Sunday, 17 August 2008

The Fateful Eights

I saw an interesting museum exhibit this week, explaining the phenomenon (or coincidence) of "Osudové Osmičky"; the “Fateful Eights” - important events of Czech history from years ending in 8, especially during the 20th century.

Czechoslovakia was born in 1918. From the end of WWI and the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an independent Czechoslovakia was governed by Czechs and Slovaks from Prague, rather than by Hapsburg emperors from Vienna.

In 1938, Italy, France, Germany and England brought an end to this first republic when they decided it would be a good idea for Mr. Hitler to annex the border regions of the Czech lands. Six months later he took the remainder and six months after that marched into Poland, touching off WWII.

In 1948, the Czechoslovak Communist Party made clever use of a government crisis to seize power. Describing the non-communist ministers who believed their resignations couldn’t be accepted, Klement Gottwald famously remarked “they bent over in front of us and all we had to do was kick them in the backside”.

In 1968, First Secretary Alexander Dubček’s attempt to create “socialism with a human face” was threatening enough for the Soviet Union, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and East Germany to invade Czechoslovakia with 2000 tanks and 20,000 armed troops. Dubček was forced from power and restrictions on media, free speech and travel were retightened. ‘Normalized’, in the jargon of the time.

The 1968 invasion occurred on the night from the 20th to the 21st of August, so the 40th anniversary is coming up. There will be commemorations around the country; in Olomouc for example there will be concerts in Smetana Park by Ivan Hlas, the Plastic People of the Universe and others.

What about 2008 though? Can we expect something major between now and Christmas? 1918, 1938, 1948, and 1968 were certainly important turning points and we could go back further and look at 1878 and 1848, but there have been plenty of dramatic events in other years. The end of WWII (1945) was just as significant as the beginning and Charter 77 (1977), the fall of communism (1989) and the breakup of Czechoslovakia (1993) add shakiness to the fateful eights theory.

Entrance to the Schengen zone could have been the event for 2008, if it hadn’t been in December 2007. Or tensions with Russia over the proposed US radar base? An EU constitutional crisis? A terrorist attack…? When people look back at 2008 will any of these seem important enough to add to the fateful eights?

I guess our choices are to either dismiss the Fateful Eights theory as coincidence or to keep a close eye on the newspapers for four and a half months.

Is it that close to Christmas again already?


Mark Webster said...

Isn't it also true that every US president elected in a year ending in 0 has been assassinated? Obviously the incumbent (thus far) is the exception that proves the rule although some argue that because he was not "elected" he will escape that fate.

Is there any sense of trepidation amongst Czechs over the Russian muscle flexing re the missile bases?

Captain Oddsocks said...

Hadn't heard about the Zero-years but there are those remarkable coincidences surrounding a couple of the American presidents-was it Lincoln and JFK?

A lot of Czechs aren't keen on the radar bases, but I think they're more bothered by their own elected representatives not listening to them, than they are by Russian posturing.

I wonder if it was also like that in '68?