Postmark: Prague

POSTMARK

by Katharine Gratwick Baker

JOHN and I went out to a very elegant dinner party Tuesday night, August 20, in honor of a colleague from a friendly embassy in Prague who was ending his assignment. We must have had four kinds of wine, ending with champagne, and much fascinating conversation, including several observations to the effect that the Soviets had never seriously contemplated a military intervention in their difficulties with Czechoslovakia, and what a relief it was to have gotten through the ČiernaBratislava crisis. We drove home a bit after midnight, over the river and through the lovely old sleeping town. It had been a pleasant evening, but as usual too late for a working day.

We had barely dropped off to sleep when the doorbell began to ring, long, long hard rings. John groped his way down the dark stone staircase to the door. I heard the murmur of voices, and then John came back upstairs, grabbed his clothes, and announced, “The Russians are here . . .” After the tension and relief of the past month, and the high hopes we had allowed ourselves to have at the happy conclusions of the conferences, this was incredible. But the news was confirmed a minute later by the roar of heavy low-flying aircraft passing almost directly overhead. Plane after plane broke the stillness of the night, and heavy trucks rumbled past on the road near the house. John was already on his way to the ambassador’s residence across the garden. “Make a pot of coffee” and “listen to the radio” were the only things I could remember his having said as I stood there by the door, suddenly alone, Soviet planes roaring overhead, our telephone out of order, four children asleep beyond in the darkness.

Our German shortwave radio, with its many bands, cycles, and push buttons, has always been somewhat of a mystery to me, but with a bit of fiddling and pushing I managed to get it to speak, at first only in Czech, then German, then French, and at last the reliable tones of the BBC: “Radio Prague reports that troops from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria have crossed the Czech frontier. . . . President Johnson has called a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the situation.” Meanwhile, the roaring outside continued.

The doorbell rang. It was Mrs. Beam, the ambassador’s wife, with her little Scottie dog, Bogey, on a leash, making the rounds of the staff house next door and our house to tell us that her telephone was still working, and that we should come over to their residence as soon as the children woke up.

It was about 3 A.M. I lay down on a sofa in the living room wanting to sleep, but unable to. The first book I could find was George Kennan’s Memoirs. In his chapter on “Prague, 1938-1939,” I read:

... I was wakened by a phone call at four-thirty in the morning. . . . The shaky voice of a terrified acquaintance told me that the German troops would begin the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia at six o’clock. . . . The wind was howling and the snow was falling in the dark streets as I made my way to the legation.

He concluded:

By evening the occupation was complete, and the people were chased off the streets by an eight o’clock curfew. We drove through the town around midnight. It was strange to see these Prague streets, usually so animated, now completely empty and deserted. Tomorrow, to be sure, they would fill again, but it would not he the same life that had filled them before: and we were all acutely conscious that in this case the curfew had indeed tolled the knell of a long and distinctly tragic day.

By about six thirty, the sounds of aircraft, trucks, and tanks had become quite familiar, but a series of small explosions nearby seemed cause for new anxiety. Within five minutes Mrs. Beam and dog reappeared and suggested that we come over to her residence as soon as possible. The men at the embassy preferred to have all their dependents under one roof where they could be sure we would be all right and where there was a telephone. I awakened the boys (Jack, eleven, Kendall, ten, Andrew, nine, and Mitchell, one and a half) and told them what was happening. It may have been the exposure of their generation to war movies, or our previous conversations on the subject, or just their basic steadiness, but then in the drowsy morning and throughout the harrowing day, they reacted with great calmness and serious efficiency. We brushed our teeth and left our rooms tidy, not knowing when we would be back. Then with a bag of toys and books we walked across the garden in the gray light of the dawn. The boys watched three Soviet tanks, with armed men in each one, roll by the iron fence of the garden, and we went indoors.

