Invasion of the armies of the Warsaw Pact in 1968, Czech Republic

Manidhara Das
22 Aug 2019


A: Yes, it did, but I didn’t know it at that time, being not yet informed about Krsna Consciousness.

The sixties were in one sense amazing time. All over the world, a mysteriously harmonized “rise of the minds” took place. In one sense similar to the Renaissance times, where old established values were questioned, a generation of “freedom lovers” arose... without knowing where real freedom can be found. In the sixties all over the world, even behind the iron curtain in the East, a search was going on for new horizons of perception and understanding of life.

For some it meant experimenting with intoxicants, an experiment which ended truly in

disastrous way. For some it meant to become politically active, even new terroristic groups came into existence, only to be soon closed down by the police who used their activities just to heighten its budget for being able to exercise even more control over the citizens.

Some wanted to return to nature, only to find out that being raised in the cities, they were not able to do so.


And some, very few, wanted to go deeper under the surface, leaving the “world of names only” as described in Srimad Bhagavatam, behind, getting to the substance and the basis of the problems. Such sincere seekers soon found out that the real problem is the lack of understanding of one’s constitutional identity. All this was revealed, addressed and solved by the appearance of Srila Prabhupada who told us who we are, what we are meant to do and what the purpose of our life is.

He made “hippies” to “happies”, he made melancholic cynics to active and productive individuals in spiritual sense, he pulled us out of the dungeons of our minds, He saved our lives.


But in August 1968 I knew nothing about this. Being somewhat privileged, the son of a top ranking Czech musician, who, as one of very few, was occasionally allowed to leave the country and travel with his orchestra abroad to the West, I grew up only amongst artists, musicians and all kinds of people who Srila Prabhupada would humorously describe as “something extraordinary”.

During “The Prague Spring”, a modest development of liberalization took place and my father was allowed to leave the country and seek engagement in Germany, taking his family with him.


Me, the 13 years old boy in midst of his puberty phantasies, a prospective artist in his own terms, got the exceptional permission to leave the Czech school and educated myself alone at home.

It was actually the only time I learned something, happily disassociated from psychic teachers and nasty schoolmates.


And so I lived alone and entirely isolated in Germany from 1966 to 1968. Being on holiday with my parents in Prague, a city I was born in, I walked on 20th of August on the main square, beholding Prague citizens enjoying their increasing freedom as they walked down the street, looking forward to a bright future of increased scopes for enjoyment, thinking that the ones living in the West have the really good time while they, the ones living in the East, live a mediocre and heavily restricted life, where standing in long queues for toilette paper and seeing oranges only once a year, on Christmas, was normal.


That night 21st of August 1968, while sleeping with my parents in our Prague apartment, I was woken up by heavy knocks on our door. It was the neighboring woman who in a total excitement informed us:

“The war is here! The Russians are invading our country!”


Russians? Invading our country? I thought. This cannot be, they are here anyway all the time, after all, we are already invaded since 1945. I heard a heavy sound in the skies and looked out of the window. What I saw were not stars, but lights of airplanes landing in Prague airport one after another.


I thought, “this is just a military exercise”, and went to sleep again. As our apartment was on one of the main streets leading to Prague center, waking up in the early morning I woke up to the sound of heavy machinery. I looked out of the window and saw one tank after another, lined up behind each other. But these were not Czech tanks, these were definitely Russians, sleepy dirty soldiers, smoking their cigarettes and running the engines of their machines. Heavily armed, they were just sitting there not knowing what to do.


Being thirteen years old, I thought this to be exiting and asked my parents if I can go to the main square as I heard on the radio everybody is going there. My mother was very anxious, but she couldn’t stop me. After all, there was no fighting or violence reported, just tank after tank was standing in front of our windows, ready to move on to the center of the town.


Reaching the main square in the early morning hour, I saw thousands of people walking the streets, trying to find out what is happening. As always in times of crisis, Czechs were heading for the main square of the town. A huge crowd assembled with me being squeezed in midst of it. Tanks arrived even here and people surrounded them, trying to talk to the soldiers, explaining to them they should just go home. As Russian was the main language being taught in the schools, it was easy for anybody in the crowd to communicate with the invaders.


The soldiers looked very nervous, not knowing what to do. Being told by their superiors that they are going to Czech Republic to fight the “Contra revolution” ,they found no resistance of military kind and didn’t know what to do. There was a huge tension in the crowd; people were angry seeing their dreams being shattered in such a ruthless way.


Czech as nation knows what it means to be invaded as the country was more or less occupied since Middle Ages. Germans, Austrians, Polish, Hungarians and finally Russians arrive in order to control this strategic piece of land.

And so soon after the first tanks of the invaders crossed the border, the very same night, all signs were turned in other direction or painted over, and any non-cooperation resistance was offered to the invaders.


All this accumulated on that day in midst of the town where I was standing, smelling the fumes of the tanks, the gasoline and the dust of the street being raised by the crowd. The soldiers grew more and more nervous and the crowd grew more and more bold, climbing even the tanks, talking to the drivers.


