1968: The year that changed the world?

1968: The year that changed the world?


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A young resident of Prague climbs onto a Soviet tank

In this four part series, using archive recordings and music from the time, Sir John Tusa examines what made 1968 such a climactic year.

Student protests, Soviet might, assassinations, war and famine - although these dramatic events took place more than a generation ago they seem incredibly immediate and astonishingly relevant today.

Recapturing those events through the voices of those who made them, Sir John investigates if 1968 really did change the world.

Programme Four - The Communist World

The United States endured a year of almost unbroken political drama and tragedy, however the other superpower, the monolithic Soviet Union, could not escape the mood of the time.

In 1968, out went the old Stalinist and in came Czechoslovak President Ludvik Svoboda.

A programme of wide-ranging democratic reforms had been gathering pace in the face of Soviet disapproval and the rebirth of social and political freedom became known as the 'Prague Spring'.

The idea that communism might evolve in a different way raised many problems.

By August, Czechoslovakian leaders were locked in talks with the Soviets and tensions were high - were they going to sell-out the newly gained freedoms?

Czechs filled the streets of Prague and every citizen wanted to know what was happening at the meeting.

Two weeks of waiting proved too late and the dream of freedom was shattered.

Dozens of people were killed in a massive military clampdown by five Warsaw Pact countries, as 165,000 troops invaded Czechoslovakia from all sides.

Soviet tanks led the way in crushing the Prague Spring.

The Czechoslovak authorities ordered their vastly outnumbered army not to fight and appealed to the public for restraint.

Soviet troops controlled the streets of Prague but they had lost the hearts and minds of people forever.

Czechs were not alone in their cry for freedom, it was shared elsewhere in the Soviet block.

The student movement was European wide and even before the uprisings in Paris, young people at Warsaw University marched in protest against the banning of a play that was allegedly thought of as being anti-Russian.

Demonstrations in favour of free speech spread rapidly in Poland and in Yugoslavia, students in Belgrade joined in the clamber for more freedom.

Even in China, by 1968 the so-called Cultural Revolution was out of control and Chairman Moa called in the army to repress the Red Guards.

Join Sir John Tusa in the final part of this series, as he focuses on the Prague Spring and the subsequent Russian invasion, but also on anti-communist rumblings in Poland and China.

You can share your memories of 1968 with other BBC listeners here.

This series was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Part four was aired on BBC World Service on 22nd December 2008.

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