Ian Berry: Prague 1968 • Ian Berry • Magnum Photos

Magnum Pro

Editorial Cultural Commercial Search Image Archive

Welcome to the New Magnum Photos Site

Explore the award-winning storytelling work of Magnum photographers here, or head to Magnum Pro to search and license photos from Magnum’s acclaimed image archive.

CONTINUE TO NEW SITE
SEARCH PHOTO ARCHIVE IN MAGNUM PRO
Conflict

Ian Berry: Prague 1968

How spirit, luck, and ingenuity meant Ian Berry was one of the only foreign photographers who made it into Prague for the Soviet-led Invasion of 1968

Ian Berry

Ian Berry A Czech anti-Russian protester wears a neutrality placard. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos

As far as I know, I was the only foreign photographer who was in Prague at the time of the Russian invasion, other than the German photographer Hilmer Pabel, who was working on a movie. I got in when everybody else was turned back, thanks to a bit of chat at the border, and some luck.

Everybody knew something was going to happen. I had a visa prepared but nothing happened and then my visa expired. I had a call from my then bureau chief in Paris to say that the Russians were moving into Czechoslovakia, and did I want to go? He said Don McCullin’s already on his way, and that was like a red rag to a bull for me, so I said “I’m on my way!”

Ian Berry Czechs shout abuse at Russian soldiers in Wenceslas Square. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos
Ian Berry The city under the barrel of a Russian tank on the first day of the invasion. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos
Ian Berry A scowling old man with his windows covered in slogans looks out onto the Russian tanks on Wenceslas Square. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos
Ian Berry A young Russian soldier relaxes next to a Russia Go Home poster in Wenceslas Square. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos

I went to the Czech embassy, got a visa, and by the time I got to Heathrow, the flight to Vienna–the obvious place to fly to–was full. But, next best thing, I got on a flight to Munich, rented a car, drove towards the border, where there was a crowd of journalists, who said, “They’re just turning everybody back, you won’t get in.”

"Apart from the officers, most of the Russian soldiers didn’t know where they were; they thought they were in Germany"

- Ian Berry

I had read on the plane that there was going to be an architect’s conference happening in Prague. I came to the border, and just as I got there, the Russians took over. I think the Russian officer wanted to show the Czechs that he was in charge, and I told him that I was going to this architects’ conference, even though I had camera bags in the back seat of the car. He wanted to show them, so he waved me in–and I was the only one to get in.

Ian Berry Russian tanks roll into Prague on the night of the invasion. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos
Ian Berry A Russian soldier chases a Czech man in Wenceslas Square. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos

As I was driving, tanks were coming the other way. I checked into the main hotel there, but the problem was everything was closed. For four days the hotel restaurant was closed, the kitchen was closed. Everything was shut down. I couldn’t get anything to eat, and I don’t speak Czech.

I was just shooting in the street while all of this was going on, the Russians coming in and the Czechs were protesting against them. Apart from the officers, most of the Russian soldiers didn’t know where they were; they thought they were in Germany.

Ian Berry A group of young Czechs harangue Russian soldiers who have invaded their city. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos

I had two cameras under my coat. I always have my jacket too big for that reason. And I just shot whatever was going on. If the Russians saw you, they would chase you, fire over your head. We would run, and the Czech crowd would fall in behind you to block the Russians following you. You’d run off down the street and somebody would grab you into a house. They just chased people. That happened to me two or three times.

"You’d run off down the street and somebody would grab you into a house"

- Ian Berry
Ian Berry Anti-Russian protestors stage a mass sit-down strike in front of the Wenceslas Statue. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos
Ian Berry A passenger in a car driving through Wenceslas Square plays Czech music on his violin in protest at the Russian invasion of the city while leaning out of the car window so everyone can hear. The s (...)

Apart from Pabel, and Czech photographers, of course, including Josef Koudelka, I had this story to myself. That was it for three or four days, and then I had a guarantee for Paris Match, so I had to file. On the fourth day other people started to get in so I left. I put all of my film in the hubcaps of my Volkswagen Beetle and inside the door panels, but when I came to the border the Russians didn’t look at me, they just waved me straight out. 

"It was night and I hadn’t slept for three or four days, so I fell asleep and wound up in a ditch "

- Ian Berry
Ian Berry Czechs listening to news of the Russian invasion on a portable radio. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos

It was night and I hadn’t slept for three or four days, so I fell asleep and wound up in a ditch in the car. Luckily, a farmer came by, went and got his tractor to pull me out and that was it – I went on to Munich. The car was a bit bent.

I caught a flight out and made the Paris Match deadline.

Ian Berry At the funeral of a young Czech man, his bother (left) and friends (one still carrying the national flag) salute him. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos
Ian Berry Mourners at the funeral of a young man killed on the first day of the invasion of Russian tanks into Prague. Prague, Czechoslovakia. 1968 © Ian Berry | Magnum Photos