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Our Source: Navratil, Jaromir. "The
Prague Spring 1968". Hungary: Central European Press, 1998, pp. 37-41
Original Source: Sb. KV, Z/M 3; Vondrova & Navratil, vol. 1. pp. 35-39
Translated by: Mark Kramer, Joy Moss and Ruth Tosek
Comment: This document records a secret meeting between the leader of the Hungarian Socialist Worker’s Party, Janos Kadár and Alexander Dubček two weeks after the latter’s election to first party secretary of the CPCz. It also is a description back to the Party on what impression Dubček did on him.
About six to eight days ago, a message arrived from Cde. Dubček. This was followed by a meeting that was actually held in two places. [The first accommodation at Nové Zamky did not meet the requirements so the meeting was moved to a lodge near Topolcianky]
The atmosphere was very pleasant, and our discussions were very frank. One of the things that Cde. Dubček mentioned is that there was not another person in the world with whom he would have been able to discuss the same subjects in the same manner, for obvious reasons...
...It must be pointed out that Cde. Dubček, whom I know well by the way, made a very good impression on me insofar as he showed no sign of smugness or arrogance. On the contrary, one could say just the opposite: He is even a bit annoyed that they decided to elect him, of all people; he has misgivings, feels the burden of his responsibility, and is deeply concerned.
In my considered judgment, Cde. Dubček is a communist on every major issue without exception, and he maintains high principles. This is noticeable even in subjective matters, for example in his assessment of Cde. Novotný. There is no sign of hatred or anything of the kind.
On the basis of all this, even though our talk was almost exclusively a kind of interference in Czech affairs-after all, we spoke of nothing else - it must be said that our talk was correct and comradely....
The first subject of our conversation, though other political issues were covered as well, centered for some two hours on my recent and current invitations. From the discussion I learned that at the time-and this is connected with the attitude to the present meeting - Cde. Novotný had not mentioned a single word to the Presidium or the Secretariat about his invitation to Cde. Brezhnev and me.... This, in part, explains why Cde. Brezhnev’s visit was received with such unease even by the leadership. In short, they found out that he was coming only after he had already arrived.
Besides, during our entire talks I had the distinct impression that Cde. Dubček felt he had to come up with an explanation. It appears that he is worried about how he is perceived internationally in the context of certain matters. He spoke about that at great length so that he could display his working methods on a trivial issue, but then he spoke a great deal about the political circumstances preceding the entire affair and explained at which point he first clashed with Cde. Novotný.
I told him that our Politburo took a positive view of their decision, its features and nature, and the communiqué, and that we believed, given the situation, it was the best that could have been done. I made it quite clear how pleased I was that the communiqué spoke in favorable terms about Cde. Novotný, since this was of great political importance. It was politically significant in general because it revealed how the socialist countries were treating such matters. I told him that it was the same as the question we bad discussed with the Soviet comrades when Khrushchev was removed. I said that we were pleased about Cde. Dubček’s election and that we congratulated him and wished him good health and success in his work, but I recalled also what I bad decided to do on my own, namely, to greet him straightaway by saying: our congratulations, but please also accept our condolences.
I further told him that be must try to understand Cde. Brezhnev and avoid any misunderstanding. I added that if be bad spoken to me in the same circumstances, be should be aware that I would have had the same opinion that Cde. Brezhnev did when be told him: "Yes, the posts must be separated, but not now, under pressure; instead, it should be done at a suitable moment, on the basis of a united stance of the Politburo. Let Cde. Novotný himself make a proposal to that effect". To this Dubček replied that be bad been of a similar opinion when the question first arose-not today, but approximately a year ago. However, the situation bad now reached the point where the matter could no longer be postponed. Had they continued dragging their feet, the waves of discontent might have submerged the whole party. That is why be changed his mind and came out in favor of separating the posts.
He also said that although be supported what bad happened, be bad not wanted to be elected himself. A nominating commission bad drawn up a list with five names: Lenárt, Černik, Kolder, Štrougal, and his own. Members of the nominating commission bad a preliminary talk with him. He asked not to be proposed as a candidate because be bad on several occasions advocated the separation of the posts and be did not want to give the wrong impression. Finally, be agreed with the nominating commission to propose him as a candidate but only as fifth in order of preference. The election proceeded in such a way that a vote was initially taken on the first candidate on the list, then on the second, until the time came for his own nomination to be considered, and that was the one that the Central Committee passed unanimously. He immediately added that even now be realized the election bad not been very good, especially considering that their party bad existed since 1921 and a Slovak had never been first secretary before; this might create problems in his party.
