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Stenographic Account of the Dresden Meeting, March 23, 1968
Our Source: Navratil, Jaromir. "The
Prague Spring 1968". Hungary: Central European Press, 1998, pp. 64-72
Original Source: SAPMOB, ZPA, IV 2/701/778; Vondrová & Navrátil, vol. 1, pp. 73-117
Translated by: Mark Kramer, Joy Moss and Ruth Tosek
Comment: This is an excerpt of the Dresden meeting where Czechoslovak delegation had come to discuss economic matters and cooperation between the countries of the East-block. Instead, the real agenda was putting some pressure on the Czechoslovak authorities and to insure Czechoslovakia’s stand against imperialism.
/…/ Brezhnev: Unfortunately, we do not have full information on the course of the December Plenum and the January Plenum. It is, of course, no secret - one can take a look at it in the archives-that we were informed more extensively, that we ourselves informed the Politburo better, more extensively. But this time we were simply told in general terms: We had a plenum on the democratization of society. One cannot, of course, draw any conclusion from such general information. We were reserved in this case, did not ask any questions so we could not be accused of dictating anything. We were tactful. It is difficult for us to say what took place, what was meant by democratization and liberalization. By the way, when Alexander Stepanovich was with us – we once shared a ride, Comrade Podgorny, he and I – I asked: well, we understand what is meant by the democratization of the party. No secret understanding exists. Perhaps something needs to be changed. But let us clarify what you mean by the liberalization of society. I still do not understand this thesis today. How should this term be understood? What does the Politburo mean by "liberalization of society"? For 25 years you have been building socialism. Have you not had democracy until now? Or how else could this be understood? Perhaps the phrasing is not quite exact in this regard. But what do we want? This is not the worst thing. We see a danger, and we want to talk about it. Against the background of these decisions, against the background of the search for a correction of various deficiencies in policy which had existed. We do not object to that. Each party has the right to find and correct its deficiencies and mistakes; this is the obligation of each party – not to be satisfied, but to search for mistakes and shortcomings. [Against this background] a wave of public and political activities of an entire group or of entire centers has come into existence which has brought the entire public life of Czechoslovakia to counterrevolution. I would like to prove this now by stating facts. I cannot give a full account here. If it is necessary, this can be done with documents. I just would like to emphasize the fact that these questions were dealt with by the Politburo based on factual information and on the information which the Politburo received from your party. What is the main point? What main processes developed after the CC Plenum? I do not criticize the Plenum nor the Action Program, which we do not even know. This is a matter for the Czechoslovak comrades-whether or not they think it necessary to inform us or show us this program. As I said, that is their concern. But what happened in the country after the Plenum? There were public attacks on the Central Committee. This turned into a denunciation of the actions of the entire party, of all of [its] achievements and of all of its work in the past 20 to 25 years. Just look at Rudé právo. I have it here on the table. You can make a thick program of denunciations against the party out of it. And this in the central organ of the party! This runs from phrases such as "decayed society" and "outdated order" right up to demands to create a new party which will bring something more alive than the current bureaucratized police and administrative apparatus. This is the result. This went out over the entire country and the entire world. It was stated at demonstrations. It was repeated on TV. And it is also in Rudé právo. It will be reprinted in West Germany, in America, in Austria, everywhere. We can easily compile these materials for you. It is really not difficult. The second thing is the attack on the leading cadres of the party, the government, the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry or however it is called in your country, etc. Everything is denounced. But this is not only aimed at Novotny's activities. All of the activities of the government are defamed, thus Lomský was attacked as well. Of course, I do not agree with Šejna either. That is a really an embarrassing story. But this was only the immediate cause, a matter that was used to disrupt the army. I think the army is currently not combat-ready. But what kind of an army is it then that constantly holds meetings without unified command, where the ministers and military district commanders etc. do not know any longer whether they enjoy confidence or not. Radio, TV and the press have achieved this wonderfully. Or let's take the Foreign Ministry! There are personal attacks on Foreign Minister David. But dirt is thrown on all political activities and the entire foreign policy of the republic. And then the doctrine of autonomy in foreign policy was postulated: independent of the Soviet Union, of the socialist camp, etc. We have characterized individual personalities. But please allow me to point out that David worked in the underground as well. He had been secretary of the illegal Prague Committee. A good, honest communist! For 20 years he had led the fight against imperialism in cooperation and agreement with us. He appeared