Bulgarian Soldiers About the "Prague Spring": "We were not Aggressors"

Society | August 19, 2018, Sunday // 10:32
Bulgaria: Bulgarian Soldiers About the "Prague Spring": "We were not Aggressors"

Sofia. "We were not aggressors!" Fifty years after taking part in the Prague Spring Crush under the leadership of Moscow, former Bulgarian soldiers say they have no regrets and feel they have simply "done their homework", reported AFP.

"It was a political decision: it was unimaginable to let go of Czechoslovakia.Military, we have accomplished our duty, without shooting civilians," said reserve colonel Lubcho Banov, 80, who commissioned in August 1968 a company responsible for the protection of the Prague Ruzyne Civil and Military Airport.

"If, by the Warsaw Pact, we were aggressors in Czechoslovakia, what are now our soldiers engaged in NATO missions in Iraq or Afghanistan!" Exclaims the former officer.

Pentcho Valkov, a contractor from Drianovo (center) who had served under his command, kept on his chest a small scar left by a rebel bullet that had touched him during an unexpected shot from a house near the airport. "I hid, I was not allowed to respond to fire," he says.

A young 18-year-old recruit in charge of the connections, he said he had not known until the last moment that he was going to be sent to Czechoslovakia in full boiling.

- 'Go home!' -
Its infantry section, normally based on the Bulgarian-Turkish border, first carried out training in "patrols and fighting in built-up areas" before being transferred by plane to Ukraine, then a Soviet republic, on July 28, 1968. .

"We were flying very low on the Black Sea, 200-300 meters, not to be spotted by Turkish radars (NATO)." We were surprised to find ourselves in Kalmia, in the region of Ivano -Frankivsk in western Ukraine, "says Gospodin Tchonkov, who commanded a platoon of transmissions.

A detour made necessary by the fact that Romania had distinguished itself from its Warsaw Pact allies by refusing to support the crushing of the "Prague Spring", and had not authorized an overflight of its territory.

Armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, the Bulgarian military learned the object of their mission only when they were on a plane for Prague at dawn on 21 August 1968.

"A commander explained that + the Czechoslovakian brothers were calling for help +, and that it was worse than a war + because we could expect shots from everywhere," says Mr Valkov. Those who were "afraid" were invited to come forward, but no one dared, he recounts.

Deployed at Ruzyne airport, the Bulgarian soldiers do not take long to understand that they are not welcome.

"Young people demonstrated in front of the airport entrance with banners in Russian + Idit domoi! + (" Go home! "), Testifies Mr. Tchonkov, it was the first time we saw a civil protest" .

- Back in heroes -
"Two nights in a row, tracer shots hit us from the airport road, and on the third night we chased the attackers by shooting in the air," recalls Colonel Banov. "But we never shot a Czech," he says.

Relatively isolated from the dramatic events taking place in the center of the Czech capital, MM. Valkov and Tchonkov admit that they have had few states of mind during and after their deployment in Prague. Especially since a soldier of their company was killed on 9 September, in circumstances that have never been disclosed.

"I did not ask to go, I was executing orders, I did not shoot a bullet," said Valkov.

"The propaganda had intoxicated us, we were convinced not to fight against ordinary people, but against people who wanted to detach Czechoslovakia from the socialist community," said Tchonkov.

But the memory of this intervention remains alive, he admits. Ten years ago, for the 40th anniversary of the intervention in Prague, he had gathered a dozen of his former brothers in arms and offered them T-shirts representing a Kalashnikov from which a Bulgarian rose.

On their return, the Bulgarian soldiers marched in hero, acclaimed by the population. A three-day leave was granted to them, as well as the opportunity to register at the university without passing an exam, a rare privilege at the time.

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