The last remaining signatory to the invitation welcoming the Red Army and the Warsaw Pact troops to Czechoslovakia in 1968, Vasil Bilak, died at the prime age of 96 on Wednesday, 5 February, taking some of the truth to the grave with him.
Bilak was the First Secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee back in 1968, and it was supposedly his signature to the invitation, along with four others, that led to the arrival of the unwelcome Russians and 6,300 tanks as part of the Warsaw Pact troops back on 21 August 1968. The occupation was supposed to be a short-term measure in order to stifle the changes that were about to take place in the communist party here at the time. Instead, it changed the shape of Europe forever.
As the last living signatory, hard-line communist Bilak was eventually put up on charges of treason in 2005, but the case was closed as inconclusive in February 2011 by the Attorney General’s Office, essentially as nobody had a copy of the invitation letter and there were no witnesses. Controversial MP Alojz Hlina protested against Bilak by parking a military tank outside his house in 2012, proclaiming how absurd it was that this Bolshevik still lived in a luxury home below the castle, and that he had never been charged for the crime of high treason.
Despite several requests, the Russian government has never produced the ‘official invitation’ to invade Czechoslovakia signed by Bilak and his comrades. A request by Prime Minister Iveta Radicova in 2011 addressed to President Vladimir Putin was met by the reply that “if such a document exists in Moscow, I will get it to you”. He never did and now it makes no difference as the case is now also dead. Moscow previously refused to provide it to Slovakia on the grounds that it is an historic piece of heritage.
Another copy of the invitation letter exists in the Prague archives, presented to former Czech President Vaclav Havel in 1992 by then Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Bilak’s signature on it is deemed authentic.
After the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, the new Czechoslovak government wasted no time and negotiated the exodus of the troops in January and February 1990. They ‘extradition’ took a year and a half and saw the exodus of around 100,000 troops, 44,000 of their family members, and all kinds of military equipment (1,120 tanks, 2,505 combat vehicles, 103 aircraft, 173 helicopters, and several thousand tonnes of ammunition).