President Kiska on 1968 occupation: We have to protect freedom

President Andrej Kiska held a speech on public broadcaster RTVS 50 years after Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

"Fifty years ago, millions of Czechoslovak citizens found themselves in shock. The radios were broadcasting an unprecedented message: foreign troops had invaded our country. Tanks were rumbling in the streets of towns and villages, and people were standing in front of them unarmed. The shooting resounded in many places.

It all adopted the form of an unimaginable, terrible movie. Indeed, who would have believed that once the armies of the so-called “allied countries”, the allies of the Warsaw Pact forces would occupy us? Would you believe that the occupiers would arrest and drag the top officials of our state headed by Alexander Dubček off to the Soviet Union?

Unfortunately, it indeed happened. Our country was flooded by over half a million soldiers, over 6,000 tanks, 800 aircraft and 2,000 cannons. The Soviet divisions invaded us at night from the east, from the west, from the north and from the south. They were accompanied by Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian soldiers. And Armed Forces of East Germany stood at the borders as “reserve.”

The largest operation in the history of the Warsaw Pact was successful - they occupied the entire republic by morning. They did not find any counter-revolutionaries however; they killed dozens of innocent victims in a country where the hope for a freer life had been spreading until that moment.

After the signing of the Moscow Protocol, the horror movie changed into the cruel reality of normalization. The suppression of freedom of press, speech and religion began. There were scandalous checks in the workplaces, tens of thousands of employees were bullied, fired, their children were not allowed to study. Many skilled and educated people emigrated. Power was taken over by unprincipled individuals relying on Soviet bayonets.

Today, I’m speaking to you from Sliač. From the place where the last foreign soldiers left after a long 23 years. They left behind a devastated country, demolished flats, but in particular a ruined hope for change in 1968.

It is the duty of today's democratic politicians to protect our freedom, our ability to make decisions related to our future, free from fear that our decisions will be destroyed through brutal force. That is why we need allies with equal values and with equal respect toward freedom, human rights and democracy. We have such allies and partners in the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance, two pillars of our prosperity and security.

However, let me make one plea. The occupation of our country by troops of the Warsaw Pact forces is now condemned by three-fifths of the population of Slovakia. However, the number of those who know little or nothing about it is increasing. Especially among young people.

I therefore ask parents, teachers and relatives, also as those who remember, to find a moment these days and share their knowledge and experience with younger people and children. To bring them closer to times of hope, but also moments of betrayal, despair, and humiliation. To remember the victims of the occupation as well as the fundamental change that occurred here by November 1989. To help them understand that the words “never more” mean not only determination, but they require reasonable, responsible decisions to meet this desire with content."