before the U.N. In the political arena, be was not a representative of the working class in any way. But even he was smeared with dirt to create a basis for an "independent foreign policy". In the background of this wave, in this anti-socialist background, the tendencies for a "Czech socialism" came into being. Some said: we need a Masaryk socialism, not a Marxist socialism! And what happens after that, Comrade Dubček, Comrade Černik, Comrade Lenárt? Well, what happens next? For now it is still called Masaryk socialism. What are you going to come up against during the second phase? You say: there are huge economic difficulties in Czechoslovakia. And whose fault is that? The system of socialism was to blame. Friendship with the Soviet Union, economic cooperation with the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries was to blame. A way has to be found to the West. Credits and aid in general have to be received. You stated this as a cover-up. That the prosperity of the workers must be taken care of, that is a cover-up. The policy and the goal is to disrupt and tear apart the economic cooperation. We are, of course, not of the opinion that Czechoslovakia has managed to achieve everything. Even we have not yet achieved everything. All fraternal parties are making efforts to strengthen their economics. We are helping each other. We will probably need to work for a good many years in this area until we will have reached the right level. But we must state that no situation in Czechoslovakia justifies attacks on the party and government, because such difficulties would arise that demand the abandonment of cooperation with the socialist countries, and above all with the Soviet Union, which allegedly has been robbing Czechoslovakia. That's exactly the phrase used in your country. I do not know if you have enough time to read your own press. But we are obliged to read it, and we are very concerned. This is, so to speak, the general tone. Radio, TV and press are without leadership, without guidance. You do not need any special proof for that.
The comrades themselves know this. It is perhaps a bitter truth. But if you are communists, Leninists, then you have to get to the bottom of this truth. /…/
/…/ I cannot exhaustively deal with everything that has caught the attention of our Politburo. We have spent dozens of hours analyzing the events. We have put all our other work aside, have looked at the documents, have evaluated everything from the political point of view, and have perceived the dangerous trend of events. We would like to tell you as friends: we are still convinced that the situation can be changed, that the counterrevolution can still be dealt a blow. But one needs the desire, the willpower and also the courage in order to implement the necessary actions. We have the authorization of our Politburo to express to you who are present here our hope that you will be able, under the leadership of Dubček, to change the course of events and stop these very dangerous developments. We are ready to give you moral, political and democratic support. I would be glad and happy – and our party would be as well – if I could express at the same time the support of all other parties present. But even if this is not possible. If you disagree, we still cannot remain indifferent to the developments in Czechoslovakia. We are tied to each other by ties of friendship, by commitments of an internationalist nature, by the security of the socialist countries, by the security of our countries. We have a great number of obligations which were signed by our government, and our Central Committee, as well as your government and your Central Committee, obligations which express the popular and party will. For the time being I will finish my statement./…/
/…/Wladyslaw Gomulka: Our government and our people are concerned about the situation which has developed in fraternal Czechoslovakia since the January Plenum. We consider today's meeting vital. It is necessary for us all, for the representatives of all parties in order to be able to assess by means of an exchange of opinion the situation which has developed not only in Czechoslovakia, but in our camp; and it seems to me that it is particularly necessary for the Czechoslovak comrades to hold this meeting. Our delegation agrees with the assessment which we heard from Comrade Brezhnev who stated the point of view of the Soviet delegation, the CPSU Politburo, and as we heard, this was a very thorough analysis of the situation. We are completely in agreement with this assessment. We see all the dangers, the real dangers, with which the Czechoslovak party, the Czechoslovak people are confronted, and we are of the opinion that it is still possible today to counter these dangers, I would say, in a peaceful manner, hut only with an energetic counter-offensive which, in our opinion, the leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia would have to take against the counterrevolutionary forces, against the reactionary forces which have appeared and are quite active in Czechoslovakia. It seems to me that it is impossible to say how long this would take in the current situation. Measures will have to be taken immediately, and this bas to happen very quickly. This depends, in the opinion of our delegation, particularly on an understanding of the situation, on an understanding by the leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, but above all on an understanding of the comrades of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia present [at this meeting]. We have the impression that, as the first secretary, Comrade Dubček, stated, the leadership of the communist party perhaps underestimated the