He then stressed that the change in no way implied a modification of the party's line in either domestic or foreign policy; on this score there was absolute unity in the Central Committee.
He pointed out that although there had been several items on the agenda, including the problem of the Slovaks, this bad not been a nationality-based issue. Of the Central Committee that elected him, some 85 percent were of Czech origin.
He then dealt at length and in detail-and this was really the main problem be bad wanted to raise-with the causes and origin of the situation. He spoke in general about Cde. Novotný’s erroneous working methods but emphasized that, of course, the party is a political institution, and even though problems existed with regard to working methods, the main issue always concerned policy. He added that be bad several times clashed with Cde. Novotný, but always about matters of policy. He spoke about those issues in detail, and they are all fairly important.
He recalled four or five policy problems that were discussed mainly in Presidium circles. He had opposed Cde. Novotný’s proposals and remarks, but be had always been isolated in the Presidium 'He had been the one to raise various matters, but had always remained in a minority. In this context be mentioned an interesting thing: When the Central Committee reached its decision, Cde. Novotný also congratulated him and said that Cde. Dubček is the only one who stood up on various matters and who highlighted his mistakes.
What were the matters under discussion? The first clash between them occurred on the question of rehabilitation, about which there bad been a long debate. Dubček was a secretary of the CPCz Central Committee at the time. The Presidium bad set up three commissions to deal with rehabilitation matters and be was the head of one of these. The other two commissions declared that the questions they were to discuss were closed, whereas his commission stated that the matter was not closed because measures bad to be taken. The crux of the issue was that there was unanimity about the need for full state rehabilitation of all who bad been unjustly convicted in trials that violated the law, and that this would be the end of the whole matter. Dubček and his supporters argued that these people must also be rehabilitated as members of the party and the movement, because otherwise the whole thing would be no more than a half-hearted gesture. This was an issue they bad been discussing for some two years. Dubček then recalled how the matter bad been under discussion in the Presidium, and Cde. Novotný bad left for Košice where be made a speech declaring his own view that those who bad been executed deserved civil rehabilitation but could not be rehabilitated along party lines because they bad committed mistakes as party members.
After that the entire matter was raised in the Central Committee, which decided to give instructions for party rehabilitation. In the discussion Cde. Novotný was asked to adopt an official stance in the name of the Central Committee, but be declared this was something be would never do.
'The second argument and confrontation come partly over the same matter. It was on the question of Bacílek. Someone pointed out that at the time of the trials Bacílek had been minister of the interior. Many people attacked Bacílek, and it became clear that be bad to be dismissed as first secretary in Slovakia. Novotný firmly defended him. The Presidium even adopted a resolution demanding Bacílek’s dismissal, but on the condition that be and someone else might be members of the Slovak Politburo. Cde. Dubček had argued a great deal at the time, but in the end the Presidium decided that this was how things should be. To explain this, Dubček added that material discovered from the time of the trials bad made it clear that when Bacílek was interior minister be bad praised Cde. Novotný in one of his speeches, saying Novotný was someone who had done a great deal to expose the enemy. At the time, Novotný was the Prague first secretary and secretary of the Central Committee. In the discussion about Bacílek, Novotný had said something to the effect that you are going to regret this because you, too, will discover that you might need Bacílek.
After that there was the Slovak Congress where the atmosphere was such that it was impossible to propose Bacílek, and in fact no one did. That is why be did not get onto the Politburo. "The following day Dubček wanted to tell Novotný on the telephone why it bad not been possible to carry out his proposal, but Cde. Novotný interrupted him by saying, "Very well, everything is clear," and be slammed down the receiver.
The third such major dispute concerned economic questions at a time when problems bad arisen in connection with the decision to transform the Five-Year Plan into a Seven-Year Plan. This decision was preceded by stormy arguments. Cde. Dubček bad been against the idea because be felt it would achieve nothing and the situation would not improve, which is precisely what happened later on.
The fourth such dispute concerned Slovakia. The perpetual debate about how to develop the backward regions of the country bad turned into an argument between Slovaks and Czechs because there are two economically backward areas in the country, and one of these is in Slovakia. (The other is in the German border region.) 'Here are numerous Congress decisions about the development of Slovakia, but a struggle has been going on for years within the party leadership between those who want to develop Slovakia and those who prefer concentrating on the Sudeten area, putting forward proposals for that area. For example, the latter group wanted factories that were under construction in Košice to be relocated to the Sudeten, even though there were no favorable conditions in these parts. There was no suitable manpower and that is why they wanted to move 50,000 families there from Slovakia. Cde. Dubček opposed such proposals, and as a result he was labeled a Slovak nationalist.
