On August 21, 1968, the armies of the Warsaw Pact, led by the Soviet Union, entered Czechoslovakia, crushed the reform process begun during the Prague Spring, and began a military occupation of the country that would last for more than two decades.
Vaclav Havel spent the first dramatic week of the occupation in the town of Liberec, north of Prague, where became fully engaged in the popular opposition to the invasion. The radio station in Liberec had not yet been shut down, and Havel wrote five speeches, addressed to the citizens of Czechoslovakia, that were broadcast from August 21 until August 24.
In his speeches, Havel turned to many renowned writers, including Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Günther Grass, Kingsley Amis, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko to start petitions of support and solidarity . He reported on what he knew about the situation in the country. He appealed to his fellow Czech and Slovak citizens to use their common sense and engage in peaceful protests, while remaining ready to defend themselves from harsh measures. He urged them to remain loyal to the country, and to its leaders and legal institutions, and in particular to Alexander Dubcek. He warned against collaborators, advised people on ways to resist using a variety of tactics, and encouraged them not to give in. In these broadcasts he demonstrated qualities of leadership that would prove important in the years to come.
The speeches were translated by Paul Wilson for the Documentation Center of the Vaclav Havel Library.
Havel Broadcast August 21, 1968
I don’t know if this transmission can be heard beyond the borders of the republic and therefore I would ask any radio stations who can hear us now to relay this broadcast outside the country, along with a request to organize a petition of writers and cultural workers in other countries protesting the occupation of Czechoslovakia.
I appeal to Gunther Grass, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Helmut Heissenbuttel, Kenneth Tynan, Kingsley Amis, John Osborne, Arnold Wesker, Friedrich Durrenmatt, Max Frisch, and the leading French writers Jean Paul Sartre, Louis Aragon, Michel Butor, to the International PEN Club led by Arthur Miller, to Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky, and to all of our writer colleagues, to add their voices, in this extremely difficult moment, to those who condemn the aggression of the Warsaw Pact countries against Czechoslovakia.
This is an unprecedented attempt to impose changes by force in this country against the will of all its legal bodies and all its people. The foreign military units entered Czechoslovakia in immense numbers, without the knowledge of the government. They are occupying our towns and cities, our public institutions, our homes, our streets and highways; they are shooting at the civilian population, and there have even been instances of looting. In Prague they are arresting our leading politicians who, until yesterday, were in charge of the country, as well as writers and cultural workers who, in their articles, speeches, and public actions, came out in support of freedom, democracy, and sovereignty in our country. If they haven’t been arrested yet, we expect they will be in the immediate future. All of them are, without a doubt, on lists that we are certain exist.
Writers have played an inspirational role in every historic period in Czechoslovakia. They formulated the traditionally humanistic
ideals of our nations, and they spoke for the people at times when the nation could not independently express and organize itself politically. They also played this important role in recent times when they created the spiritual and intellectual climate that gave rise to the well-known political changes [during the Prague Spring]. They helped institute these changes and over the brief period of several months, when there was freedom of expression in Czechoslovakia, they were among the first to rouse the country to political activity. Undoubtedly, therefore, they will be among the first that the occupiers will hunt down and lock up.
Every voice in support of Czechoslovakia today is important. People are walking through the streets with transistors radios glued to their ears. Broadcasts from free transmitters that are still functioning can be heard in public squares and from loud speakers in the streets. We are hungry for news of any expression of support that comes from anywhere in the world. Every such expression strengthens us, and we are grateful for each one. I am one of the few Czech writers with access to a free radio transmitter, because in other towns where such transmitters still exist, they are working from undisclosed locations. Therefore I’m appealing to you in the name of all Czech and Slovak writers with this urgent request for expressions of support.
Further, I would like appeal to all Czech and Slovak writers and cultural workers who have been caught outside the country by the occupation. For example, I would ask the participants in the European Colloquium in Alpbach –– Josef Hirsal, Vera Linhartova, and others––to request access to Austrian television and broadcasting services and the press so they might inform the public about the situation in our country, and to counter the mendacious reports from TASS and to appeal to all decent people to support Czechoslovakia.
Havel Broadcast August 22, 1968
About a month ago I had the chance to talk for about three hours with Alexander Dubcek at a meeting between the top officials in our country and several writers. Although Dubcek was very busy, he didn’t hesitate to talk with us until two o’clock in the morning about every thing under the sun. What I liked about him was a quality that is very rare among politicians: he was able to listen. He was interested in our opinions. He joined in the discussions. He was able to admit his own mistakes when we managed to persuade him he was wrong. But his finest quality was something that I would call engagement. He had a gentle, caring attitude to the democratization process; he was proud of it, and it was obvious that it completely preoccupied him. What upset him most was when he felt we were doubting his determination to go through with the reforms to the very end, that we were worried about compromises and back-pedaling, or that the whole process would get stopped halfway through. He was sympathetic, sweet, friendly, and animated in discussion. I think that we all left with the feeling that we were lucky to have this man as head of the leading political party in this country.
