When Czechoslovaks cracked jokes in the face of Soviet tanks

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Even when Soviet tanks invaded their country on August 21, 1968 to wipe out a pro-democracy movement, Czechoslovaks managed to maintain their unique sense of humour.

Devoid of other means of defence, they turned Czechoslovakia into a humour magazine of sorts, by writing ironic slogans in chalk or paint on walls or scrawling them on papers posted around town.

“We’ve deepened the friendship so much that it reaches rock bottom,” wrote an anonymous joker, pointing out that the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in the company of four Warsaw Pact allies.

“Lenin, wake up, Brezhnev has gone mad!” said another slogan, perhaps hoping that the father of the Soviet Union might have disapproved of the invasion orchestrated by one of his successors.

In the same vein, another common phrase suggested that Vladimir Lenin “would be ashamed to see you here”.

This one was frequently chanted by both Czechs and Slovaks facing the Soviet-led troops, as it rhymed in both languages.


“Ivan, go home, we want to go to school,” protesters said as the beginning of the school year approached, using “Ivan” as an ironic generic term for “Russian”.

“Ivan, go home, your Natasha is dating Kolya,” went another slogan, which then inspired a popular song: “Go home Ivan, Natasha is waiting for you/ Go home Ivan, our girls don’t love you/ Go home Ivan, and don’t ever come back!”

“The TASS news agency reports that the soldiers were welcomed with flowers. We add: this is true, but they were in flying flower pots,” went one such joke.

The typical humour seen in the classic Czech novel “The Good Soldier Svejk”, whose hero pretends to be both naive and stupid to steer clear of problems, was on display in numerous appeals against collaborating with the occupiers and their local helpers.

The Vecerni Praha newspaper published “Ten Commandments” for local residents: “1) I don’t know, 2) I don’t know them, 3) I won’t tell, 4) I don’t have that, 5) I can’t do that, 6) I won’t give that, 7) I can’t, 8) I won’t sell that, 9) I won’t show that, 10) I won’t do that.”

In a popular joke, a little boy looks out the school window and says: “It could happen today.” The teacher asks him what he means and he replies: “My dad said, one fine day, the Russians will go to hell.”

According to another joke, a man goes to the police station to file a complaint: “A Swiss soldier stole my Russian watch!” Puzzled, the officer ventures: “Maybe it was the other way around?” To which the man replies: “You said it, not me!”

To slow down the Soviet army and secret services, Czechs and Slovaks painted road signs across the country white, while streets were renamed “Dubcek Street” after the reformist leader Alexander Dubcek.

Svoboda at first cautiously supported Dubcek’s reforms, but he bowed to the Soviet-imposed “normalisation” in the end.

“Welcome, Svoboda. Have you brought freedom?” asked an inscription on a wall when Czechoslovak leaders were due to return from a visit to Moscow.

Czechoslovakia did not finally shed totalitarian rule until 1989, four years before splitting into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.