40 years of Prague Spring
02.10.2008 - 18.10.2008
It is the 40th anniversary of the Prague Spring and its suppression. WestLicht. Schauplatz für Fotografie is using the occasion to reconsider these events of world importance with an exhibition conceived together with the photographer Franz Goess. The span covered by the exhibition ranges from impressions through the liberalisation and reform programme of the Czech communist party (CCP) under Alexander Dubček (in 1968) and the final meeting of the Warsaw Five and the CCP in Bratislava through to the chronologically culminating pictures of the occupation that sped round the world the following day, the 22nd of August 1968.
During the previous night, the 21st of August, armed troops from Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Soviet Union marched into Czechoslovakia and destroyed all efforts and hopes of a socialism with a human face. Before dawn the Warsaw Five had occupied all the strategic points in the country and two divisions of the National People’s Army from the GDR were in position on the border ready to go into action. In the end the invasion cost the lives of well over 100 people.
At that time Austrian Franz Goess was in Bratislava as correspondent for Paris Match. The photographer documented the violent incursion of the Warsaw Pact troops with his direct, and at the same time sensitive, point of view: “ I happened to be in Bratislava. As I sat in the hotel bar someone called up to us ‘The Russians are up the street!’ That was eleven o’clock in the evening, on the 20th of August. The world was asleep and I rushed off. There really was a Russian tank outside the hotel. I went quickly to my car, grabbed the camera with the flash and made a photo of it. The tank commander wasn’t so happy about that and jumped down and ran after me with a machine gun. I fled into the hotel. That’s how I greeted the Russians. (Quote from Radio Prague 2008)
One of the exceptional aspects of the exhibition is the presentation of the photographically documented poster from Wenceslas Square from that time. The non-violent resistance of politically committed Czech artists is condensed in them. Immediately after the Russian tanks rolled into Wenceslas Square on the 21st of August 1968 the “good soldier Svejk” awoke to a new life: Every night Prague artists who today are relatively unknown, pasted the house walls in the square with countless political caricatures. Before these could be removed and burned by Soviet soldiers Goess captured them on film.
The tension in the show comes from the multi-layered visualisation of a political process that clearly stands in an Austrian historical context too.
- © Franz Goess / Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, ViennaSoviet tank column in the centre of Bratislava, 21st August 1968
- © Franz Goess, Photographs of posters, pictorial documentation of non-violent Resistance, 1968
- © Franz Goess Photographs of posters, pictorial documentation of non- violent resistance, 1968 Soldiers – go home!
- © Franz Goess Commemoration ceremony for February 1948, Prague, Altstädter Ring, 4th February 1968
- © Franz Goess / Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna Commemoration ceremony for February 1948, Selest, Dubček, Novotný and Ulbricht, Prague, Altstädter Ring, 4th February 1968
- © Franz Goess/Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna Alexander Dubcek acclaimed as new party secretary, Prague, Altstädter Ring, beginning of February 1968
- © Franz Goess / Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Ludvik Svoboda holding a speech after his election as president of Czechoslovakia, 30th März 1968
- © Franz Goess / Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Bratislava Central Station, from l.: Smrkovský, Biľak, Svoboda, Podgorny, Breschnew, Šelest, Černík, Dubček, 3rd August 1968
- © Franz Goess/Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna Youth shows its anger, Bratislava, 21st August 1968
- © Franz Goess, Prague Spring, tank on Wenceslas Square 22nd August 1968