Reminiscing about August 21,1968 – A tribute to the post-invasion refugees (Připomínka invaze 1968)

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Author: Josef Čermák ( PLUS)

Approximately 110km north of Toronto lies a small town of Edenvale and just a little further, you come to the Edenvale Aerodrome, an airport built by a Czeh refugee, Milan Kroupa. The aerodrome rests in the middle of a fruitful plane, even though possibly not as fruitful as the “fertile Haná”, so worshipfully described by a Czech poet whose name my aged brain refuses to surrender. During the second world war, this place was used by the Canadian air force to train its pilots. After the war, the place kept deteriorating until it was purchased, in 2003, by Milan Kroupa, who hails from a little village not far from a town of Nové Strašecí. Kroupa came to Canada as a political refugee in the middle of the sixties. And because he was an entrepreneurial wizard, he built up in this place (as well as putting together the largest janitorial company in Canada) a modern airport. It is this airport where on August 23rd, 2009 we shall reminiscence about the night of August 21, 1968, when frightened rulers in Moscow tried to stop the march of history and sent their army, with the armies of their vassals, to another brotherly vassal state, Czechoslovakia, to eradicate the potentially infectious decease called “socialisms with a human face”.

Did they have reason to be frightened? Those of us who caught at least a glimpse of the “Prague spring” ( in my case – middle of August – practically the end of summer) would probably answer affirmatively. “Prague spring” was more than a Dubček’s attempt to humanize a monstrous régime. I felt the purling of a sprinkles of hope at the laying of a wreath – with the father of the Slovak Democratic politician, Rudolf Fraštacký – at Štefánik monument at Bradlo, even as at Čierna nad Tisou Dubček played an unequal game with Brezhnev about the fate of his political vision and Bratislava was full of the Soviet soldiers; in the voice of Madam Hana Beneš, I heard optimism so trustful that she almost convinced me; people, I never saw before, told me that in Southern Bohemia old democratic parties were claiming their proud heritage…The most skeptical view came from Ludvík Vaculík, the author of the 2 000 words letter, which some saw as one of the reasons for the Soviet attack. Vaculík, who just came from Čierná, told me: “It hangs by á hair”.

A couple of days after returning to Canada I was awakened, shortly after midnight, by Slávka Corn, the daughter of a leading community leader. She was sent by her father to tell me that Czechoslovakia was invaded by the armies of the Warsaw Pact and that early next morning we (a group of spokesmen for the Czechoslovak community in Canada) were flying to Ottawa to meet with the members of the Canadian government…And so I practically witnessed the invasion from both sides and – in Canada – I had the opportunity to participate in some actions responding to the grotesque situation of a country being invaded by its allies, such as drafting a request to the Canadian government to condemn the invasion and provide help to the new refugees pouring particularly into Austria. The government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau responded nobly: within the next few months more than ten thousand Czechoslovak refugees were admitted to Canada.

With the action Let Freedom Ringwe will recall the night of August 21, 1968 and all the nights which preceded and followed. We will see the Fern Levitt’s film “The Velvet Revolution”, listen to the music of Danny Marks and friends, which will take us to the 60s era of rock and roll and we will indulge in the heavenly food provided by Prague Food Emporium. We will salute members of the refugee wave of 1968, and, specifically, the Sixty-eight Publishers Corporation and its makers, Zdena Salivarová-Škvorecká and Josef Škvorecký, and the brilliant entrepreneur Milan Kroupa. The distinguished painter, Jiří Kyser, will hand over to them (in the Škvorecký case, to the Consul General of the Czech Republic, Richard Krpač) his Prague scenes engraved in glass.

A handful of words about the honorees:
Sixty-Eight Publishers Corporation, incorporated in 1972 as a Canadian charitable organization, is regarded by many as one of the most important contributions to the Czech culture in the 1948-1989 period. It published books (some 250 of them) which would otherwise never see the light of the day, such as the Memoirsof Václav Černý, the works of poet Ivan Blatný, books by Milan Kundera, Václav Havel, Arnošt Lustig…Zdena and Josef Škvorecký rank among the best known Czech writers (Josef Škvorecký: The Cowards, The Tank Corps, The Swell Season, The Engineer of Human Souls…Zdena Salivarová-Škvorecká: Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down, Summer in Prague, The Manure of the Earth …The Sixty-Eight Publishers Corporation and its founders, Josef and Zdena Škvorecký truly merited the Order of White Eagle, awarded to them by President Václav Havel. Škvorecký, Profesor emeritus of the University of Toronto, holds a number of international awards, including Gugenheim Fellow, Neustadt Internationlal Prize For Literature, Governor-General Award and Order of Canada.
Milan Kroupa has slightly preceded his refugee wave. His father spent eight years in a Communist prison and after release advised his son to leave the country. Milan wisely obeyed. In his native land, he was a soccer addict and quite good too. He played for the soccer team in Slaný and later – as a soldier – for Dukla in Bratislava. After coming to Canada, he played at Masaryktown and for Ladislav Myslivec’s beloved Sparta. Then he started looking for something to do. He got himself a job in a janitorial firm and when he learned the ropes, decided to start a business of his own. Today his company, United Cleaning Services, employs some 6 000 employees. Six years ago, he passed the remnants of the airport at Edenvale – where our August rendezvous will take place. And he started to think that what once was, could be again, only somewhat different. Today, you see there new buildings, hangars, a restaurant and a flying school where young and old enthusiasts learn the art of flying on light planes AeroStar imported from the Czech Republic. With the economic success came the thought that man is more than a worker – a doctor, an entrepreneur – that those who received much should contribute to the common treasury of the community. And so he contributes to several projects, including the Czech television in Toronto.

Our August rendezvous at Edenvale has one more goal: to make better known the project of erecting in Ottawa a monument to the victims of communism. The mother of that project – just as of the whole Edenvale Let the Freedom Ring action – is Zuzana Hahn, an artist by profession, who spent years promoting – through her charitable company “Hearts Open Toronto” – cooperation among various groups in the community. For the project in Ottawa she joined forces with two other organizations, Sokol Canada and Dare Theatre, under the name Open Book Group. Then she prepared a design for the monument and had another artist build a model, wrote – with her associates – a submission to the Capital Commission in Ottawa which decides where monuments may be erected, and now concentrates – the Edenvale rendezvous is one of such occasions – on fundraising for the project.
The submission to Ottawa was accompanied by supporting letters from distinguished personalities, including Josef Škvorecký. His letter, a small literary gem called “The Soldier”, will be read – in Czech by Pavel Král, and in English by Dasha Hubschman, leading members of New Theatre in Toronto.

I think that this will be a truly memorable occasion and by being there, we will also help to realize the Monument to the Victims of Communism.

The Edenvale rendezvous is sponsored by Masaryk Memorial Institute Inc., the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada and Sokol Toronto. Tickets ($80.00, including meal) maybe ordered at 647 228 2407.



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