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Czech Activists Hail Anniversary Protest As ‘Important Moment’

August 22, 1988

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ The weekend protest against the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia was hailed by activists Monday as ″an important political moment″ to a nation dulled for two decades by the bitter end of reform.

Sunday night’s march through this capital city was the biggest protest against the Soviet-led invasion since 1969.

The official news agency CTK said 28 people remained in detention Monday after police arrested 77 people for ″disturbing actions″ that ″grew into hooliganism″ as the throng marched through central Prague.

Six of the seven unidentified foreigners detained were expelled from Czechoslovakia, CTK said without elaborating.

Police swinging batons charged a crowd of about 1,000 demonstrators Sunday, two hours after 10,000 people marched through Prague chanted ″Long live freedom 3/8″ ″Russians, go home 3/8″ and ″Dubcek 3/8 Dubcek 3/8 Dubcek 3/8″

Alexander Dubcek, party leader in 1968, pioneered the ″Prague Spring″ reforms but was ousted as Communist leader in 1969 and expelled from the party in 1970.

Activists with the Charter 77 human rights group and the independent cultural association Jazz Section said Monday that Dubcek’s name appeared to be a symbol for the young demonstrators, most of them aged 18 to 35.

″It isn’t sympathy for his person so much as (knowing) he’s a symbol of a time, of an atmosphere,″ said Vaclav Maly, a Charter 77 signatory and Roman Catholic priest who is barred by authorities from preaching.

In Moscow, paramilitary police beat and kicked about 30 of the 100 people arrested during a demonstration marking the anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, dissidents said Monday.

Dissident journalist Sergei Grigoryants demanded a government investigation of the ″numerous crimes″ allegedly committed by authorities.

Those arrested were brought into a closed courtroom Monday and most received jail sentences of 10-15 days or fines of up to $320, the dissidents reported.

In Prague, Maly and several other activists said the protest developed spontaneously and involved ordinary people rather than known dissidents.

″It is important for people that they see ’We demonstrated, and practically nothing happened,‴ Maly said. ″It is an important political moment, I would say.″

″Fantastic is that 90 percent of it was young people who grew up in this system,″ said Jazz Section leader Karel Srp. ″It is the first small flower that will grow up.″

Charter 77 activist Zdenek Urbanek said, ″For me, it is the same good experience as in ’68, when suddenly I saw young people who didn’t know anything about democracy, freedom and free elections ... speak openly about what is needed for the country.″

Foreign and local residents of Prague have noted a recent trend toward activism and a rising interest in politics compared to the cynicism prevalent since the 1968 invasion.

Earlier this year, a half-million believers signed a Roman Catholic petition to the Communist authorities demanding more religious freedom.

Reform in the Soviet Union also has had an effect on Czechoslovaks and their leaders.

Citizens following Soviet press and television available in Czechoslovakia can see that authorities in Moscow are now allowing freer expression of opinion in state-run media.

Czechoslovakia’s communist leadership sees Mikhail S. Gorbachev adopting many of the same reforms they were installed by Moscow to crush. Most recently, Gorbachev has spoken of striving for ″Socialism with a human face″ - a slogan used by the now-disgraced Dubcek in 1968.

Milos Jakes, the Communist party leader who took over last December from Dubcek’s successor, Gustav Husak, has embraced cautious economic reform but so far skirted any far-reaching political or cultural change.

Maly and Srp cautioned against expecting any rapid political change in Czechoslovakia.

″I wouldn’t exaggerate it,″ Maly said. ″It is a start. The society starts to be more active.″

″Czechoslovakia is an unpredictable country,″ said Srp. ″Nobody knows what will happen here.″

A test of the depth of political interest will come next month, when the discussion groups that met on Wenceslas Square this weekend said they plan to hold a second meeting.

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