dangers. Therefore we want to be clearly under- stood. We are under the same impression as the other delegations. We do not intend to interfere in domestic affairs but there are, of course, situations when so-called domestic affairs naturally become external affairs, thus affairs of the entire socialist camp. We have commonly concluded agreements, and these agreements oblige us, of course, as well, and the Czechoslovak comrades certainly will agree with this completely. But all of what happened in the ČSSR, and in a certain sense in Poland, affects in a certain way our agreements, our pacts, and requires consultations, requires that we take certain measures, frankly, in order to block the path to counterrevolution. The situation is, after all, if I understand correctly, that the Czechoslovak comrades still do not view the matter that way. This is a question, if I may say so, not just of knowing the facts, it is also a matter of experience, of one's own experience and that of others. And we have a little experience ourselves, and from of this experience conclusions must be drawn. Why shouldn't we draw conclusions from the experience which we acquired in 1956 in Poland? Why not draw conclusions from what happened in Hungary? That all began in a similar way, comrades. In our country and in Hungary everything began with the writers. It started with the Petöfi Cirele in Hungary, and it is the same [in Poland] – the intellectuals have been acting this way since 1956 – this time it was again the case with the writers. And in your country it also started with the intellectuals. Let us look at the reality of the situation correctly, as it happened. In your country it is also coming from there! And it did not start just today! Later it develops into something new. I don't want to remind you, comrades, of the student events in our country; because I have already talked about this subject very extensively before the Warsaw party activists, and there is an extensive evaluation of the situation. I have the impression that this evaluation fits your situation 90%, Czechoslovak comrades. The more you look at it and exchange some facts, the more it looks the same. It starts with the arts. Under the flag of the defense of culture and the defense of freedom, under this mask the enemy, the counterrevolution works, foreign intelligence services work. They want to stir people up and achieve their goals this way. /…/
/…/ I think what is necessary is the following: We cannot leave here without results. We have to come to certain decisions, to such decisions which are meaningful for internal and external enemies, for the counterrevolution, to decisions which unequivocally state that the counterrevolution will not succeed in Czechoslovakia, that the leadership of the Czechoslovak party and Czechoslovakia’s working class will not permit that, that Czechoslovakia’s allies, that is, those who are gathered here, will not permit it. This seems to me to be the most important conclusion which we must take from today's meeting./…/
János Kádár: /…/ I want to say that the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers' Party, the government of the Hungarian People's Republic, and our workers are preoccupied with their normal planned tasks. But I have to add that, starting with the Politburo and the Central Committee of our party, our entire public bas been intensively concerned with the situation in Czechoslovakia for two, three months. This is, after all, understandable. The people in our country are very much concerned with the situation which bas developed there, and they are also concerned with the question of what will happen. I want to move on to the subject which has been mainly dealt with here. Above all I want to express, in the name of the comrades of our party assembled here, our gratitude for the information which Comrade Dubček gave, and for the deliberations which he laid out here and with which the Czechoslovak comrades are concerned. I also consider it necessary to underline that we are, like Comrade Brezhnev and Comrade Gomulka, of the opinion that the events concern the internal affairs of the Czechoslovak party and that the right to make decisions lies with the Czechoslovak comrades, and that we of course do not have the intention to interfere in domestic affairs, and could not do so. But I would like to add that we stand by the Czechoslovak fraternal party, and the Czechoslovak people and believe and wish that the great and difficult problems which are on the agenda will be resolved successfully, and in a manner by which the Czechoslovak fraternal party and the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic will come out of this situation strengthened.... [A]nd the situation today can be justifiably characterized as a critical one. /…/ The second aspect is that the Czechoslovak comrades have to understand and accept that our parties and our countries are extremely interested in the shape and further development of the Czech situation, that they are also interested in solving the unresolved questions on the agenda in favor of socialism. It is quite understandable, quite clear, why this is so. Above all, because there is a direct connection between important events which happen in any socialist country, and the domestic situation in other socialist countries. This has been confirmed again in this situation. Secondly, as we state in celebratory speeches, not as empty phrases but as reality, that we have common successes as well as common worries. One does not need to clarify especially why this is so, because party membership and public opinion in the socialist countries ask our parties questions regardless of what is happening in other socialist