In the end the whole matter was placed on the agenda in accordance with the Presidium's decisions referring to the need for improvement in the party's working methods. But a conflict arose around this question. In the discussion on the party's working methods it was argued that party cells were not functioning properly. It was further argued that the party itself was not working properly and that this was the reason for the deficient work of party cells. It was also claimed that the government was not performing well, yet the government had no authority. During the discussion Cde. Dubček said it was the Central Committee and the Presidium that were performing badly and that this was the cause of the deficient work of party cells.
We also spoke with Cde. Dubček about their future program and about what they intended to do now. It is a fact that the entire working program of the Central Committee needs to be reformulated because it also introduces the proposal to place the question of technical development on the agenda at the beginning of March. Although this is a serious matter, now is not the time to deal with it.
After that I "interfered in internal affairs" in a subtle manner. This happened to be possible at the time, and I warned them against certain things. I said that the unity of the people and the working class and the unity of the party are naturally very important, but he should bear in mind that this, too, has a mechanism of its own. The people cannot be united if the party that unites them is itself divided. The party cannot be united if the Central Committee is not united, and the Central Committee can hardly be united if there is no unity in the Presidium. This is what I recommended: Forget the arguments that have taken place. I said: There is, for example, your celebrated vote of 5:5. The whole world knows about it. In this connection I would suggest that you not use this to determine your allegiances, because you may well be in for a surprise. It is possible that there were honest people among the five who did not want the posts to be separated right away, and it is also possible that the other five included some who wanted the separation for goodness knows what reason. Here I recalled the example of Khrushchev at the exhibition of paintings. Dubček, too, gave examples of various people who were genuinely tormented by the question of whether the posts should be separated or not. I said: There is only one good way for you to find out that holds what principles. Progressive proposals must be submitted and then see that votes in favor of them. I suggested that they act in a humane manner and stop worrying about who voted when for what, but that they should show no mercy because otherwise progress will be impossible.
Among the concrete issues I mentioned was the nationality question. They, too, had discussed the matter and agreed that a federation was a reactionary idea. I said I did not want to meddle in their affairs, but I asked whether there exists a Slovak nation. He said "no," because these people already talk in Czech but they have a different mentality. I replied that when viewing the whole situation in this light, one had the impression that one leg of the state was longer than the other. If there was a Slovak National Council why wasn't there a Czech one, or if there was a Slovak Central Committee, why wasn't there a Czech one, and a Czechoslovak entity above the two? One might wonder: If the name of the state is the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, should the whole construction really be changed? And one would have to see whether the Slovak Central Committee really could be regarded as a governing body. One Slovak Central Committee has, in fact, been doing nothing.
Cde. Dubček then spoke of the position of writers in his country. That issue, too, had bolstered their fears that if they continued to drag their feet the party would no longer be in a position to retain control of matters. There had been the Writers' Congress. Imagine, comrades, that 75% of the Writers' Union are party members, and not just any kind of party members: Many are veteran members of the party and former partisans, and for eight months they have not managed to give the Writers' Union proper leadership. No one wants to take over the leadership.
I reminded Cde. Dubček of one other international matter. I said: You must show great patience. Our Politburo has adopted the position I mentioned regarding your decision, but on the international scene there are different opinions and I do not know whether you are aware of these. The election of Dubček was not received with wild enthusiasm. This must be accepted and accepted calmly, it would be wrong to take offense. The way you must view this is that those people are not aware of the circumstances and do not know your stance on various matters. Once they get to know this, they will assess matters accordingly.
Yesterday, when I consulted Cdes. Komócsin and Erdélyi, it occurred to me that it would be necessary to contact Cde. Brezhnev. I called him and briefly told him the essence of the matter. He said he thought it was good that the meeting bad taken place and thanked me for informing him."
Cde. Zoltán Komócsin: We naturally do not wish to interfere in their affairs, but we are able to help by taking advantage of these favorable political and personal opportunities.
The political crisis, as well as the crisis in the leadership that has been fermenting for some time, have now come out into the open; but, as demonstrated also by reports, the actual burden of work is only just beginning Cde. Dubček will not have it easy, and in fact the Czech comrades have not yet overcome the bulk of their difficulties. They have to grapple with a series of problems of a political nature, and here we are able to offer reasonable assistance.