For some, today marks the 20th anniversary of the departure of over 100,000 Soviet troops from former Czechoslovakia after a 23-year ‘temporary’ occupation.
The date marks the start of the return exodus back to Russia, while the last Russian solider, commander general Eduard Vorobyev, set off from Prague to Kiev on 27 June 1991. The arrival of the unwelcome Russians and 6,300 tanks as part of the Warsaw Pact back on 21 August 1968 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.
After the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, the new Czechoslovak government wasted no time and negotiated the exodus in January and February 1990. They had to deal with the difficult task of ‘extraditing’ the Russian troops, with the whole process taking one and a half years to culminate.
The logistics were complicated, with almost 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).
Many of these Russian guests had no wish to leave, though, not only because they had become part of the society and had personal ties here, but also because the standard of living in Czechoslovakia was higher than what awaited them back home.
The Russian government has never produced the ‘official invitation’ to invade Czechoslovakia, which was allegedly signed by communist official Vasil Bilak, who recently escaped sentencing as Slovakia did not possess the original letter. A recent request of Prime Minister Iveta Radicova addressed to President Vladimir Putin was met by the reply that “if such a document exists in Moscow, I will get it to you”.