSR, "in view of the danger of counterrevolution", written on July 15, 1968 (& copy BStU, MfS, ZAIG 11389 , P. 201)

PDF Joint letter from several Eastern Bloc politicians, published in the East Berlin daily NEWES DEUTSCHLAND on July 18, 1968

At joint meetings with the other Communist Party leaders of the Warsaw Pact in Dresden and Bratislava and again alone with Leonid Brezhnev in the border town of Cierna nad Tisou on July 29, 1968, the General Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communists, Alexander Dubcek, resisted the massive criticism. He repeatedly emphasized the right to a Czechoslovakian way of achieving socialism and pleaded that the reforms of the Prague Spring did not want to turn the Warsaw Pact off its hinges.
Visible mistrust of Prague reformer Alexander Dubcek (right), who did not demonize the West as was customary among his comrades in the Warsaw Pact. At the beginning of August 1968, three weeks before the invasion of Prague, representatives of the Eastern Bloc countries met in Bratislava to reprimand Dubcek. Among them (left) Alexei Kosygin, then Prime Minister of the USSR; Leonid Brezhnev, then party secretary of the Soviet CPSU and recognizable next to Brezhnev, the chairman of the State Council of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht, who was seen as an agitator against Dubcek. (& copy picture-alliance, Keystone CTK)

Initially failed Dubcek coup

As a pretext for the military intervention of the socialist and communist neighboring states of the CSSR on August 21, 1968, an apparently commissioned letter of appeal from a few Czechoslovak opposition politicians who belonged to the camp of hardliners and opponents of reform in the CSSR was actually used. However, contrary to Moscow's expectations, they were unable to prevail in their party leadership on the night of the invasion. Prague's CCP bureau at the night session condemned the invasion by 7 to 4 votes. The attempt to replace Alexander Dubcek failed. Nevertheless, immediately after the invasion began, the Soviet news agency TASS published the report that the invasion was taking place at the request of Czechoslovak party and state officials. This false report was also officially spread in the GDR. On the morning of August 21, NEUE DEUTSCHLAND published a three-column declaration by the Central Committee, State Council and Council of Ministers of the GDR, which had already been completed on August 20, that the "loyal personalities of the party and the state of the CSSR" who called for help "now" receive any help, including military aid Help "was granted, also by the GDR. "The citizens of the GDR would have breathed a sigh of relief ... that the forces hostile to socialism in the CSSR are being pushed back", it was claimed at the same time - a propaganda lie. [16]

PDF Declaration by the leadership of the GDR in the East Berlin daily NEWES DEUTSCHLAND from August 21, 1968

Alexander Dubcek initially disappeared without a trace on August 21. At around 2 p.m. he was taken from house arrest imposed on him together with other functionaries from party and state in an armored personnel carrier to the Prague airport and from there to an initially unknown location, either to the Ukrainian Carpathians or, as he later reconstructed, to Legnica (Liegnitz) in southern Poland, where the headquarters of the armed forces were located. It was only on August 23 that it was transported to Moscow. There he and a Czechoslovak delegation, which included President Svoboda and some of Dubcek's [17] opponents, were put under pressure to sign a dictation that the reforms that had begun should be ended and the military intervention accepted. On August 23, three high-ranking SED representatives from the GDR also traveled to these negotiations: Walter Ulbricht, Willy Stoph and Erich Honecker.

Only after his signature was Alexander Dubcek flown back to Prague on August 27, where he announced the resolutions in a halting voice, but still gave hope that these were only "temporary measures".

Moscow saw this differently. The Soviet head of government Leonid Brezhnev retrospectively justified the invasion on November 12, 1968. He declared that the Soviet Union had a fundamental right to intervene in the event of a "threat to socialism" by political dynamics in one of the member states of the Warsaw Pact ("Brezhnev Doctrine"). The Warsaw Pact states thus had only limited sovereignty: should socialism be endangered, the "brother countries" had the "internationalist duty" to intervene by military means. It was not until 1988 that this doctrine was abolished.
Roadblock in downtown Prague on the first anniversary of the military intervention, on August 21, 1969. More than 2,400 demonstrators were arrested. (& copy Martin Luther King jr Memorial Berlin / Schulz - Linhart)

Dubcek's final disempowerment succeeded his opponents in the Czechoslovak Communist Party only on April 17, 1969. His successor Gustáv Husàk then implemented repressive measures. Reformers were banned from professions and around half a million people were expelled from the CSSR Communist Party by 1970. When demonstrations broke out again on the first anniversary of the invasion on August 21, 1968, this time Czech combat troops took action against their own people. Another five people died and more than 2,414 were arrested.
And today? On the evening of August 21, 2018, around 100,000 people gathered on Wenceslas Square in Prague, followed conversations with contemporary witnesses, saw films from August 1968 and, with a concert by well-known show stars, recalled popular songs during the spirit of optimism in the country 50 years ago. The hymns of the Czech Republic and Slovakia were also sung at the end. (& copy bpb, Holger Kulick)

More on the subject:


Picture gallery from Prague from August 21, 1968

Picture gallery from Prague from August 21, 1969

Jan Pauer: 50 years after Prague 68

From Jugenopposition.de: "Hands off Prague!"

To further texts and documents from the new bpb dossier Prague 1968