“1968” is the working title for a biographic documentary project about a 16 year old girl's experience as she finds herself alone in Czechoslovakia during the 1968 invasion. It is a compelling story of her journey as she makes her way to Sofia after visiting her sister in Berlin.
“I was told the story almost 15 years ago and was absolutely captivated by it. For reasons I cannot explain, it was only years later that it dawned on me - this is a story worth telling over and over again.
I have wanted to write her story for the past 10 years. We all have stories to tell and I want to tell her journey the way I first heard it!”
Europe is ravaged by the atrocities of the Second World War. Germany has fallen. Three countries emerge as victors and are about to shape the future of Europe.
Between 4th and 11th of February, 1945 the three superpowers, United States of America, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union gather in the Crimean coastal town of Yalta.
Represented by President Frankilin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Secretary Josph Stalin, the victors devise a roadmap for Europe's reconstruction and reconciliation.
In reality, they carve up the continent as a reward for their war efforts by asserting economic and political spheres of influence. Germany is to be divided into administrative zones- later resulting in two separate states.
1946, merely a year after Yalta, Stalin proclaims that a 'war' with the West is inevitable. Thus, dividing Europe into two blocks and initiating the 'Cold War'.
In May 1955, eight Eastern European Socialist Countries gather in Warsaw – the capitol of Poland.
The multilateral meeting is initiated by the Soviet Union as a response to the Federal Republic of Germany's integration into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also known as 'NATO'.
What came to be known as the 'Warsaw Pact' was, just like its western predecessor, a military defense treaty which cemented the European ideological and political divide discussed at Yalta 10 years earlier.
The world is largely divided along ideological lines. A number of countries, struggling to gain independence from their colonial past, bear the brunt of the divide as they are plunged into a series of proxy wars.
In late January 1968 the Viet Cong and North Vietnam launch the largest offensive against the South and the US allies. Known as the "Tet Offencive" it comes almost simultaneously as Viet Cong soldiers attack the US Embassy in Saigon. Although unsuccessful, it challenges U.S invincibility. By the end of the year an estimate of over 3 million tons of bombs are dropped over Laos in order to disrupt supplies to the Viet Cong on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
By February the US State Department announce the highest toll in the war during one single week. The war is the first to be televised and the horrifying images fuel worldwide protests and violent social discontent.
Sparked by great social and economic disparities, the American Civil Rights movement rises to demand an end to racial segregation. On 28th of March about 12,000 demonstrators clash with Memphis police. In April Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated at the Lorraine Motel. Only days later Black Panthers and Oakland police engage in a shootout and a 16 year old Panther is killed. As a result of the escalating civil unrest Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of "race, creed or national origin".
By the end of the month, students at Columbia University occupy the main administrative offices demanding an end to the war in Vietnam, equality, and freedom. Similar movements in Germany, Italy, Japan, and Ireland are quick to follow.
In May, over 20.000 Parisian students and workers join in riots under the slogan 'change the world- change life'. The protests, fueled by anti capitalist leftist ideologies, demand education reform and bring the country to the brink of a revolution as they inspire workers to go on strikes throughout France.
Shortly after midnight on June 5th, Robert F. Kennedy who enters the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination on promises of change is assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. His death destabilizes the Democratic party and gives an advantage to the republican Robert Nixon. In August Nixon is elected president.
By the end of the year Mauritius, Swaziland and Equatorial Guinea proclaim independence from colonial rule. Moscow is quick to support all 'movements of independence' throughout the world.
On the night between the 20th and 21st of August, five Eastern Block countries invade Czechoslovakia – a response to the rather rapid period of political liberalization know as the "Prague Spring".
By 1968 reforms are sweeping through the lines of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and the previous hard-liner regime of Antonin Novotny.
In early 1968, the newly appointed Party leader Alexander Dubcek seeks to introduce a series of changes with the aim of consolidating power by popular consent. Under the slogan 'a socialism with a human face', he openly argues for free speech, travel and freedom of assembly.
In February, the same year, Leonid Brezniew, visits Prague to get a personal feel for Dubcek and his commitment to communism. On the surface they both agree that reforms are inevitable. Yet, the changes are increasingly perceived as threatening to the Communist world, and as the local newspapers publicly criticize the Soviet Union tensions rise in Moscow.
