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Observations by Czechoslovak Escort-Guides on the Views of Foreign Delegations Attending the Celebrations of the “February Revolution”, February 1968
Our Source: Navratil,
Jaromir. "The Prague Spring 1968". Hungary: Central European Press,
1998, pp. 55-57
Original Source: ÚSD, AÚV KSČ, F. 07/15; Vondrová & Navrátil, vol. 1, pp. 54-62
Translated by: Mark Kramer, Joy Moss and Ruth Tosek
Comment: As the celebration of the February Revolution started delegation had arrived from all Warsaw Pact countries. This document contains the observations made by those who escorted these comrades.
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union
During their visit to our country, members of the CPSU delegation – including members of the political entourage as well as officials from the Soviet Embassy – expressed their total confidence in our party's Central Committee and in Cde. Dubček. They did so both during their toasts and in discussions with us. They said they were convinced that things in our country would settle down, that relations between our parties and peoples would in no way be jeopardized, and that the CPCz, which enjoys great authority in the international communist movement, would continue to enjoy this authority provided it advances on an internationalist Marxist road. However, they also pointed to certain developments in our public and political life that provoked their astonishment, fears, and concern. Some of these were directly connected with the situation after the January plenum; others dated further back.
For example, they were astonished by the well-known appearance of Prof. Goldstücker on television and by the manner in which the publication of Literární listy was launched; they wondered why it was possible that the so-called preliminary issue of the magazine was circulated along with Rudé právo. In general, they argued that Rudé právo was too liberal, and that it gave space to a variety of views that were often directly contrary to the views of the party. They made adverse comments about articles by some of our leading comrades that dealt with the results of the January session, claiming that each of them interpreted the results in their own way, and so forth.
The delegation received Cde. Gomulka to its residence, and several of our leading comrades also had discussions with its members. Since none of the staff of the International Department was ever present at these talks, we are unable to report on them.
Socialist Unity Party
Comrades Dubček, J. Hendrych, Oldřich Černik, Josef Špaček, and L. Štrougal, as well as an official of the CPCz Central Committee International Department, bad talks with the delegation on various occasions. The conversations were mainly critical toward us and covered all aspects of CPCz and ČSSR policy.
In connection with Cde. Ulbricht's remark about the continuing discussion on the draft of a new GDR Constitution
/…/, Cde. Ulbricht was astonished that we intend to modify certain articles of our socialist Constitution since, as he said, only a relatively short period of time has passed since it was adopted. In this context he mentioned an article by Cde. Slavík, featured in Rudé právo, in which the author demands a greater democratization of Czechoslovak public life and the restoration of civil rights. He had felt consternation when reading the translation of the article by a member of the CPCz Central Committee. (Cde. Ulbricht said they were thoroughly informed about everything, even about the latest sessions of the CPCz Central Committee sessions.) According to Ulbricht, the article must be characterized as advocating the demand of the restitution of bourgeois rights, or at least as a demand to return to the situation that bad been settled by the national democratic revolution in 1945.
According to Cde. Ulbricht, Czechoslovak journalism, but, above all, articles by Czechoslovak writers were frequently a tool for Bonn's global strategy against the socialist countries. For example, an article by Pavel Kohout in the Hamburg Die Zeit, later published also in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, contained instructions for activities against the GDR ("Anleitung fur die Handlung gegen die Regierung"). Citizens of the GDR are being acquainted with such ideas by West German television. The SED does not react to such articles and does not place them in their right perspective. It acts on the principle that the CPCz is responsible for reacting to them.
In a subsequent discussion Cde. Hendrych raised certain questions and spoke about the situation on the cultural front and about a certain crystallization of activity among writers.
Cde. Ulbricht again stressed that Czechoslovak writers were essentially espousing an anti-socialist platform. They speak defensively about capitalist countries, attempting some kind of false objectivity. They admire the West, and that provides grist for the mill of Bonn's global strategists. He stated his doubts about the possibility of uniting our working class with those types of intellectuals. He even went so far as to claim it would be absolutely impossible. In this context he had harsh words to say about the Hungarian writer Lukács and the fact that he was readmitted to the HSWP – even though this was the affair of the HSWP, as he noted. (Cde. Ulbricht’s preferred tactic is to offer severe Criticism of conditions, because in conclusion he can always add that the solution of this or that problem is of course the affair of the specific party in question.) He said Lukács had been a revisionist as far back as the days of the Weimar Republic.
Despite a host of critical remarks on a number of questions in various spheres of our life, the members of the SED delegation said that Ulbricht was very pleased by our country. It was evident that the section in Cde. Dubček’s report devoted to the GDR had achieved its aim. However, the situation changed considerably on the last evening of the delegation's stay in the ČSSR on returning from the Soviet reception where its members had a discussion with Cde. Černik.
