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Throwback Clip: BBC Cameraman Catches Prague Right Before ’68 Invasion

Ever been hit with a wave of optimism that just didn’t last? That’s exactly the vibe this BBC clip from 55 years ago gives off.

It shows the citizens of Prague living their lives, just weeks before the massive shakeup of the ’68 Warsaw Pact invasion.

The video shows some of Prague’s iconic hotspots, including náměstí Republiky, Na Příkopě Street, Wenceslas Square, Prague Castle, and Charles Bridge. It’s bustling with tourists, but still seems like a quiet walk compared to today’s hustle and bustle.

As the camera rolls, it captures a sense of optimism among the locals. They were looking forward to a future with more economic freedom, thanks to the promised Prague Spring reforms. People were getting stoked about more goods in the shops, even though the West was already a good 15 years ahead. The government was standing up to Russia, which had folks feeling hopeful.

In the video, a BBC reporter talks with a few locals, who are supporters of Alexander Dubček, the then-leader, and his vision for reform. They wanted their country to break free from Soviet strings. The reporter also hints at a bit of disconnect between the leaders in Prague Castle and the people. But with Dubček in the house, things were expected to change.

There’s also a memorable chat with a rep from Czechoslovak TV who lets it slip that Russia’s getting antsy about the press’ newfound freedom. Turns out, the freedom to express views openly was new and unsettling for some, especially those used to the government’s “only we talk” policy.

Toward the end of the video, our BBC interviewer gets a bit philosophical. He talks about Czechoslovakia’s dilemma – they wanted to avoid ruffling Russia’s feathers, but also wanted to stay communist. Will they turn out like East Germany, virtually controlled by Russia, will they shatter their dreams like Poland, or will they thrive like Yugoslavia? His money’s on Russia holding the key to at least half the answers.

Reminiscent of this video is another one titled “Prague – The Sad City” by British Pathé. Filmed before the invasion but released later, it puts a whole different spin on the tale, showing a city in shock after an unexpected historical twist.

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