Family after family, each bringing tales of fear and amazement, straggled into the library of the old Petchek mansion, where the ambassador reresides. Mrs. Beam greeted us all with good cheer and hot coffee. Several of her Czech servants had also appeared, and she was eager to keep them busy to keep their minds off what was happening, so we sat down to scrambled eggs, bacon, and mountains of toast. The telephone rang continuously throughout the day as frightened tourists tried to check in with the U.S. Embassy (there were 3000 Americans throughout the country, 400 of them delegates to a geology congress in Prague). One of the earliest calls was from our friend Shirley Temple Black, who correctly assumed that her SAS flight to Stockholm that morning would be canceled.

By about eight o’clock it had already begun to seem like a very long day. The sound of the great transport planes was tapering off, and we were treated instead to the scream of jet fighter-bombers circling intermittently overhead. The boys walked Bogey in the garden, played a little tennis, swiftly read all their books. Some of the younger embassy children became increasingly restless, and I found myself organizing relay races and games of Red Rover on the lawn in order to work off their excess energy.

While we were playing, a rather lost looking African walked through the outer gates of the residence and asked lor our help. He said he was here with his East German wife and two small children, and hoped to take refuge in the Ghanaian Embassy, but didn’t know where it was. His sad family appeared from behind a bush, and we invited them in for some coffee. The little girls joined into the Red Rover game for a few turns, and then they reluctantly started off. Within five minutes we heard some terrible shouting and calling in the direction they had taken. The whole family came running back, breathlessly saying that a man had been shot and they couldn’t go on. For the next half hour there were sporadic and then real bursts of rifle fire from the direction of the castle, the seat of the Czech government. John told us later that the Soviets had shot up the Swiss Embassy, which is right next to the castle. When the Swiss Ambassador protested to the Soviets, they replied that they had received sniper fire from the upper stories. It was several hours before the African family dared venture forth again.

The long morning wore on. The boys were caught in their moods between binocular enjoyment of the machines of war, tension and fear as it became clear that people were actually being shot at, and restlessness, as there was little for them to do but watch the endless cavalcade and listen to the penetrating grinding roar of the great tanks as they rolled by, scarring the carefully cobbled patterns of Dubenec.

Just before lunch I walked across the garden to our house to get Mitchell’s folding crib for a very small embassy baby who was to spend the night at the residence. I left the door unlocked for a moment while I went to the basement to locate the crib, and when I came back upstairs, I was tremulously greeted by the two old women who had been working with painters on the interior of the house. They apologized for being late to work, but they explained that they had had to walk through the entire city to get here. I was, needless to say, overwhelmed by their dedication, and they were obviously exhausted, so I had them up to the kitchen, and there over bread and cheese and coffee they described to me the sights they had seen that day — the tanks, the shooting, the bloody flags, the racing, screaming ambulances. They both remembered the Germans’ arrival in 1939, but they said it was nothing like this. Tears streamed down their faces as they told me of the sons they had lost in that war. “Ah, our unlucky, unhappy little country,” they moaned. “You were blessed, dear lady, that you were not born in such a country.” And now what would they do? On the walk through the city they had seen such breadlines. Soon there would be no food in the city, they said.

I sent them off again on their weary trip home as soon as they seemed able to go, and made them promise not to come back until the situation was quieter. I felt as deeply mournful as they as I watched them trudge away.

The afternoon somehow passed as the morning had. We took brief, restless naps, struggled to understand the intermittent broadcasting of Radio Prague, to find the BBC or Voice of America reports on shortwave, although they always seemed far behind the telephone calls from the embassy. Around one or two o’clock we heard what sounded like distant shelling. My stomach turned over as I thought of how Prague had been spared during the Second World War and now might be mutilated by senseless aggression.

The traffic in the street became louder and louder. When we ventured out to the wroughtiron fence, we could see that all the tanks, supply trucks, assault guns, and antiaircraft vehicles had indeed done the ultimate in military stupidity and gotten themselves into a traffic jam right in front of our gates. The hot tired young Russian soldiers leaned over their steering wheels, some asking passersby rather plaintively what city this was, and how far to Prague. Some even thought they were still on maneuvers in Poland.

