The Guardian

Prague 1968: lost images of the day that freedom died

Fifty years ago on 21 August, Milan Linhart reached for his camera as Soviet tanks rolled into the streets of Czechoslovakia’s capital. His previously unseen photographs have stirred uncomfortable memories.
The streets of Prague on 21 August 1968. Photograph: Milan Linhart

The images provide an intimate and sometimes painfully unheroic close-up view of chaos, confusion and upheaval in the face of military subjugation.

A corpse lies on the street as passers-by walk on seemingly unperturbed; burned-out buses block normally busy thoroughfares; troops in military vehicles display boredom, exhaustion and fear; angry civilians remonstrate beside tanks; a soldier aims his gun, disconcertingly, straight at the camera at point-blank range.

Against the backdrop of military might, some incongruous snatches of everyday normality shine through: a man astride his bicycle, well-dressed office workers en route to work, smiling teenagers with trendy haircuts chatting in front of a tank, watched by wary soldiers.

Young Czechs crowd around to talk to soldiers.
Young Czechs crowd around to talk to soldiers. Photograph: Milan Linhart

The pictures were taken by a Czech photographer, Milan Linhart, in the hours following the Soviet-led invasion of what was then Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces on 21 August, 1968.

They are now on display in Prague’s Wenceslas Square as the city.

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