5 Questions for Ondrej Soukup

Interview by Ana Maria Iosif

Ondrej Soukup works at Hospodarske noviny and is a specialist on Russian policy regarding the former states of the Soviet Bloc. On the 17th of April 2018, Frontline Club, in collaboration with the Czech Center, hosted a discussion about the impact of the Prague Spring in Europe and the present relations between Russia and the Czech Republic. Mr. Soukup was one of the speakers, along with Liviu Tofan and Andrei Cornea.

”After the annexation of Crimea, all the fear popped up because the situation really resembled the one of the annexation of the Sudetenland back in 1938.”

Here is an interview about the impact of the Prague Spring in the present Czech society and the nowadays public opinion in the Czech Republic about the Russian policy.

  1. What is the public opinion about the Prague Spring in the Czech Republic nowadays? Is it considered to be one of the major events in the national history?

Definitely, it was a major event in the Czechoslovak history of the 20th Century. Of course, it is not so intense as it has used to be twenty years ago because the generations are passing away but, for example, for the generation of my parents it`s still a forming experience. They were students of journalism and this profession looked so interesting, but then the occupation came and all their dreams were completely destroyed as the dreams of millions of other Czechoslovakian citizens. Several hundred thousands people emigrated, it broke the fate of millions of people and it is still a defining moment in that sense. The other thing is that for the 95% of the population that was the end of the dream that „the socialism with a human face” can be built. After the invasion, it became completely clear that this system could not be reformed.

  1. Nowadays, do the Czech people identify themselves with the Prague Spring?

I think it`s still important and every time on the anniversary you can find people who are lightning candles on the streets. But for the younger generation, it is history. Now, it is more of a part of history but also, for example, when we saw what started to happen in Ukraine, these memories immediately popped up against Moscow.

  1. Back then, what were the Czech citizens thinking about Romania’s decision? What about now?

Actually, back in 1968, Ceaușescu was visiting Prague and he had an ecstatic welcome because the Czech society felt that it’s more and more isolated and the Soviets may intervene at that time. I remember that Ceausescu was seen as a brave politician who was not following the Soviet pattern. Also, Romania was for the Czech tourists one of the few places where they could spend the summer and they felt a sincere sympathy.

  1. What`s your opinion of the democracy today in the Czech Republic? Is it based on the Prague Spring principles?

Not really, because the Prague Spring was a failed attempt of reforming a communist system. So the Czech people started to look much more to the interwar period, to the First Republic and its principles of democracy. Maybe it was a bit naive, but the ideas were similar to those in the 1918, when president Masaryk founded the First Republic. Definitely, democracy today is based on this part of the past and not on the Prague Spring.

  1. Nowadays, what`s the public opinion about Russia?

Traditionally, in the Czech Republic, starting from 19th century, there was a huge discussion about what to do – because on the left side we had a border with Germany and on the right side there were Russians. Habitually, we have tried to survive and through the 20th Century the same attitude was practiced. But after the annexation of Crimea all the fear popped up because the situation really resembled the one of the annexation of the Sudetenland back in 1938. So the fear of Russian aggression is restored. Of course, there are some minorities that are quite open to this attitude and they spread fake news, but the majority is suspicious, of course.