A group of young Czechs engaged the stalled soldiers in conversation, using schoolboy Russian which I could easily understand:

“What do you mean, the workers of Czechoslovakia invited you to come? We are workers ourselves, and we don’t want you here at all!” That one was bantering, brazen, desperate. The Russian soldiers, themselves not much more than teen-agers, answered doggedly: “We are here on a visit of friendship to the progressive workers —”

The Czech boys laughed out loud: “If you come as tourists, that’s fine, but in tanks? Great friendship!”

Later one of the boys came over to the fence and talked blatantly with me: “These Russians are stupid animals. Those dumps they’ve got. They aren’t tanks — they’re tractors!”

A line of Russian tanks and armored cars had taken up a position right across the street from the staff house, their officers moving into the house of the former conservative Czech Minister of Defense, who had been ousted in the spring. Bold young Czechs waving large Czech flags drove by shouting insults. The Russian guards held their rifles lowered, became increasingly grim and trigger-happy.

At about five thirty John came home. He had been going hard since 2 A.M. and was weary. Over supper back at our own house he told us about his day, his difficulties trying to help American tourists get out of the country, the three-hour walk he had taken around Prague. The ambassador had sent out embassy officers in groups of two all during the day for observation and reporting of the situation, and during his turn he and another officer had crossed the river and gone into the Old Town Square, scene of many student gatherings and liberal harangues during the past few months. Now the beautiful Renaissance square, with the dramatic statue of Jan Hus in its center, was filled with tanks and marching demonstrators shouting, “Dubček, Dubček, Svoboda a Svobodu.” The statue of Hus was draped with a flag saying simply “Go Home” in Russian. Over an exhibition hall on the side of the square an advertisement for a show of Soviet Contemporary Art of the Twenties stared ironically down on Soviet tanks of the sixties.

They walked on to Wenceslas Square in the main part of town, where the natural history museum and the Good King on horseback look down over what might pass for Prague’s Broadway. It too was filled with tanks and thousands of people, including trucks full of Czech boys waving flags and taunting the soldiers. While they stood assessing the situation and looking up at the bulletscarred Greek columns on the north wing of the museum, they heard explosions from behind it and saw great balls of lire cascading down in the direction of the Prague Radio building. After half an hour of intermittent fiery explosions, automaticrifle bursts, and periodic rushes of darting ambulances, fourteen tanks, some with muzzle covers torn off, rumbled down toward where they were standing, and one came to a halt several feet from John, its load of heavily armed infantrymen staring tensely at the crowd which scuttled onto the sidewalk. Another squad of infantry, scuffed and sweating, marched out of the smoke, bayonets fixed. Apparently some young Czechs had made a barricade of turned-over trams behind the museum near the vital headquarters of the Radio, which still broadcast condemnations of the invasion, and the Russians had rolled up over it, crushing a car, exploding an ammunition truck, and shooting up the adjacent buildings. The price in dead and wounded was close to thirty, including two shot down in the street as they approached the Soviet soldiers with leaflets.

As we fell exhausted into bed there was a light rain outside and the city was quiet. Who could know what the next days might bring?

THURSDAY morning, August 22, we were awakened early by tanks in the street. The boys and I stayed at home, though we checked frequently at the ambassador’s residence for telephone and radio information. It was becoming increasingly apparent that the Soviets would have a hard time finding collaborators within the Czech Party. Threats mounted. There was to be an eight o’clock curfew. Water in some areas of Prague might be turned off.

Meanwhile the U.S. Embassy and the residence continued to be swamped with phone calls from anxious tourists and friends and relatives abroad. At one point I answered the telephone at the residence and found myself talking to an Englishspeaking operator in Frankfurt who said she had thirty calls from New York for anyone at the embassy. Before I knew what was happening, I had been connected with WNEW, a New York City radio station, and found myself being interviewed on the situation. Not knowing what I was authorized to say or whether I should be talking with them at all, I assured them that the sun was shining, that there were tanks in the streets and airplanes overhead, that I personally had been taken by surprise, that I did have children, but that we were not afraid and did not plan to leave Prague.

