When Prague Spring Gave Way to Winter
September 17, 2008 12:57 PM   Subscribe

When Prague Spring Gave Way to Winter.

There is also a small slide show of images discussed in the article at the NYT, and a post over at Magnum which contains more images.
posted by chunking express (12 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I am always impressed by someone who fully understands he is witnessing momentus and shocking events and yet still manages to take really good photographs. His framing, light exposure, subject matter. All dead on.
posted by three blind mice at 1:24 PM on September 17, 2008

Thanks for this chunking express – excellent stuff.

A quick and unusually relevant Google image search got me to this interview via this page.
posted by mandal at 2:14 PM on September 17, 2008

Wow, that hit me harder than I would have expected. The invasion happened just before my freshman year of college, and it had already been a hell of a year. One of my dormmates that year was a Czech who'd resisted the Russians and gotten out of the country at the last possible moment after a dramatic dash to the border; he had some amazing stories to tell. (I just googled his name for the first time and discovered he gave money to Dana Rohrabacher in the 2000 election. Sigh. But I give emigres from Eastern Europe a pass on being Republicans; I completely understand that the enemy of their enemy is their friend.)

Thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 3:04 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow -- thanks for posting this. The photo of the arm and wristwatch in the foreground with empty Wenceslas Square behind was what inspired me to go visit Prague for the first time in the late 90s. Although I knew the image, I didn't know the photographer and wasn't aware that he was known. I'm really looking forward to going to the NYC gallery exhibits.

Looking at photos like these is fairly sobering, especially on a day when the Palin hacked email thread is pushing 300 comments and the Dow has plummeted yet again. I guess we can take solace in the fact that tanks aren't rolling through Times Square...
posted by tractorfeed at 5:13 PM on September 17, 2008

I never knew who actually shot those photos. Excellent post. Thanks.
posted by captaincrouton at 6:09 PM on September 17, 2008

I didn't know who shot them either, and then like many of my FPP on photography, found out via the Hardcore Street Photography pool on Flickr. His photos are amazing.
posted by chunking express at 5:00 AM on September 18, 2008

From the article: “The courageous here were the Russians who went to Red Square to demonstrate against the Prague invasion,” he said.

I guess that took some real courage. Excellent photos and post!
posted by Harald74 at 5:38 AM on September 18, 2008

Languagehat: I give emigres from Eastern Europe a pass on being Republicans; I completely understand that the enemy of their enemy is their friend.

Is it to mean that these emigres are not capable of forming an independent opinion different from your own? Is it because they are driven by vengeance? Or are they simply unable to appreciate a genuine desire for peace, having grown under an oppressive regime?

As the recent Russian vacation in Georgia shows, very little has changed.
Thankfully 20 years after Prague Reagan and his "warmongering" came along - or we'd still be living with the Detente and marching to the sights of the Great Leaders.
posted by bokononito at 7:08 AM on September 18, 2008

Are you Czech, bokononito? I'm curious as to what personal experience you have with the Velvet Revolution, the separation from the USSR, and subsequent political events. The Czechs I know would take great umbrage with the idea that Reagan was required to sever ties with the Soviet Union.

Czechs I am acquainted with would assert that The Plastic People of the Universe and Václav Havel did far, far more for Czech independence from the USSR than Reagan ever did -- and in fact be a trifle offended that you think it took a cowboy actor from America rather than their dangerous and groundbreaking work to accomplish freedom -- but perhaps you have a secret reservoir of knowledge that the rest of the world is unaware of.
posted by Shepherd at 1:10 PM on September 18, 2008

Shepherd, how on Earth did you infer from my comment that I think that Havel did nothing for the Czech independence? Read it again: I was refering to languagehat's assertion that I quoted - nothing to do with the Velvet Revolution.
On a side note, Havel is one of my personal heros. And Czechs I know think that without Reagan trouncing Soviet Union in the end of 1980s, there would again be Russian tanks in Prague in 1989, just like in Riga, and no Havel would be able to help (just like Dubcek couldn't stop it earlier).
posted by bokononito at 3:01 PM on September 18, 2008

without Reagan trouncing Soviet Union in the end of 1980s

Was there a land war I missed or something?
posted by Shepherd at 3:05 PM on September 18, 2008

-- I always feel very strange reading about the Prague Spring. My grandparents were Slovak, and my father and uncle were born in Prague. In 1968 my grandfather (Deda, as I called him; that's "Dyeda" like the Serbian) was working for the Czechoslovak government in Hungary, and my father was a student at the Prague School of Economics.

Things got, ahem, interesting. I'm not entirely clear on what Deda was doing after August 21st (I've found documentation of a few telegrams from him up to that date), but my father got involved in the student protest movement. In the past couple of years he's told me that all his pals I've grown up knowing as laid back, jocular friends of the family who swing by with their kids for a barbecue whenever we're in the country - yep, that was when he met them. Let me tell you, it is very surreal to realize that "Uncle F." who works with a bottled water company used to be in trouble with the government. (My dad is universally known as certifiable, so that was no surprise.)

So from what my dad has told me, he did a lot of behind the scenes work in whatever group he was a part of. I gather that a lot of what he did involved maintaining the lines of communication between the government and the students, keeping the tension between the two groups from exploding completely - I guess he would have been well-placed to do that, given Deda's position. He helped organize a strike in November as well as a demonstration in January. Also in January, the funeral (or, at least, the student-related part of it? It turned into a major protest) of Jan Palach. No, he did not know him personally.

Eventually, even his paternal connection wasn't enough, and he was expelled. Or so they thought - Dad found a loophole in the paperwork and came back. Expelled again! Another loophole - reenrolled in another department. The way he tells the story, it took three expulsions before they finally kicked him out of school for good, two or three years later. There was a stint as a cook in the army (better than prison), and then he was finally, ahem, "invited to leave."

He says he was on the same plane out of the country as Milan Kundera, which I don't know about - some of Dad's stories are, well, a little out there. However, my mother is not inclined to embellish, and she's never contradicted my father's claim that Kundera came to dinner at our house when I was four years old. (I will never forgive them for telling me this. I met Milan Kundera and don't remember it? Argh!)

Deda, for the record, fell out of favor after Normalization. He and my grandmother spent a few years not-quite-exiled to Africa - one of my prize possessions is a business card of his from that era, and there are also some (ew) African game pelts hanging around the summer home that now belongs to my uncle and cousins. (Come to think, that may also be where the cheetah skin my parents own comes from. Thankfully, they keep it in storage.) Dad and Mum were quite lucky that his work allowed him to leave Czechoslovakia, because Dad wasn't allowed to return to the country at all for at least a decade. They got to meet up in France once or twice, I think.

For the record, I never thought to ask my grandparents about their political views while they were alive, but my father is a staunch conservative liberal who always votes Democrat and doesn't credit Reagan for much of anything. I'm not entirely sure what he thinks of Havel as a political icon - they're passing acquaintances and he likes him as a person; he clearly respects his work, but I don't know whether he'd go for the Gandhi/Mandela comparison ala Clinton. (On the other hand, my parents are huge Clinton fans, so who knows?)
posted by bettafish at 4:50 PM on September 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

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