Suddenly all the soldiers disappeared in their vehicles with only the gunner on the top being left.

Things started to get dangerous. In order to keep the crowd down, the soldiers started to fire into the walls of the buildings, using their Kalashnikovs and even the heavy machine guns mounted on top of the tanks.

We all laid down on the street, covering our heads as the *debree* from the buildings was coming down as rain. As soon the fire stopped, everybody got up, approaching the tanks again, even more angry and more bold. In the process of this shooting a big color shops glass windows got broken and the crowd looted the place instantly.

Suddenly buckets with colors started to fly around, leaving the tanks being colored like some carnival wagons. I saw even one young man holding a huge can with oil color, banging on the top of the closed tank tower. As soon it opened, before the soldier even managed to stick out his head, the boy emptied the whole can into the tank, leaving the crew inside covered by paint entirely.


Somebody hit the extra fuel tanks mounted on the tanks and soon some tanks caught fire, The soldiers, reaching finally the radio station stationed in a large street leading out of the main square, found the road barricaded. The radio reporters broadcasted still, calling out for help and everybody in the streets was holding small transistor radios, receiving the news. Tanks drove up violently, fires started here and there and shots were heard, leaving the first dead and wounded laying on the ground.


At that point I thought things to be too dangerous and went home. In the late afternoon a friend of my father, playing in the same small orchestra in Germany as my father did, having a car, (my father didn’t have any), rung on our door. He said:” So are we going?”


We packed our suitcases and left the flat behind with all what was in it, heading for the German border. Out of protest, all the Czech soldiers in the border areas quit their service and so anybody could suddenly drive into Germany and Austria unobstructed. As tanks were standing on the side of the roads, the cars passed them in opposite direction, one after another. After midnight, we crossed the border heading for our German home.


Retrospectively I can understand that the invasion was entirely sanctioned by the West as despite the massive movements of the eastern armies in Czechoslovakia ,there was no signs of alarm on the German side whatsoever, including all the American forces being stationed there. It was a clearly agreed on both sides by the “Superpowers” and the Czechs were sold out to others as it was the case with Hitler’s invasion previously.


Returning to our flat in Germany, next morning my father informed me that now I will have to go to German school, even not speaking one word of German. And so ended my affiliation with Czech nation for the next 35 years as I started my life as “German”. But that’s another story.


What did I learn? Joining Srila Prabhupada’s movement four years later, a full-fledged cynic who saw the world around himself as some sort of fish aquarium with various specimen of fish swimming in it, I wanted to break out of all the confinements offered to me in name of education, artist career and other illusory identities one can collect in this world of names only.


Meeting the first devotee, joining Srila Prabhupada’s movement and finding myself standing on the street with His books in my hand, distributing them vocabulary day and night....what a new life

I gained!


How temporary is the life of those who believe this world being their home! For me one day to another the main square in Prague was turned into a battlefield with dead bodies and wounded ones laying around. The very same place where the very same people were walking day before, convinced that “things get better” was changed so rapidly.

It didn’t took even six hours and their dreams were shattered.


This is what I learned that day the Russian tanks came. It all can be over in few hours.

And so until today it never stops to amaze me what kind of confidence people manifest into their present situation, how real it is for them, how they are caught by the moment, entirely ignorant about the temporality of anything in this world. Visiting the graveyards with dead bodies of those who hoped the same, they never learn to understand that it can all end in one second.


Caught by the moment like an agitated animal, they cannot see ahead and learn from the tales of others. They don’t understand the power of Supreme Control and the dependent position they are in.

Swept away by time, their bodies, they very same treasured object of devotion they served so dearly, grow old and die.

Srila Prabhupada commented humorously when hearing about the statistics of a certain country, where “the death rate was thirty percent”,......”What do they mean thirty percent? The death rate is always hundred percent!”.


And so I learned from the invaders that day that any situation in this world is temporary and one should value the moment and use it properly. “Time I am and I came to destroy them all”, states Krsna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra. Time is an uncompromising factor once living in this world, ending whatever we hoped to achieve for the benefit of our bodies.


As these lines are written, one day, soon or later, they will be just lines written by certain Manidhara das, somebody who tried to become a devotee and whose service to the Supreme Lord can have only value when being recognized by Srila Prabhupada. It is Srila Prabhupada who woke me up to understand my real identity and it is Him by whose mercy I can act according to my real identity. Anything related to this body will be destroyed by time and I will move on, placed in other circumstances where other “invaders” are waiting.


When Srila Prabhupada was asked by those who dwell on all kinds of conspiracy theories, “who is behind all this”, His answer was short and clear: “Who is behind all this? Maya.Thats all.”


Sometimes, when visiting Russia, I sarcastically thank to the previous leaders of the Russian nation for invading Czech Republic, as without them doing so I would never end 1968 in Germany and I would never be able to meet 1973 the first devotee on the street. Krsna’s plans are truly amazing. What may initially be seen as misfortune, can from spiritual point of view later on be recognized as a blessing.


Such are the ways Krsna, the Supreme Lord is guiding us as His desire that we may finally reach the spiritual world is far greater as we could ever understand.