'Don't forget Czechoslovakia'

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[John Tusa recalls the day in 1968 when the Soviets brutally ended the Prague Spring.]

The radio came on a minute or two before 8am on the morning of August 21, 1968. It always did.

That was the start of family routine in our north London home. This morning, however, was shocking and unforgettable. The BBC bulletin led on the news that 165,000 Warsaw Pact forces had invaded Czechoslovakia from all points of the compass.

The blessed few months of the "Prague Spring", when Czechoslovaks tried to carve out a society of dignity and freedom, were brought to a brutal end by the tanks of the Soviet Union and their allies.

It had been an extraordinary six months in Czechoslovakia. The world looked on with hope but fear as Czechoslovaks, who had lived under Communist rule since 1948, demanded and got freedoms of speech, travel and political organisation that were then unthinkable within a Communist society.

It was an internal revolution led by the country's own Communist leaders. They sought to create "socialism with a human face", one of the greatest slogans of that year. Yet all these freedoms were anathema to the leaders of the Soviet Union, who kept most of east and central Europe under the strictest control. Ultimately, they would not tolerate the challenge.

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