At first we were unable to find out exactly whether the delegation's fury had been caused by the discussion with Černik (because we did not know its content), or whether there had been other causes. One could merely hear a few agitated phrases such as "it is clear that it's useless to try to do anything with them," etc. Later on, when Ulbricht had left, we tried to find out the reason for the agitated discussion.
It appears that the main cause had been two words – recognition of the GDR – additionally handwritten in Cde. Novotný’s speech which he made at the Old Town Square demonstration. W. Krolikowski, a member of the delegation, told us in a discussion we had that it was "symptomatic of our position that the president of the republic himself did not even see fit to include in his speech such an important formulation as the demand for recognition of the GDR, and that it was added only when some official had drawn his attention to this." We tried in vain to convince Cde. Krolikowski that this had been no more than a technical hitch.
The episode demonstrates that the SED delegation, especially its leaders, adopted a highly critical attitude toward the situation in the ČSSR while they were here, and openly stated their concern about future developments in our country.
Yugoslav League of Communists
Against all expectations, the Yugoslav delegation did not ask obtrusive questions about the outcome of the most recent sessions of the CPCz Central Committee and about matters directly connected with it – at least not in the conversations where I was present, or in which I participated – but it was evident that they were well informed about our problems and that they were observing developments in the ČSSR very closely. Their comments were aimed at grasping the general context of events. Cde. Siljegovin had more to say about current problems. He evaluated present Czechoslovak developments most favorably and frequently stressed that they corresponded to the objective possibilities of our country as the generally most advanced socialist country with deeply-rooted democratic traditions. It was, therefore, logical that it was making the greatest progress in the democratization process, greater than 'Yugoslavia, where opposing traditions still go very deep.
Both comrades highly appreciated Cde. Dubček’s speech at the festive session as well as his address on the Old Town Square. /.../
Polish United Workers' Party
The conversations among members of the delegation and their entourage (if they took place in my presence) do not allow me to draw a conclusion on their attitude to the outcome of the December and January CPCz Central Committee sessions other than that it is full of reservations.
Immediately upon his arrival Cde. Gomulka asked to make a telephone call to Cde. Brezhnev and, after talking to him, left with Cde. Gierek for the Soviet delegation's residence, where he spent nearly two hours. Most of Cde. Gomulka’s official meetings were with Cde. Brezhnev throughout his stay here: He talked to him for about 20 minutes before the festive session at the Castle on 22 February and then again at the reception following the session. Cde. Gomulka spent the whole time (more than an hour) in conversation with a group initially including Dubček, Brezhnev, Ulbricht, and Kádár. In the end, only Brezhnev, Gomulka, and Kádár were left at the table, and they were engaged in an agitated conversation (Gomulka especially seemed upset), which went on for about 40 minutes. Upon leaving for his residence Cde. Gomulka told the other members of his delegation: "l have worked so hard, slaved away, and explained more than at any mass gathering. But I have managed to convince them." When I later tried to find out what the conversations had been about, one member of the entourage intimated that they had probably spoken about the proposals of the Soviet comrades that the Budapest meeting should be a preliminary gathering and should be followed soon afterwards by a further consultative meeting in Warsaw." Cde. Gomulka was against these proposals, arguing that the Budapest meeting should be sufficient for consultations and that a world conference should follow after a longer period of time.
At the celebrations I met the special ADN correspondent who had come to Prague with the SED delegation; in reply to my direct question what the GDR delegation thought about the latest developments in our country and the changes taking place, he replied that in a conversation about these matters Cde. Ulbricht had said: "This is going to happen to me, too. It will now be my turn."
Conversations with members of the entourage of the Soviet delegation (Cde. Kolesnikov and Cde. Brezhnev’s secretary) focused solely on routine topics." Even so, they confirmed the detailed information the Soviet comrades bad of everything going on in our country, including minor and totally insignificant personnel transfers in the CPCz Central Committee apparatus.
The Romanian Communist Party
Cde. Ceauşescu did not comment about the proceedings of the 2Oth anniversary of the February victory celebrations nor about any of the speeches. Only when giving a general outline of the policy of the Romanian CP did he remark, with a touch of indignation, that "instead of fighting for the liquidation of military blocs they are speaking about strengthening the bloc, even here in Prague – this is incomprehensible!"
The Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party
When talking amongst themselves the Hungarian comrades on principle did not comment on current Czechoslovak problems. It is worth mentioning only an unspecified remark by Cde. Kádár that the departure of officials of long standing did, after all, make one feel sad.
Shortly before leaving Prague, in the car Cde. Kádár spoke to me for about 10 minutes about the problems connected with the forthcoming meeting of Communist and workers' parties and about his participation in the February celebrations. He emphasized the complicated situation in the international communist movement and said that under the present conditions one can hardly expect a united stance (even in the form of a declaration or appeal) on the issues under discussion. Nowadays it was essential to devise a new concept a of those meetings as outlets for an exchange of opinions, rather than to insist on declaring formal unity at a time when it was evident there was no such unity. As an example he mentioned the Moscow meeting in 1960.