Ladislav Bielik: “August 1968, Bratislava” Shows in Spazio Milano
From June 15 to July 16 Spazio Milano, the arts venue in the UniCredit Banca flagship branch on Piazza Cordusio in Milan, is showing a selection of the most significant work of Ladislav Bielik, the Slovakian photojournalist known around the world for his reportage carried out on August 21, 1968, during the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops that ended the Prague Spring.
After a successful exhibition related to Turkey, this show involving the Slovakian Republic represents the second installment of "International Dialogues", an ongoing program for which UniCredit Group and its "Milano Creativa" initiative have reserved space in the Group's flagship branch on Piazza Cordusio. The program is also part of a broader effort to encourage the creative expressions of our employees. The Bielik exhibition is of particular significance as the Group, present in 22 different countries, has a strong presence in Slovakia - one of the most vital countries in Eastern Europe - in the form of UniCredit Bank Slovakia.
The 15 photographs included in the show represent a small fraction of the film shot by Bielik on August 21, 1968, when the troops of the five nations of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia to put an end to "socialism with a human face" and the other national reforms instituted by Alexander Dubček, leader of the country's communist party. His changes represented a serious threat to the Brezhnev Doctrine, which subordinated the sovereignty of each communist state to the interests of the overall socialist system and allowed for the USSR to intervene in the event of a threat.
On the night between August 21 and 22, there was a bloodbath: 108 people died from direct or indirect impacts of the invasion.
Bielik walked the streets and took photographs that would eventually be seen across the world. Smena, the newspaper for which Bielik worked, published four of the most dramatic photographs in an extra edition on August 22. The most famous image, a man baring his chest to a tank, was republished in numerous international newspapers, including Welt am Sonntag and The New York Times, to encapsulate the situation in Czechoslovakia. The photograph has also been published in most of the comprehensive collections of 20th-century photography and was selected for the 1968-69 World Press Photo contest.
Following the publication of his photos, Bielik had to leave his job at Smena. Although his name was not printed in the newspaper and foreign press attributed the images to a different source, the Czechoslovak authorities knew he had taken the photographs. He thereafter avoided discussing the images with anyone until the day he died in 1984. His achievements received public attention only following his death, when, in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, his son Peter found in the cellar of his home a decaying old suitcase containing an envelope with 187 negatives taken on that fateful day more than twenty years earlier.
At 6 p.m. in Spazio Milano on June 15, on the occasion of the opening of this exhibition in collaboration with the Associazione Allegra, there will be a discussion with Francesco Leoncini, Professor of the History of Slavic Nations and of Central Europe at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice. The theme will be "1919-1989: Birth and Rebirth of the New Europe, from Masaryk and Štefánik to Dubček". Pierluigi Solieri of the Associazione Allegra and Stanislav Vallo, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Italy, will also speak.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Culture and the Embassy of the Republic of Slovakia
(picture: Ladislav Bielik, Bare-chested Man in front of Occupying Tank, Šafárik Square, Bratislava, August 21, 1968)