In the first moths of summer Warsaw Pact troops stage a military exercise in close proximity with the borders of Czechoslovakia. In an obvious display of the military capabilities of the Communist countries, all military signaling devices are left following the excersice.
In July the entire Russian Polit Bureau convenes with Dubcek. They explicitly demand, among other things, certain changes of personnel in public institutions and tighter control over the country's media. Dubcek is pressured into concessions. Regardless, Moscow has made up its mind- anti socialist forces are attacking the USSR and engaging in 'ideological manipulation' endangering the very cause of socialism. The crisis must be solved by other means in order to preserve the system and the balance of power between the east and west.
On 3rd of august, one moth after the bilateral meetings with Moscow, a common declaration is signed in Bratislava between six European socialist states. The members of the Warsaw Pact, reaffirm principles such as national sovereignty, territorial integrity, equality, independents and fraternal cooperation.
In the weeks to follow, Prague host official visits of several presidents including Marshal Josip Tito (Yugoslavia), Walter Ulbricht (East Germany), and Nicolae Ceausescu (Rumania). Czechoslovakia is referred to as the most stable of the socialist states.
As the Extraordinary Party Congress is preparing for its annual meeting, during which the ratification of the recent economic and social reforms were anticipated, Prague wakes up to unexpected news. The Special broadcast of the Czechoslovak Communist Party announces that on August 20, at 11.00 p.m., armed forces of the Soviet Union, the Polish Peoples Republic, the German Democratic Republic, the Hungarian Peoples Republic and the Bulgarian Peoples Republic, have crossed the border.
Shortly after midnight on Wednesday the 21 of August 1968, the airport comes under siege by paratroopers, giving the invading forces unlimited access to deliver military supplies and arms to their forces.
Soon thereafter a black Volga limousine transports the first detachment from the Russian embassy to the building of the Central Committee of the party, where Dubcek is presiding over a meeting with other party members.
President Dubcek, Chariman of the national assembly Slakovski, and Prime Minister Černík, are detained by armed soldiers and transported under the supervision of the Kymitet Gosydarstvenoi Bezopasnosti, better known as the KGB- the Soviet Secret Service.
Before their detention they manage to condemn the invasion…
In the early hours, Warsaw Pact troops enter Prague, the capitol of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The morning newscast insists that this has happened without the previous knowledge of the President, the Chairmen and the First Secretary of the Communist Party.
By 08.00 a.m. the building of the central committee of the party is completely under siege. As the tanks get into position people start gathering inquisitively.
Armored vehicles also stop in front of the Central building of Radio Prague, the same building where in May 1945 national troops fought the Nazis for the right of free speech. People gather around the building. A sense of confusion rises as troops and Czechoslovak citizens engage in friendly conversations and discussions with the soldiers.
- Ivan go home Natasha is waiting for you…
The soldiers, mostly young boys are overcome by doubt about their role and purpose.
- How can we be occupiers, we are only carrying out orders?
- What did they tell you, why do you think you are here? There is no counter revolution!
- I am a soldier- what do I know.
Tanks are encircled, gently moving through a defiant sea of people. Crowds gather, as people take to the streets in protest. People climb on top of the armored vehicles waving flags while yelling 'Dubcek Svoboda' – Dubcek Freedom.
Sudden shots are fired and people take to the side streets as the radio building is taken over by the military.
Dubcek appears on a broadcast urges the people to refrain from any provocative acts, stay calm, not to from panic.
After 24 days the tanks withdraw. Moscow is in charge of Prague and Czechoslovakia, preserving the 'balance of power between the east and west'.
A series of interviews are the foundation of the project. All interviews were conducted on the 29th January 2017 in Stockholm, Sweden. The interviews are the basis for a narrative which can be further developed.
The raw footage is currently being edited into a 40-60 min interview which tells the story of the girl with the velvet dress. A trailer will be available on the 1968-website in due time. The final cut of the interview will be the basis for any further production.
The interview will be transcribed into a narrative and possibly re-written into a script.
While the interviews were conducted in Swedish the narrative will be written in English.
Selected parts will be made available on the 1968 website.
Time will tell…
All biographic images are courtesy of the Zlatew family. Background image: "Prague Spring" by John W. Schulze is licensed under CC BY 2.0 - www.fallckolm.com production
to be reproduced without written permission of Fallckolm Cuenca Photography