John spent the day again working to get the American tourists out of the country. A convoy of some 200 cars started toward West Germany via Pilsen, with Shirley Temple Black and our young cultural attache in the lead car. About ten kilometers outside the city they were stopped by a Soviet tank, and John went out to help them proceed. An embassy officer with a good high-level contact in the Ministry of Transport also arranged that a train leave Vrsovice Station at 7 P.M. for Austria. Staff members drove private cars around to the various main hotels to take the aged and infirm to the station. All others were asked to get there under their own steam, which generally meant walking. The train left a bit after seven, carrying 400 Americans plus 150 others.

For the most part, we felt increasingly trapped in our little compound with the view from the fence, and the hurried talks of our busy husbands were not enough for us to feel we were really understanding and participating in the historic moment.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 23, we were again awakened by tanks at about six o’clock. Perhaps truly war-weary people learn eventually to sleep through the ugly grinding roar, but we found it impossible. John left early for the embassy, having backed our car up against the outer gate so it could not be opened from the outside. Again the boys and I followed our new routines of radio listening, fence hanging, plane spotting, and visits to the ambassador’s residence. The water had not been cut off, and the eight o’clock curfew of the previous evening had not been violated in our neighborhood, as far as we could tell.

Around two o’clock the ambassador’s wife came over to tell us that John was about to take a tour of the city and that we could join him. Our spirits soared with this exciting news. At last our world would reach beyond the iron-fenced garden.

Aside from the staggering number of tanks, trucks, and soldiers everywhere in evidence, and the long lines of people queued up for vegetables and bread, the most amazing feature of the city was the signs and flags which covered every building and lamppost, every window and wall, every truck, and every lapel. This outpouring of Czech bitterness and humor at their desperate situation astonishingly enough had been posted under the very muzzles of the Soviet guns. On many walls people had written, “Wake up, Lenin ! Brezhnev has gone out of his mind!” We also saw “What will your mama say to you when you go home, murderer?”, “Liberators in 1945; Occupiers in 1968,” “Create sexual tension among the occupiers.”

On some of the walls there were the license plate numbers of cars driven by the handful of Czech secret police who had collaborated with the Russians. Signs told people to look for these cars and disable them. In the Old Town Square one of them stood as an exhibit, its tires slashed.

We walked up Wenceslas Square, which was filled with people as well as tanks in spite of an increasingly heavy rain. Every few minutes people would swarm around a car or some individual who was handing out printed sheets. Often only primitively mimeographed, these contained scraps of the latest news, pictures, background information, or someone’s personal or group appeal to the Russian soldiers. The young soldiers themselves looked increasingly morose, sodden with the steady rain, bored, and obviously rather depressed with the unfriendly welcome they were getting. The mood of the Czechs, in contrast, seemed to be one of devil-may-care elation as the bizarre humor of their flimsy little paper signs mocked the stern steel which filled their streets. It made one wonder how long the delicate balance could go on, how long before the Soviets would get serious.

Later in the evening, as I ate dinner with John and discussed the news that Svoboda was apparently in Moscow, it seemed only too clear that the Russians were here to get what they wanted, and whether it took concessions by Svoboda or the establishment of martial law, they would get it or most of it.

SATURDAY was a relatively quiet day. The troops were settling in, and the Czechs were settling down to a routine of brilliantly planned passive resistance. The evening before, Prague Radio, still mysteriously broadcasting, had reported that the Soviet Secret Police was about to begin a roundup operation to pull in political agitators. The Radio urged all good Czech citizens to make their job difficult by taking down street signs and numbers. Sure enough, on Saturday morning there was not a road sign or number in the entire city. No one had seen it happen, but it had been done, despite the eight o’clock curfew. The expunging of directions had been so effective that a Viennese workman who had been fixing the roof at the ambassador’s residence was unable to find his way even to the center of Prague. A story made the rounds about the Polish tanks that arrived back at the Polish border having lost their way and asked directions from some Czech bystanders.