Again and again I have been thinking about our meeting with Dubcek, especially after hearing the news that he has been dragged of to an undisclosed location. I’m afraid that at this moment his life is in danger. The more I fear for Dubcek –– and of course for our other leaders –– the greater is my rage against traitors like Indra, Kolder, and others.
Friends! Soon you may, in your area, encounter other more minor regional, district, and local collaborators. They will say that we have to be realistic, that if they don’t take charge, worse people from among the occupiers will do so. They will pretend to be saviors of the nation. Show them your utter disdain, and drive them from your midst. Demand that they be charged with high treason. Be aware that by their behavior, these people are showing their approval of the internment of our legal representatives, and that the mortal danger our politicians now find themselves in is a matter of indifference to them. They don’t care about Alexander Dubcek’s life. They don’t care about the life of the other politicians. This country cannot be saved by sacrificing Dubcek. Its only chance is, on the contrary, an unqualified and consistent support for Dubcek. The collaborators may try to disguise themselves by expressing their support for Dubcek as well, as the traitor, Indra, has already done and may continue to do. Don’t be fooled by their words; judge them by their acts! Anyone who accepts any position of authority from anyone other than those who were duly elected in proper elections, is a traitor to Dubcek and a traitor to the country.
Havel Broadcast August 22, 1968
What we have been experiencing in Czechoslovakia over the past few hours is a strange and unusual occupation. This may be one of the first instances when machine guns and tanks have been powerless against ideas and ethical human strength. There are thousands of foreign tanks and thousands of foreign soldiers in Czechoslovakia, armed to the teeth, and more and more are on the way. And although this occupation has gone on for forty-eight hours so far, and although not a single armed defender of our sovereignty has, or could have, resisted the occupiers, this occupation has not registered a single major success so far. The President has not relinquished his power, nor he has acknowledged the legality of the occupation; Parliament has denounced the occupation and is still in session; the Congress of the leading political party is meeting; no administrative body has begun to serve the occupiers; printing houses are printing free newspapers, appeals, and leaflets; free radio and television transmitters are working. And most important of all, the nation has rejected the occupation and continues to recognize only its duly elected and legal bodies and officials, and is standing firmly and unanimously by their side.
It would appear that the occupiers don’t know what to do. At this moment they are probably looking about desperately for someone willing to betray the country and form a government. It is true that some of the communist party officials have reportedly already betrayed their country, but the nation has condemned them and, at public gatherings, people have been appealing to the legal authorities to prosecute them for treason.
So what has actually happened? The country is overflowing with thousands of boys from Ukraine and Kazakhstan who aren’t sure what country they are in, don’t understand its language, don’t understand why people shake their fists at them everywhere they go, and why there are signs everywhere telling them to go home. I imagine Mr. Brezhnev sitting in the Kremlin over a glass of vodka and trembling with rage. He keeps sending more and more divisions to Czechoslovakia. But it’s not working: the occupiers’ radio station, Vltava, can’t find a single Czech or Slovak announcer to read their news in proper Czech or Slovak. It seems they have dramatically underestimated the role of human intelligence and morality.
Let us prevail! We must all prevail! Let us never surrender ourselves! Let us continue recognizing only our legal bodies! What can they do? If they occupied all government offices, if they closed all the banks, declared martial law in all the cities, they would only manage to discredit themselves even more in the eyes of the whole world. They may ban, destroy, tear down, put people in prison and kill them as they wish. But they can’t work constructively. Those boys from Kazakhstan can‘t take over local government, can’t fill the newspapers and magazines with their articles and poems, can’t read collaborationist commentaries on the radio, can’t organize work in the printing houses. Success lies in our own hands. If they can’t find a single traitor, there will be nothing left for them to do but leave. They can achieve their aims only with the active support of collaborators. Therefore we urge you: don’t engage in open conflict with the occupiers! We have a different weapon: loyalty to our native land. Be loyal and don’t betray it! Expose the traitors! Prevent them from doing their work! They are our enemies at this moment. The rank and file soldiers of the foreign armies have no idea what cause they are serving. But our own traitors know very well. Fight against them. Success in this fight will mean the aggression will fail.
Failure in the fight against traitors will mean the aggressors will succeed.
