1968 and not 1968

The other day, speaking of Russia’s incursion into Georgia, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed.”

May she be right, and may South Ossetia prove not to be the Sudetenland, either. In the meantime, it so happens that next week, on August 21, it will be forty years since Russian tanks rolled into Prague by cover of night to crush the Prague Spring. In commemoration, there’s been a recent outpouring of photographic documentary. The photographer Josef Koudelka has released Invasion 68 (also available through Amazon), a collection of roughly 250 pictures that Koudelka took on Prague’s streets during the occupation. At the time some were published by Magnum anonymously, but most are published now for the first time. There will be an exhibition of the photos in New York starting September 4, and you can look at thumbnails of them on Magnum’s website.

On its website, the Czech newspaper Lidové noviny is showing in seven daily installments the 1968 film Seven Days to Remember, which was made with footage smuggled out of Czechoslovakia. The film was originally narrated in English by Jiří Voskovec, and that narration is still faintly audible, though for the LN readership it has been overdubbed in Czech. More problematic, the files are in Windows Media format, which seems to crash every browser it touches. Still, it’s amazing footage, and on Youtube you can see the first ten minutes of the movie in the original English, courtesy of the film’s current distributor.

If you’re willing to let go of the umbilical cord of English altogether, Youtube also has the Czechoslovak Film Weekly #35 of 1968 (divided, because of Youtube’s 11-minute time limit, into a part one and a part two), which shows motion pictures of some of the same scenes that Koudelka photographed, such as the battle outside Czechoslovak Radio. It’s pretty amazing. Also on Youtube are film images shot by cameraman František Procházka during the invasion, accompanied by recordings of transmissions from besieged-but-still-loyal radio stations in Prague, Pilsen, and elsewhere.