The action on our street was fairly quiet most of the day, but the air was noisier than previously. Almost every half hour we were treated to a helicopter overflight, and by the end of the afternoon, Mitchell had a new word firmly embedded in his vocabulary: “plane-plane.”

In the evening the BBC was reduced to reporting rumors, all unconfirmed, that Dubček was safely back in Prague, that Soviet and East German troops were being replaced by fresh units because of the low morale, that some military units were moving toward the Rumanian border. There was apparently truth in the report that Svoboda had insisted. Dubček also be permitted to take part in the negotiations in Moscow, the outcome of which the whole world tensely awaited.

SUNDAY was the most beautiful day of the summer. After John had left for the embassy, the boys and I joined Mrs. Beam on her wide terrace for coffee. As we sat there chatting, little Mitchell tapped Mrs. Beam gently on the elbow and offered her a present he had just picked up. Was it a leaf or a flower or perhaps a stone that had caught his fancy? This was a very special find — a Soviet rifle bullet!

Several minutes later a couple of actors from an American movie being made outside Prague appeared. They had stayed behind when the rest of the company had departed the day before. They described some of their experiences to us: one of them had started a conversation with a Soviet soldier and was almost lynched by a Czech mob shouting “collaborator!” Then they had witnessed a new version of “Bonnieka and Clydeovitch”: the Soviets had managed to take the Czech National Bank with only four tanks and no resistance.

John took us on another inspection drive, this time following several of the main roads out of Prague. Again we saw long lines of people waiting for food and gasoline, and even ten or fifteen kilometers outside the city there were signs everywhere, “Moskva 1800 kms.”; “Svoboda—we believe only you.” There were also signs warning drivers of control points where their cars would be searched. With our diplomatic plates we had no problem? (although some of our colleagues did at other times), but Czechs had to get out of their cars and lift the seats out as well as open tire trunk. On the whole, though, it was a lovely peaceful hour in the country. The few soldiers we did sec seemed to be taking it easy. One little encampment under a bridge by the Vltava was doing laundry and splashing about in the river. Everywhere we drove, inside and outside the city, people cheered and waved to us because of a little American flag Jack had drawn and pasted inside the front window of the car.

In the evening just about curfew time two rather languid Princeton boys came to our living room window and asked if they could sleep in their car in our driveway. They had just driven into Czechoslovakia that day, for kind of a lark, and thought they might drive on into East Germany. They’d been having a ball laughing and joking with the Russian soldiers, they said. As they came into Prague, they thought they heard firecrackers. What could that have been? Our attempts to persuade them that this was a serious situation proved futile, so we sent them back out to their car to sleep, warning them about the curfew.

Ten minutes after they had left, a terrific round of firing broke out on our corner and other nearby corners. John and I turned out the lights which targeted our bedroom windows and listened to it from behind the beds. While the firing was still going on, we heard a call from the darkness below, and when the firing stopped John stuck his head out the window to find out if the boys were all right. The call had apparently come from a young embassy officer in the staff house who was also worried about the boys. When he went out to see how they were, he found them leaning against the fence gawking in the midst of machine-gun fire, saying, “Gee, what’s goin’ on?” He finally prevailed upon them to sleep on the floor of the staff house shower room. We could only hope that he had also been able to persuade them to leave the country immediately and stop causing the already harassed American Embassy additional vexation.

MONDAY morning at seven thirty Mrs. Beam rang the doorbell and said that fire had broken out in the embassy during the night. It was caused by some electrical misconnection, and no one yet knew the extent of the damage or how it would interfere with operations at the embassy. The second item of news was that Russian soldiers had climbed over the wall of the upper garden at the embassy and were found there peacefully picking apples. They left only after some firm talk from our First Secretary, Mark Garrison.

