Prague Spring

josefkoudelka-watch-1968On Wenceslav Square



In 1968, Alexander Dubcek, the new leader of Czechoslovakia, initiated a reform program to create ‘‘Communism with a human face.’’ The resulting freedom of speech and press, freedom to travel abroad, and relaxation of secret police activities led to a period of euphoria known as the Prague Spring. Encouraged by Dubcek’s actions, many Czechs called for far-reaching reforms including neutrality and withdrawal from the Soviet bloc. To forestall the spread of reforms, the Soviet army invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968.

A photographer of Gypsies and theatrical life, Josef Koudelka recorded this invasion. His pictures were smuggled out of the country with the help of his collaborator Czech photography critic and curator Anna Farova, and published with the initials P.P. (Prague photographer) to spare his family any possible reprisal. (The photographs would not be published under Koudelka’s name until 1984, following his father’s death.) The highly dramatic pictures showing Russian tanks rolling into Prague and the Czech resistance became international symbols and won ‘‘anonymous Czech photographer’’ the Overseas Press Club’s prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal.

In 1970, Koudelka left Czechoslovakia on a three-month exit visa in 1970 to photograph gypsies in the West and took political asylum in England.

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