Women and Revolution: The Protests in 1969 After Entering the Period of "Normalization" in Czechoslovakia

The Prague Spring ended with the Soviet Invasion in August 1968, when many had lost their faith that the regime can change, and the political representation has any degree of independency to Moscow. During the first day of occupation, 58 civilians had died as a result of shooting, explosions, or various accidental deaths. Many citizens who were abroad at that time chose to not come back. Yet there was a resistance to the events. Large protests took place in the Autumn during state anniversaries. These were followed by tragic deaths of students at the beginning of 1969 (Jan Palach, January 19, 1969, Jan Zajíc, February 25, 1969), who committed suicide by self-immolation in protest. Tens of thousands of people gathered at the occasion of Palach´s funeral. In April 1969, a new General Secretary of the Party Gustav Husák was elected and in August 1969, the regime deployed a massive army force (310 tanks, 20 000 men) all around Czechoslovakia to deter any remaining protesters. The normalization (a term coined in the Moscow Protocol signed on the 26 August 1968) was in a full swing.

The interview with three female dissidents who had the courage to stand up to the regime sheds a light on how it was difficult for them then to support a family and protect their children. With women, the regime was especially insidious, using both brute force (including sexual threats) and psychological threats (of taking away their children). Jarmila Johnová confirms that the fear that the communists will tear apart the family was the worst, so she always took her children along to interrogations. Dana Němcová and her husband were even both detained at one point and the older children had to take care of the younger ones.  Johnová mentions a terrible story of Zina Freundová, another dissident, who was stripped of her clothes and beaten up in her own apartment in the middle of the night in the early 80s, where the regime tried to force dissidents into emigration (it was called „asanace“ in Czech, meaning “a site clearance”).

There were many ways of how one could express their disapproval of the regime. Such as to disapprove of the occupation (as a “brotherly help”), not signing the Anticharta in 1977 (Dušková´s husband refused), not casting a vote in crooked elections, not becoming a party member, not having your child became member of the Union of Socialist Youth (Czech acronym „SSM“), or refusing to becoming an informant. Even children were forced to inform against their fellow students in schools. Jana Dušková made it clear to her daughter that it is unacceptable. As a result, her daughter had to deal with the anger of the communist teachers who were shocked by her defiance. Dušková´s daughter also never entered the SSM. Another examples: Johnová was participating in copying of antiregime texts. Dana Němcová´s “opened” apartment became a place where people could enter any time and get help (an advice before interrogations, and so on).

Our respondents agreed: it was possible to keep your head up during the communism, but it came with a price, usually with a career that was never fulfilling or various psychological pressures. Dušková stresses one important moment which was a complete isolation of people, families. She knew about the Chartists but did not even know how to get in touch with them and never tried. Many people lived their own individual resistance after joint protest became unthinkable.

Dušková worked in various manual works (as a cleaner in Prague) and her family lived in poor conditions (in an apartment without a running water). Dana Němcová, who also could not work as a therapist for most of the time, became one of the speakers of the Charta 77. Jiří Němec, her husband, emigrated as a result of the communist pressure in the 80´s. Johnová also had to sustain her family after a split with Jiří Dienstbier. Later she marched to protest against the polluted air in Prague in 1988 and founded Pražské matky, an ecological organization operating to date.