Just after lunch, a Czech friend appeared on the terrace quite breathless. He could be arrested any minute, he said, and he needed advice on which frontier was the best to try to get over and how to get hard currency. He had no hope that anything good for his country could possibly come out of the situation. This was the first Czech who had appealed to us personally, and although we had no idea what his specific political difficulty was, his appeal heightened my sense of frustration at being able to do so little to help what was obviously the right side in this conflict. All we could do was recommend the Austrian border, give him the names of friends in Vienna, and wish him luck if he decided he had to go.

The evening BBC reported that the Russian grip was tightening, that Prague was now cut off from the rest of the country, and that a transmitter for Radio Prague near Pilsen had been destroyed. It also reported that leaders in Prague were anxious about the prolongation of the Moscow negotiations, and listed possible Czech bargaining positions, including silencing of the press and permission for the Soviets to station their troops on the West German border. Just as I was preparing dinner the lights went off, as a kind of punctuation to the news that the “grip was tightening.”

During the night we were awakened several times by the noise of tanks, but in the morning the electricity was back on, and our telephone worked. I drove over to the embassy with John, and there were virtually no evidences of the occupation. At several of the points where there had been heavy concentrations of Russians, Czech soldiers had taken over, and people driving by cheered them. We were told later that the Russian troops had moved outside the city, although some 300 tanks still remained less conspicuously at key points within the city limits.

The top news was that Svoboda and Dubček had returned to Prague very early in the morning and would hold a press conference at 10 A.M. In the afternoon Svoboda and Dubcek did speak to their country:

We feel responsible for the trust you placed in us. Please in the name of all that is dear to our nation, do not allow yourselves to be carried away by your emotions to do anything that would mean a national catastrophe. . . . Support the efforts for consolidating conditions so that the armies on our territory can begin gradually to leave our country.

The Czech people wouldn’t have taken such news from anyone but Dubcek. For twenty years they had taught themselves not to believe anyone, and then with the coming of Dubcek they had decided that here at last was a man who spoke the truth. When he returned from Moscow and told his country what had transpired there, they wept, but most of them accepted it.

Ten days after the invasion John and I took an evening drive around Prague. Hardly a car was moving; the streets were empty of people; no trains or buses were in sight. No theaters or movies were open, nor were any cafés or restaurants. The lovely old Town Square, full of students and tourists in discussion ten nights earlier, was silent and deserted, its heroic statue of Jan Hus alone and unadorned. Driving away from it through the narrow streets, we could see only an occasional Soviet tank or armored vehicle in the shadows. On usually busy Václavské Náměstí small groups of young people clustered around Soviet soldiers standing at their posts with slung weapons. The pact of silence with regard to them had lasted until the Czechoslovak leadership had announced on August 26 their extended stay. Now, in the absence of any other outlet for discussion, the Czechs talked with the Soviets. The word we caught constantly from their ragged Russian was “Pochemu?”—“Why?” At the foot of the Wenceslas statue the growing banks of flowers around the obituaries of three teenagers, one of whom had been shot down in the square, seemed to ask the same question. The only poster remaining from the vast display of the previous week was a printed photograph of a sorrowful face inside the window of a phone booth. A blood-red tear dripped from one of the eyes, and on the tear was written, “August 21, 1968.” In small print at the bottom: “Pravda Zvitezi”—“Truth Conquers,” the Czech national motto. A modest black-bordered obituary notice nearby, styled like the usual death notice, read:

It is our sad duty to announce the death on August 21, 1968 of the friendship between the Czechoslovak people and that of die five neighbor members of the Warsaw Pact whose troops have occupied our country.

On that evening, with the previous ten days still pressing in upon us, it seemed impossible that Prague would ever come to life again, indeed, any evidence of the old life would have seemed to be a form of collaboration. But as the days stretched into weeks, and we marked each Tuesday evening as three, four, five weeks “post-invasion,” the inevitable routines took over. Prague became caught up in a struggle to achieve the “normalization” which Moscow had prescribed as a precondition for withdrawal of troops. The shops were filled with food again; schools opened; very gradually the street signs reappeared; all Czechs on a scries of so-called “Dubcek shifts” worked overtime to repair the damage done by the invasion.

