Russian 1968 Prague Spring Invasion Film Angers Czechs, Slovaks

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A Russian film about the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia has incensed the Czech and Slovak governments, who said it distorts history by justifying the armed crackdown on the democratic “Prague Spring” movement.

The two former federation partners, who split peacefully in 1993, protested the way the documentary portrayed the invasion as a friendly move to protect against a potential threat from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Both countries’ foreign ministries condemned the film for using Soviet-era images and propaganda techniques. The film “grossly distorts” the facts, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said in a statement after summoning the Russian ambassador on Monday.

The invasion was a “long-lasting tragedy for Czechoslovakia and its people,” the Slovak ministry said on its website. The documentary, which aired on state Rossiya 1 television May 23, “is trying to rewrite history and falsify historical truths about this dark chapter of our history.”

Soviet tanks, accompanied by troops from other satellite nations, rolled into Czechoslovakia in August 1968 to crush the so-called Prague Spring -- a cultural and political awakening that began to loosen the Communist government’s restrictions on individual freedoms. The invasion came 12 years after the bloody suppression of an anti-Communist uprising in Hungary.

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As the channel is state-run, “we are convinced that the government of Russian Federation will take adequate steps to prevent distortions,” the Slovak ministry said.

The conflict comes on the eve of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev on Tuesday. They will discuss oil and gas imports to Slovakia, a transit country for deliveries to other European states. The country of 5.4 million is also a neighbor of Ukraine, which is struggling to fight pro-Russian separatists in a war the European Union and the U.S. say is being stoked by Putin’s government. Russia says it’s not involved.

The spat over the film signals further deterioration of relations between Russia and the EU, which the two ex-Communist nations joined in 2004. Last week Russia barred 89 EU politicians and diplomats from entry, including four Czechs. Zaoralek and Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka have condemned the list, along with other politicians.

“Along with the unexplained blacklisting of some Czech and EU politicians, it’s more proof of the deterioration of Russian democracy and the onset of Brezhnev-like thinking and behavior,” said Czech European Parliament deputy Pavel Telicka, alluding to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who oversaw the invasion and ruled the bloc for almost two decades.

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