Thursday, August 20, 2020

Fidel Castro, Carlos Franqui and the 1968 Invasion of Czechoslovakia

"Totalitarian or authoritarian forms of government tend to have very inconspicuous beginnings and employ very ingenious means of controlling society. Only now, in hindsight, do many of us realize how deviously they were entangled in the totalitarian web."  -Vaclav Havel November 11, 2009 Brussels
Czechs nonviolently resisted the 1968 invasion of the Warsaw Pact that ended the Prague Spring
Invasion and Occupation as described by Czech radio with images
Czechoslovakia had its Prague Spring in 1968, a moment when reformers in the government sought socialism with a human face and it was ended 52 years ago today with the arrival of Warsaw Pact tanks and occupation that crushed the reformist initiative.
Two days after the Soviet led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 23, 1968 Fidel Castro publicly supported the invasion and occupation of the central European country.
Part of Castro's defense of the invasion and occupation was that basic human rights standards such as freedom of expression were being re-established or in Castro's words:
A series of slogans began to be put forward and in fact certain measures were taken such as the establishment of the bourgeois "freedom" of the press. This means that the counter-revolution and the exploiters, the very enemies of socialism, were granted the right to speak and write freely against socialism. 
This led to Carlos Franqui, one of the early backers of Fidel Castro's July 26 movement and a leader of the Revolution to break with the regime in 1968 over Castro's support of the invasion. 
Dissident figure erased 
Carlos Franqui's protest of conscience would lead him to then suffer a Stalinist erasure from Cuba's revolutionary history. 
Josef Stalin had pioneered airbrushing colleagues who had fallen out of favor. Nikolai Yezhov ,a Stalin loyalist, had written the treatise that intellectually justified the need for purges in 1935 and became head of the Soviet secret police (NKVD) in 1936. He staunchly maintained that it was better for "ten innocent people to suffer than one enemy of the people to escape." He presided over the execution of hundreds of thousands only to fall out of favor with Stalin in 1939 and disappeared, but unlike Franqui, not just in official photos and publications, he was never heard from again.In the picture below Nikolai Yezhov, appears next to Josef Stalin only to be airbrushed out in the picture directly below redone years later. 
Nikolai Yezhov, erased by Josef Stalin
In the picture below Carlos Franqui appears on the right (in the middle of the picture) and is airbrushed out of the picture on the left. 
Carlos Franqui erased by Fidel Castro from official photograph
Franqui wrote a short poem about being erased that is translated and reproduced below:
I discover my photographic death.

Do I exist?

 I am a little black,
I am a little white,

I am a little shit,

On Fidel's vest.
Four decades later Carlos Franqui would return to the Czech Republic which he had visited in 1960 to contrast
 what he characterized the slave society of 1960s and the free society of today. He offered the following description of Prague in 1960 as he 
lived it:
The Prague I saw in 1960 under communism was a Prague with tense, dramatic people there were many police everywhere, gross corruption on the part of the regime. I came with a delegation of journalists and went to the hotel Jalta. There was a dance and there were very pretty young Czech girls ... Most of the journalists who were with me were good dancers and they began to dance. And they were very happy because they thought they were going to have an affair with these girls. But when the dance ended at midnight the girls told them that if they wanted to go with them that it would cost them the equivalent of thirty dollars. Then, as I was the treasurer of the delegation they came to borrow the money. I said I was sorry but could not justify it and they spent all night together with these girls. These girls told them that the police gave them apartments, and that they had to deliver foreign currency to the police chief the next day, that they had to ask the foreigners questions about politics, record and then deliver them . After that we went to the shops where only Tuzex could be purchased with foreign currency and actually saw official representatives doing the currency changes.
Contrasting with what he saw on his return to Prague in 2000:
I believe that slavery affects people in many ways. In countries where there is tyranny, where communism, normally people faces are tense, everybody is worried. It is difficult to find the relaxation, people simply smiling on the streets. And of course there were some great privileges among the Communist leaders, who lived as upper hierarchy, and people who had to work and obey. Now with what I have seen I have a different impression. It is clear that the heritage communism left is difficult to overcome because it is a legacy not only material but spiritual. Communism destroys the individual. And when the individual is free it is hard to recover the idea of being free. Under communism it is as if the state was the father of all the children. Then, to change that mentality is difficult but very important. A society can progress only through the efforts of all ... in all walks of life. [...] I think it was a country with a great industrial development, with a culture with certain traditions, which despite everything communism failed to destroy. I also think that having Václav Havel as a president has contributed mightily to create a balance, to solve serious problems like the thing with Slovakia in a peaceful and civil manner.
Fifty two years later and the totalitarian temptation continues to threaten free nations through academic and cultural institutions on the one hand and an ascendant communist China on the other hand, but the legacy and writings of Vaclav Havel continue to be relevant and required reading.
We also remember that end of the Prague Spring in 1968 was the prelude to the Velvet Revolution in 1989 that ushered in thirty years and counting of freedom.  

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