Our Czech friends began to call us again, and many seemed almost defiantly eager to see us, to continue overtly their connections with Americans. Always, over coffee, playing chamber music, on walks in the garden, the conversation drifted to one topic: should they or should they not try to leave the country. Reports came regularly over the radio on which borders were most strict or most open; statistics flew about on how many thousands of Czechs were now in Vienna, were now flying to Canada, had settled in Argentina. It was rumored that many of the top people in the Czech film industry were in northern Italy. For most, though, a kind of pessimistic wait-andsee attitude prevailed.

In spite of the general atmosphere of sadness and depression, the courage of the invasion week persisted in new forms. During the early weeks of September the concert and opera seasons began in Prague, both with programs of music on Czech nationalist themes. After a special performance of Má Vlast (My Country) by Smetana, there was a kind of religious restraint, a hushed pause, and then clapping for minutes on end, while the orchestra stood very quietly.

Toward mid-September neon lights came back on in Wenceslas Square. The movie theaters opened again showing a wide selection of foreign films, none of which originated in the Warsaw Pact countries. A Czech film on the adventures of the Good Soldier Schweik, the great Czech symbol of humorous resistance to authority, was vastly popular, and the whacky simplicity of Chaplin and the Keystone Kops revivals seemed just what the Czechs needed to release their frustrations in laughter. Art galleries were slower to open since Czech artists refused to exhibit until the Soviet troops vacated the building of the ArtistsUnion, where many were billeted. Theaters and jazz clubs were also slower, waiting perhaps for signals on what line their “normalization” should take. But as one friend of ours told us when discussing the possibility of continuing exchanges of visits with Western intellectuals at the Academy of Sciences, “The invasion wasn’t our idea, and until we are specifically told not to, normalization to us means going right ahead with the exciting plans and liberal developments we had in process before August 20.”

The annual Erno Trade Fair proceeded on this principle. After asking the Russian soldiers to vacate the fairgrounds, they managed to open September 14, one week behind schedule, with specially strong representation from the West Germans. John and 1 drove down to Erno two days after the opening, and it was interesting to observe how the crowd boycotted exhibits of the friendly Warsaw Pact neighbors for the first few days.

Schweikian stories continued to make the rounds in Prague. There was the one about the small town outside Prague which took a historic signpost from the Austro-Hungarian Empire . out of its local museum and posted it on the road the Russians were due to come along. When the soldiers got there, they climbed out of their tanks, carefully read the sign, scratched their heads, decided they must have reached the Austrian border, and so turned around and drove back the way they had come.

The most bitter post-invasion joke defined “gradual withdrawal” of Soviet troops as lasting 200 years at the current rate of one soldier being withdrawn each day. Although this estimate was rather pessimistic, it was apparent to us when we came across large encampments of troops, tanks, and radio equipment just outside Prague that the Warsaw Pact neighbors intended to stay around for a while. Diplomats and journalists also described to us the way the Soviets were settling down for the winter in the woods near the borders.

One Sunday in October, we drove out through the gentle Bohemian countryside to visit the summer home and burial plot of the Masaryk family in Lany. There were many Czechs walking through the graveyard, which was reopened to the public last April for the first time since 1949. The graves were covered with fresh flowers and new wreaths with streamers which read, “We will be true to your heritage.”

On Saint Wenceslas Day, 1968, a group of young people in Prague attempted a quiet but short-lived demonstration in spite of the Soviet presence. The tenth-century legend was the one they passed around, that the soldiers of the Good King lie sleeping in the Bohemian hills ready to come forth and defend their country when she is in need. That day and every day since August 20, one could feel and share the yearning of people here and everywhere that those ancient knights would indeed awaken and ride forth, bringing new hope, new courage, and new dreams to the people of Czechoslovakia.