A Bloody August in Brno

A Bloody August in Brno

In Brno the Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968 led to the loss of several lives. And people also died in the protests that marked the anniversary of the invasion a year later.

The occupation of the Moravian metropolis began already on August 20 at five past nine in the evening, when a soviet An-24 aircraft landed at the military airfield in Tuřany. It carried some twenty men in Aeroflot uniforms who were in fact KGB members. At three in the morning a four-engine An-12 landed, from which Soviet paratroopers emerged. In a short time they had occupied the whole airfield where some seventy-five Antonovs full of troops then landed.

While it was still dark they left the airfield for the main railway station, the main post office, the buildings of the regional and city committees of the Czechoslovak Communist Party as well as the national committees, to the offices of the press, radio and television. Significant military buildings and the majority of police stations were also occupied and armed guards were posted at crossroads. By the morning of August 21 the Soviet units had the whole city under their control.

But it was not quite as simple as that. The largest crowd assembled on Red Army Square, now Moravian Square. People took down the street names and signs at crossroads to make it harder for the occupiers to find their way around. Shop windows, the walls of houses and even public transport vehicles were peppered with posters and the slogans of resistance. Ordinary Soviet soldiers had been told that they were dealing with bloodthirsty fascists and so they did not hesitate to shoot.

On the first day of the invasion three people were shot on the streets and a stray bullet fatally wounded a sixteen-tear-old apprentice, Josef Žemlička. In the afternoon of the same day a soviet soldier shot dead thirty-year-old Viliam Debnár as he was too slow to obey a command to stop his car. The soldier even shot at passers-by who were trying to get Debnár’s five-year-old son from the car. The child spent more than an hour crouched beside the dead body of his father before he was able to escape. Soviet soldiers robbed the car and did not allow the police who had been called to study the crime scene.

Clashes with the occupiers continued in the following days, with traffic accidents also adding to the toll of dead and injured. On the evening of August 29 a Soviet armoured car broke down on Renneská Avenue, and was left without warning lights. In the dark a car driven by a policeman, Karel Chalupa, crashed into it and he died on his way to hospital. During the days of the occupation a total of fourteen people were injured and three killed, and by the end of 1968 the number of dead in the invasion of the South Moravian Region had risen to ten.

The violence was repeated a year later. On the anniversary of the occupation official sources said that fifteen thousand people took to the streets, with foreign journalists who had come to the city in August 1969 for the world championships in track cycling putting the figure at twice as many. The communists sent more than 700 soldiers and members of the National Security Corps as well as three hundred of the People’s Militia to deal with the demonstrators.

The worst clashes took place on Freedom Square, where three water cannon, one even supplied with a chemical solution, were deployed against a peaceful crowd. The streets were also patrolled by four armoured cars and three tanks with ploughs, which rammed the barricades that had been erected on the Cabbage Market. The protestors probably did not expect that they would be shot at, but the events of August 21/22 left two dead and eight seriously injured. This time the perpetrators spoke Czech and not Russian.

Photograph: Archive of the Moravian Museum
Text: Jaroslav Ostrčilík