Havel Broadcast August 23, 1968
For the third day now our country has been confronting occupation without a single tank, without a single canon, without a single machine gun. Our weapons are of different sort than the weapons of our enemies––they are our spontaneous unity, our fearless determination not to retreat from our patriotic views and moral ideals, our decision to persistently demonstrate, again and again, to the occupiers and to the rest of the world, that we are united in our desire to live in freedom, and to resist aggression.
We are witnessing an amazing thing: our weapons are more effective than their weapons. This is no exaggeration: the occupation has achieved nothing so far, not even the minimum, which in these circumstances would be the setting up of a collaborationist government. Even traitors like Indra, who can only move around under the protection of cannons, seem afraid to accept positions offered to them by the occupiers. That this whole business has been a fiasco is becoming more and more obvious to the whole world by the hour. Our only way forward is to persevere; not to abandon the road we’ve embarked on, not to relent, not to retreat a single step. If possible, we must continue doing what we have done so far: strike, demonstrate, write resolutions and declarations, put up signs in public places, welcome the occupiers with our fists, wear the Czechoslovak tricolor, hang out Czechoslovak flags, refuse to deal with collaborators, support only legal bodies and their rules.
It is incredible how spontaneous this movement is. Here in our studio, we’ve been able to observe how, in dozens of places at the same time, the same ideas, the same appeals, the same demands, are being put forward with no previous consultation: appeals for neutrality, appeals to summon a special sitting of the United Nations General Assembly, appeals to prosecutors to bring charges against collaborators for treason. All this has happened spontaneously in many different places across the country. Let us continue all these activities as long as possible.
We must, however, keep in mind one important fact: natural psychological reactions will begin to appear. Exhaustion, fatigue, moments of depression, moments of doubts will come. People flooded with leaflets, appeals and slogans might feel overwhelmed. They might even start having doubts about the meaning of all this. Moreover, conditions are constantly changing, and this can make such forms of resistance increasingly impossible.
Sooner or later, the town we are broadcasting from may be occupied; there may be arrests, martial law may be declared. We must be prepared for all of that to happen. We mustn’t ever be taken by surprise, or be at a loss, or in doubt. Let it always be the occupiers who are taken by surprise, at a loss and in doubt––as they have been since the first day of the occupation. Let us be ready for anything. We may soon lose our free transmitter, but we mustn’t lose contact with each other. Soon soldiers with machine guns may be walking in the town squares and shooting at citizens wearing tricolors. Soon they may arrest our municipal representatives, our factories leaders. We must count on all of that happening. Be aware that as circumstances change, it will be necessary to adopt a different style of struggle. Our spontaneity must never become chaos, our national enthusiasm must not turn into national resignation. Let’s think our actions through! Let’s not go off half-cocked, but aim at our target! Let’s think twice before we act, but then make it worth while. Look for new ways to wage the struggle! Organize yourselves, establish means of communication, set up action cells, coordinate their activities, create networks, act in an organized fashion. Act in concert.
Let us preserve our strength. A single appeal signed by the whole town and heard by the whole world is more effective than ten isolated and overlapping appeals. Think about what kind of situations may arise and look for the best ways to handle them. We mustn’t take pointless risks. We mustn’t exhaust people’s determination on actions that have no clear chance of working, only to find out that when we do need it, it’s not there. There are situations when the truth is best served by deception. Try to come up with such deceptions. Let intelligence triumph over brutality, humanity over bestiality, solidarity over military orders, the discipline of conscience over the discipline of guns. Our cause must triumph, though it may be in a way no one ever expected , and in doing so, perhaps we will teach an important historical lesson to all those who, anywhere and at any time, might try to spit on the freedom of the others the way our occupiers are trying to spit on ours.
Havel Broadcast August 24, 1968
Yesterday we received news from from Prague about a statement issued by the Main Committee of the Communist Party of the State and Public Police in Bartolomejska Street, declaring their support for the legal government and their determination not to betray it. We welcome this position and are happy to hear that. At the same time, however, we appeal to these patriots in the police forces to draw practical conclusions from their stance and seek out and arrest traitors and collaborators in their ranks. It is their duty and their job. At this time, their loyalty to their country must be expressed in deeds, not only in a declaration. Who else, if not the State Police, has the capacity, the legal right, and the legal obligation to expose traitors and take them into custody!
Friends, patriotic members of the police in Bartolomejska Street! We appeal to you to immediately back up your declaration with actions. Do your duty and show that the existence of our police forces means something! Arrest Hoffmann, Kolder, Novy, Mestek, Salgovic. Arrest all the traitors! Prevent traitors from within your ranks from carrying out the occupiers’ orders, and turn them over to the state prosecutors! The nation is watching you! Do not betray the trust the nation has placed in you at this moment!