The impossible spring. Prague 1968


Amidst the rather nostalgic evocations of 1968 in the first few months of this year, turning to the events in Prague may risk sounding a false note or, even worse, seem like the inevitable reactionary countermove intended to capitalize on a “glitch” in the development of Europe.

In reality we wish to speak about Prague, because this episode in modern European history reveals that the unsolved and unsolvable contradiction between freedom and ideology necessarily emerges when man looks realistically at his dignity and his historical task.

The Prague Spring was the climax of a process which developed in the whole of Czechoslovakian civil society and within a ruling class fully enmeshed in the communist project under way in the country after the end of the war. The objective of this project was to discover whether it was possible to live as free men within a society planned on the principles of Marxism-Leninism. This led to the hypothesis of “socialism with a human face”, which for some months sought possible fulfillment in Czechoslovakia. As Vaclav Havel recalled in his 1978 book, The Power of the Powerless, “the attempt at political reform was not the cause of society’s reawakening but rather the final result of that reawakening.”

The answer to this question was imposed from outside, from the Soviet Union, and it was a resounding “no.” The question of freedom is not just incompatible with Marxist doctrine, but it is not even permissible for it to be expressed. Hence the armed repression, the invasion and the “normalization” in the years that followed.

Twelve years earlier, in Budapest, a street protest had triggered the arrival of the Soviet tanks. In Prague the Soviets felt no need at all to justify their action. Quite simply the citizens of Prague found the Russians had arrived for no apparent reason.

The photos on display were taken during the Soviet invasion of August 1968 in Prague and other Czech cities by a number of reporters. They reveal the strident contrast between a peace-loving people and power imposed by violence. This dramatic contrast is summed up in pictures of men and women speaking to the Soviet soldiers and asking: “Why?” The soldiers were unable to give an answer. They were truly disarmed by the reality, which bared the absurd lie that had brought them to this point.

The documentation which backs up the images illustrates the main lines of development in Czech history from 1948, when the Communist Party seized power, down to the foundation of the Charta 77 movement. While we have to go back to the immediate postwar period to understand the growth of the dialectic within the Czech intellectual class, developed through the experience of the Budapest rebellion of 1956 down to the brutal impact of the Soviet tanks in 1968, it is of great interest to follow the development of the route of political and human awareness that led to the birth of Charta 77, making Czechoslovakia a protagonist in the battle for human rights in the eighties until the end of Communism.

The display of photographs is backed up by official documents, testimonies, excerpts from writings – notably by Kundera and Dubcek – and poems, down to the inscriptions which covered the walls of Prague, the signs and satirical cartoons plastering shop windows: all testify to the awareness in every layer of the population, from the intellectual avant-garde to industrial workers and peasants.

The show will present over 50 photographs and some thirty panels of texts. Also scheduled is the projection of video documents (including a screening of part of Jan Nemec’s Oratorio for Prague) and a display of objects (documents, books and pages from newspapers).


24 Agosto 2008 - 30 Agosto 2008




Exhibitions Meeting Exhibitions