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Peter Carl Faberge

Peter Carl Faberge was a world famous master jeweler and head of the ‘House of Faberge’ in Imperial Russia in the waning days of the Russian Empire.

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CZECH REPUBLIC, PRAGUE : Czech youngsters holding a Czechoslovak flag stand atop an overturned truck as other Prague residents surround Soviet tanks in Prague on 21 August 1968 as the Soviet-led invasion by the Warsaw Pact armies crushed the so called Prague Spring reform in former Czechoslovakia (AFP Photo / Libor Hajsky) CZECH REPUBLIC, PRAGUE : Czech youngsters holding a Czechoslovak flag stand atop an overturned truck as other Prague residents surround Soviet tanks in Prague on 21 August 1968 as the Soviet-led invasion by the Warsaw Pact armies crushed the so called Prague Spring reform in former Czechoslovakia (AFP Photo / Libor Hajsky)

21 August

On August 21, 1968, the Soviet Union along with four other states of the Socialist camp – Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, and Poland – brought troops into Czechoslovakia, triumphantly ending the streak of the Czechoslovak struggle for independence, which went down in history as the Prague spring.

Once in the office, the newly elected in January of 1968, the First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party Aleksandr Dubcek formed a progressive government, which laid a course for perestroika and glasnost, introducing freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Without changing the core values of socialism, he made an attempt to build “socialism with a human face.” Tolerant at first, gradually, the Soviet government started having concerns as to how far Dubcek would go with his reforms. They feared, that should Dubcek pursue such democratized interior policy, Czechoslovakia’s dependence on Moscow would weaken, simultaneously jeopardizing the loyalty of other member states of the Socialist camp.

Since Dubcek had always been considered reliable by the Soviet authorities, prior to the intervention, several talks were held to convince him to cut back on the excessive liberalization, but they had no effect. The official pretext for the intervention was a letter written by the conservative circles to the Soviet leaders. Officially, the paper said that the Czechoslovak people appealed to the Soviets, asking them “to provide aid, including military, in the fight against the counter-Soviet spirit.”

According to various sources, the united army contingency varied from 200 000 to 600 000 people with from 2 000 to 7 000 tanks. The intervention was quick and smooth: when the tanks crossed the Czech border, Dubcek was in the middle of a conference. The timing of the intervention was very favorable: United States were too absorbed by their own affairs in Vietnam, while the entire Europe was anxiously anticipating the outcome of the “Paris spring” – the wave of the social unrest in the French capital, brought forth by the rule of Charles de Gaulle. During August 21 the troops of the Warsaw Pact took over all of the major strategic objects on Czechoslovakia’s territory.

Surprisingly enough, such major military takeover was almost bloodless; the only place which had to be literally conquered was the radio station. The citizens, especially, the youth fought back by barricading the streets and throwing logs and stones at the Soviet soldiers; they also spread out leaflets, suggesting that the Soviets go back home, and took off the street signs, complicating the orientation.

The intervention left 11 Soviet soldiers and 87 citizens killed, and hundreds injured, while over 300 000 people emigrated.

Six Czech leaders were arrested, Aleksandr Dubcek among them. Prague was crowded with outraged citizens, all of Czechoslovak media published indignant articles, TV and radio stations broadcast disapproving addresses. The Czech President Ludwig Svoboda flied to Moscow and voiced the ultimatum, demanding to grant freedom to the arrested leaders.

On August 24, the decree about “normalization” was issued: Dubcek regained his post, while some of his associates were dismissed; part of the Soviet contingent, an estimated 130 thousand people stayed in Czechoslovakia till the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Two weeks later, the Soviet sounding-board Pravda, formulated a principle of the limited independence of the socialist camp member states, – the principle later referred to as the Brezhnev doctrine. It allowed socialist states a much vaster degree of freedom, than they had under Stalin and even Khrushchev, enabling them to even modify their political systems, but under no circumstances were they allowed out of the socialist camp.

The Czechs and Slovaks regretted such invasive activity, as it had seriously damaged their attitude to the Soviet people, who they deeply respected after the Soviets had liberated their nations from the Nazis. The Soviet soldiers, however, didn’t have any hostility toward the citizens, as they had little understanding what the mission was about.

The Soviet people reprimanded the actions of the government, though it was strictly prohibited to express ant discontent. However, it was after the Czechoslovakia invasion, that the protest manifestation, the first in the Soviet history, took place. On August 25, seven people brought out slogans, “Shame on invaders!” and “Long live the free and independent Czechoslovakia!” and spent several minutes on the Red Square. This act of bravery cost two of them conviction, there were exiled, and the rest two were placed into mental hospitals. Later, however, the authorities took a milder stand on such actions, only punishing open protests, as the social discontent with the state policies kept growing.

The Czechs and Slovaks regretted such invasive activity, as it had seriously damaged their attitude to the Soviet people, who they deeply respected after the Soviets had liberated their nations from the Nazis. The Soviet soldiers, however, didn’t have any hostility toward the citizens, as they had little understanding what the mission was about.

In 1995, the then-President Boris Yeltsin reprimanded the actions of the Soviet Union in Prague, and called the Prague Spring an attempt “to escape from ideological dogmatism and lies,” acknowledging that 1968 events were a fault on the Soviet part.