Voices from Egypt and The Prague Spring (Pražské jaro, Pražská jar)

I’ll never forget 1968.

I turned 20 in July 1968. In France, we had lived through something we ended up calling the ‘May revolution’. It was almost fun. France would never be the same. So many changes. We were exhilarated. Mainly because we were young and idealistic.

But 1968 is also the year when the Prague Spring happened.

Many of you (and that’s really wonderful) have never lived in a such a ‘binary’ world - The Western/capitalist block which for us, French people, meant freedom and the Soviet/communist block which meant... well nothing good for us in the Western world except for people belonging to the Communist Party. (We really were living in a free world!)

At this time, we did not really care about Africa or Middle East as entities but we were worried about which block would exercise its dominion over emerging countries from ancient colonies.

In January 1968, something incredible happened in Czechoslovakia. A reformist leader called Alexander Dubček came into power. A miracle.

The whole Western world held its breath, hoping that the Soviet Union leaders would somehow mellow their policy towards countries they had ‘acquired’ not through the Yalta Conference somehow but which ‘belonged’ to their block.

While I am witnessing the very distressing events in Egypt (from my computer), I keep remembering a very heartbreaking experience.

To make things short, especially since now we are really worried about freedom in Egypt and other countries under dire dictatorships, to make things short then, let me say that I will never forget the night of August 21st, 1968.

The Soviet Union became very unhappy about Dubček’s reforms.

On the 21st of August, 1968, the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia with the help of its Warsaw Pact allies.

I know this may sound very unfamiliar to many people, even strange. Lucky you.

At the time, especially after May 1968, many young people in France were very concerned about freedom in other countries.

There was no Internet. I think that in France, we only had one tv channel monitored by our government. A few newspapers. But at the time, the easiest way to learn about what was going on at home and in the world was the radio.

During May 1968, we listened a lot to the radio which broadcasted only on short, medium and long waves. No, I’m not talking about prehistoric times.

I was enthusiastic about short waves because there you could listen to the whole world.

I used to listen a lot to ‘Voice of America’. This was the easy way of getting important world news before they would be told/censored on our national channels.

I’ll never forget that night. I was staying at my Bonne-Maman’s place, up on top of her house. I had heard that the Soviet Union had started to invade Czechoslovakia.

I turned my radio (transistor) on and throughout the night, relayed through ‘Voice of America’, the voices of unknown and desperate people came to me. Calls for help in French, in English. All night long. Then the radio stations quit transmitting, one after another.

I did not have a map of Czechoslovakia at the time. But I imagine it would have been very easy to follow the advance of the Warsaw Pact armies by listening to the radio.

Voices falling silent. This was a terrifying experience in the middle of the night. Silence. At the time - forever.

One woman though screamed to the top of her lungs: ‘Do not forget us, please. Do no forget us.’ She was sobbing. Then silence.

Time went by. Other disasters. Other times. New technologies.

Those past few days, it’s been hard for me to get away from my computer... and from Egypt. Now that AlJazeera has quit transmitting on the web and I have turned to ‘AJAudioboo’... the unknown voice from my past is ringing again in my brain, my heart and I can’t help it.

I am crying.

*Hope and Freedom for you all*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

I was not quite eleven in August 1968, and I don't remember this. But I see the parallels; thank you for sharing this. History does keep repeating itself in various times and places. We, as the human race, are collectively slow learners. The same mistakes over and over.