Jan Kren was 38 years old in 1968, a rising star in the Communist Party. As chairman of the history department at the Prague party college, he served as a close adviser to National Assembly chairman Josef Smrkovsky. In 1977, Mr. Kren signed Charter 77. He now installs water pipes for a construction company. On weekends, he retreats to his country home in Sazava outside of Prague to pursue his academic work. Western publishers have published three of his histories on German-Czech relations. ``When the Soviets arrived, it was the end of socialism in Czechoslovakia. We were shocked. We were angry. We felt hopeless. When the interrogation committee summoned me, I instead handed back my [party] card.
``It seems to me that Gorbachev doesn't want reform here. He wants an obedient government, a government that gives him no problems. The West also wants stability. As my friend Smrkovsky told me right after the invasion, `We are in a Soviet game preserve, and it is accepted by the entire world.'''
Ivan Klima was one of the leading lights of the liberal Union of Writers, who dared demand an end to censorship. After the invasion, his books were banned, and he was forced to publish in samizdat. Now 56 years old, Mr. Klima's ``My First Loves'' was translated into English and released last year to rave reviews.
``I spent 1969 in the United States. I came back because being a writer in emigration is dangerous. You lose your language, your roots. Throughout the 1970s, I sent my books to publishers. They replied, `This book doesn't suit our plans.' The real problem, of course, was political.
``After 20 years, there are not many good writers left here. The situation goes slowly. It is dependent on what happens in the Soviet Union. But there are changes. I soon will publish my first book officially, a nonpolitical children's book.''
Ivan Krempa joined the Communist Party during World War II and fought in the Soviet Army to liberate his native Slovakia from the Nazis. Son of a poor peasant farmer, he received an education from the party and paid it back with unwavering support after the Soviet invasion. He is now 61 years old and a director at the Institute for Marxism and Leninism.
``All four of my brothers remained in the party. In 1968, we only had words. We needed results. I don't think what Mr. Gorbachev is doing now is the same as we did then. It's impossible to compare the wishes of history with the reforms of today.
``Czechoslovakia has much more of a bourgeois tradition than the Soviet Union. The petit bourgeois were trying to move time back to before the war. We needed help from the Warsaw Pact. It was not an invasion.''
Juraj Janosovsky was a 15-year-old junior high school student on Aug. 20, 1968. He remembers three lone Soviet soldiers occupying his hometown of Trnava. Other witnesses dispute this: They say the invading half-million Soviet troops never traveled in such small numbers. Mr. Janosovsky is now director of the Central Committee of the Socialist Union of Youth and a fierce opponent of the reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
``The Soviet soldiers didn't want to frighten us. I remember listening to the radio. My mother came home and said, `God, what will happen?' I feared a catastrophe. But then there was peace and calm.
``There are lots of people who argue that now we should do everything the Soviets do [in carrying out reform]. I don't agree. If the Soviets build houses in Siberia with small windows to withstand the cold, they say we also should build houses with small windows in Czechoslovakia.''
The Rev. Vaclav Maly is a Roman Catholic priest whose official license was canceled. He now faces a two-year prison sentence if he wears clerical garb or serves communion. A Charter 77 activist, he has worked for years as a stoker in the boiler room of a small hotel.
``In 1968, I was 18 and in my final year at high school. We were the last generation to be interested in politics. We debated everything. I was about the only practicing Christian. My friends would tease me.
``After '68, people were so disappointed. They lost the trust in communists. They stopped believing.
``Now there is a religious revival. This is not Poland. There are not crowds. But more and more young people are coming to church, accepting faith.
``Gorbachev is no democrat. He is a shrewd, educated manager, an enlightened czar. He will not give us our freedom. We have to win our own freedom. Some independent groups have organized - Catholics, ecologists, pacifists. But it is a slow process. Never has the gap between society and the power been so great.''