Long Road

Illegal Emigrants

Thirty years ago it had been very  different. This path had been trod by frightened people. Not in broad autumn sunshine but at night. Citizens of the Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia desperate to escape shortages, secret police and lack of choice.

Then in their way all along this path were barbed wire, watch towers, brutal guards and snarling dogs. To get from Valtice, the local town to the Austrian border you have to pass the magnificent  Palladian Colonnade ,one of the several magnificent folies de grandeur built by the Baroque barons  Liechtenstein. But thirty years ago few were on the tourist trail. They were walking in hope towards a new life.

Today from the ridge there is the peaceful view of  endless vineyards, tilled fields, criss crossed with farmers tracks and small lanes rolling out of Moravia into Lower Austria. In pure EU style the border today is marked by a play tower,a sand pit and a barbeque oven.

I was with my Czech  cousin Irena. She escaped in 1968. As I was swinging in London she was forging documents and taking her chance in the short moment when the border was still relatively open. Dubcek had come back from Moscow with bad news. The Prague spring was going to become  the Moscow winter. The tanks  rolled and the barbed wire would  be back in place for the next twenty years. Irena took her chance, but all  these years later could not fail to be moved by the memories. In August 1968 300,000 Czechs left the country.

Nearby there is the Museum of the Iron Curtain. Predictably on the day we visited, it was closed. Unlike the institution it commemorates the Museum  does open at weekends.

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One Response to Long Road

  1. David of Bedchester says:

    Very chilling; very Le Carre.

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