Václav Valeš

* 1949

  • "And suddenly... suddenly... we couldn't breathe in our SKOT (armoured personnel carrier). We could smell the tear gas, we were choking, so the driver in front stopped, we opened the back door, because as squad leaders we were sitting right by the door. We jumped out, the guys were climbing out, even out of the trapdoor that were above it, and then the guns, the equipment started to fall, as they were jumping out, even heads first, as they were choking... so behind the SKOT a pile of the material emerged... as I say, even guns, machine guns, it was all there... My colleague and I, who were the first ones out, we were just standing there looking at it, we didn't know what was happening. And the last guy came out, he came out, stopped there and we all froze. Because he... like I had said about the tear gas grenades, he had them in his pocket and he activated them in advance and the grenades caught fire, exploded... so it [the car] was instantly filled... but the worst part was... the boy got out and he was standing there naked, burnt. He was just in his jacket, which was burnt, and bottom, because the grenades were in his pocket... he was burnt, he was black... and now... and that's the worst part... the people who were standing and looking out the windows started clapping... they were clapping... they were making fun of it... that was the worst experience... sorry..."

  • "And the garrison... because our squads had thinned out terribly... because [the soldiers] were bruised and they were all over the hospitals... so I was left in that SKOT (armoured personnel carrier) with the driver and it was me with eight guys, I think. And the commander of that intervention put us... looking down from the top, from the Museum, at the statue of St. Wenceslas... so next to it, right next to it, there were trees then, I think they're back again... so we were left standing there. In the evening, at ten, eleven, something like that, I don't know exactly. We were standing there and people couldn´t get there anymore, it was pretty much cleared out, I guess they were in the houses too, they lived there, that's understandable. We had the door open at the back but we didn't go out much, we were just standing there, observing. Down the square, on Můstek, we kept hearing that something was going on there, and after some time a volga car came, a police volga, in those days still in blue and white colours, the old, the first, tsarina volga, and a National Security Corps officer got out of it, and now, I'm looking at him, and he has the general's twigs [rank symbols, trans.], and he came and said: 'Comrade soldiers, who is in charge here? ' And I say, 'Me, comrade general.' - 'Comrade lance corporal, do you have bullets, live ones?' And I say, 'We do.' - 'Get ready. It's pushing in again from Můstek. The President, General Svoboda, or President Svoboda, has given permission to use live ammunition...'"

  • "Twenty or thirty meters below the statue of St. Wenceslas, the cars stopped, we got out of those... armoured personnel carriers (acr. SKOT) they were, type sixty-four at the time... we got out of those armoured carriers, in our service caps... scared again, what was going on, and we were ordered to stand across the whole width of Wenceslas Square. And now there was a crowd of ten thousand people in front of us, who, when they saw us, fell silent. And we were ordered to move forward. So the cars were driving slowly and we were going. We were armed with batons, and we were armed with more tear... not hand grenades, it was something like... well, yeah, they were paper tubes about fifteen centimetres long, they were marked, I don't know the number now, the abbreviation, but I know that there was written hundred something, that there was a hundred, and they were Polish-made. And it was torn off at the top, the strip tore off, and that's when it was armed and it could be thrown and it tore open and tear powder came out. And sometimes it happened that it went off in our hand, some of our colleagues... it opened up your fist, but nothing happened, just the hand was swollen, the palm. So we were armed with that and we were ordered to push those people out of Wenceslas Square. Well, we were very shocked and we were wearing the service caps...the crowd became silent and suddenly they started shouting at us: 'Green Gestapo, get off to the woods!'"

  • "August 21, 1968... that day we slept, there was wake-up call, we went for breakfast and a discussion, and then we learned that the so-called liberation troops of the friendly armies had entered our republic. We, young guys, nineteen years old, were shocked by that, but not only us, probably also the older ones who were there, and especially the officers in command. So we spent the whole day, the second day, mostly outside our quarters on the grass listening to the transistor radio, just to know about the situation a little bit. It was partly boredom, partly concern and fright as to what was going on. Well, about the second day, the third day, I don't remember exactly, the morning muster was called and with all the field gear and the weapons we had got, we arrived, or were taken, to the local football field where the battalion commander, Colonel Pareský was in command. After line-up and aligning us into formations - I should point out that there could have been... there were gunmen, there were dog handlers, there were mechanics, driver boys, cooks and so on... so there could have been about three hundred of us, plus the command, and that's where Comrade Colonel Pareský informed us about the fact that... and I can literally hear him exactly even today... when he was saying: 'Soldiers, we have been attacked by the occupying troops of the friendly armies. I condemn it, it is an unacceptable act against our republic.'"

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Plzeň, 22.04.2021

    duration: 01:41:42
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Plzeň, 30.04.2021

    duration: 01:43:55
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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If we were civilians, we’d be standing on the other side

Václav Valeš in 1969 as a soldier of the Border Guard
Václav Valeš in 1969 as a soldier of the Border Guard
photo: Witness´s archive

Václav Valeš was born on 28 April 1949 in a small village of Chotiná in the Pilsen region. He grew up in a family with five children, his father was a carpenter and his mother worked in a local cooperative farm. Václav trained as a machinist, worked briefly at the Škoda factory in Plzeň and in the summer of 1968 was called up for compulsory military service. After recruitment he was assigned to the Border Guard unit in Nýrsko. There he underwent basic training and for the next two years he was to guard the western border of socialist Czechoslovakia. The date of his military oath had been set for 21 August 1968, but on the same day Czechoslovakia was occupied by Warsaw Pact troops and the situation changed completely. Václav Valeš took part in modest protests of the then nineteen-year-old recruits, but he also heard the battalion commander’s undisguised disapproval of the occupation. He also experienced threats from the Soviet occupiers directed at the Czech soldiers. In January 1969, without further explanation, Václav Valeš was transferred to the Ruzyně barracks in Prague, where he spent several days in inactivity together with other Border Guard soldiers. Only later did he learn that they were to be deployed to suppress possible riots during Jan Palach’s funeral. The same situation repeated itself in August of the same year, and they were again taken to Prague, but this time they were ordered to intervene. Mass protests against the occupation broke out in Prague and Václav Valeš was one of the soldiers who were intervening in the centre of the capital. To this day, he has not fully come to terms with the situation he found himself in, and he has also found it difficult to cope with the painful memories of those days. In the second year of the military service, he was transferred to the Border Guard Company in Folmava, and to be able to shorten the service in the army, he signed up for service with the police (then called the Public Security). He spent eight years as a loe rank police officer in the streets of Pilsen and then, until 2000, worked in the passport and visa department in Pilsen. After 1989, he successfully passed the background checks, but 1997 brought him problems. At that time, as head of the passport and visa department in Plzeň, he was accused of abusing the power of a public official, specifically of issuing a false passport. He denied the accusation as false, and his guilt was not proven even during the trial. However, the increasingly protracted time until the trial started, the media coverage of the case and the impossibility to defend himself effectively brought him much frustration and he subsequently decided to leave the police force. He is now (2021) retired and living with his family in Pilsen.