countries, and they expect an answer from us to these questions. We Czechoslovak comrades have to understand this. If we sometimes passionately but with the same feelings and the same intentions raise certain questions, then we ask that it be understood literally that communists have gathered here, comrades, brothers-in-arms, and allies. We have come together and we talk about our common affairs in this capacity. It is extremely important for us to receive in such a situation appropriate information, and statements on all questions; and these are not demands based on non-existent rights but requests which result from the situation. It is necessary to understand the real situation in Czechoslovakia, in order for us to have some idea what the thoughts of the Czechoslovak party leadership are. This is a basic requirement since we have stated that we stand by them. This is the truth. We are honestly convinced of this, and we state that we have to come together, we have to help each other and work together. For this, we should, of course, have very detailed information as to where we need to, and must, help each other, since it is otherwise very difficult for our parties to make their respective decisions. We also need the statements and information from the Czechoslovak comrades 'because we have certain obligations toward our party members, toward public opinion in our countries, which we have to keep informed. Only if we receive declarations and information from the Czechoslovak comrades will we be able to report on the situation there. If we do not receive information, we nevertheless need to give some information to our comrades but we will give information based on our own conclusions, comrades, and we May perhaps have to diverge from your point of view, from the Czechoslovak point of view. I want to talk about some questions, for example general questions. Comrade Gomulka already touched upon the fact, and I agree with him, that there are certain historical experiences, for example direct ones, which relate above all to Hungary and Poland, where a few years ago similar events already took place. We are of the opinion that this is a shared experience, which we all will need to take advantage of. Of course, we always add that even within our own ranks, in the most intimate circle, when we talk about it in the Politburo, there are great differences. But at the same time one should not deny that there are very many similar aspects. I have to state frankly, comrades that we have to understand that the situation in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and within the Czechoslovak fraternal party is very complicated. We also know that not only what the Central Committee or Comrade Dubček and his comrades decide comes to pass and occurs, because other forces make decisions there, and that it is very important for us in our estimate of the situation to be able to separate one from the other. The word "counterrevolution in Czechoslovakia" was used here. We have also talked about it. I cannot officially express my opinion in the name of the Politburo and the Central Committee of our party since there have been no decisions with regard to the situation in the ČSSR; but there have been information and exchanges of opinion several times, and what we say here expresses the opinion of our Central Committee and the Politburo. The Czechoslovak comrades know best, I believe, what is happening in Czechoslovakia today. But the process which we observe, what we see and hear, and what we do not yet see – permit me to explain – this process is extremely similar to the prologue of the Hungarian counterrevolution at a time when it bad not yet become a counter- revolution. This means that this is the process which took place in Hungary from February 1956 to the end of October. And we ask you to think about this./…/
Ulbricht: /…/ I In a situation in which we all are interested in having the socialist camp and the Warsaw Pact countries appear unanimous, now that U.S. imperialism and its global strategy is in a difficult position, exactly in this situation you start letting down your own party, you give the enemy material for a campaign against the socialist countries. And West German imperialism, of course, exploits this and is running a massive campaign. Look, Comrade Dubček, I do not even blame the leadership as it has been elected now. I will tell you frankly that this development has been going on for six or seven years. Five years ago the capitalist world press had already written that Czechoslovakia was the most advantageous point from which to penetrate the socialist camp. Why? Because within your intelligentsia – I am speaking now of writers and artists – the Western oriented forces are the strongest. Perhaps some Soviet and other comrades will not quite understand this, because actually it should be [the GDR] where [that] ideology is the strongest since we are, after all, a divided country. But the odd fact of history is that Western influence is strongest in Czechoslovakia. And why? Because for 10 years no ideological battle has been fought there, no systematic ideological fight, not for 10 years! This is a fact. Now this all boils over, now we see it all in black and white. Previously it had been covered up. There was the discussion about Kafka, then about other issues. It was mashed as democracy, as humanism. Now the matter is clear, now it is all concentrated. But this is a development of five to eight years. Now, comrades, let us talk once very openly. Novotný bore a great responsibility as first secretary, but Novotný after all was not the only member of the Central Committee in this entire time! Other comrades were in the Central Committee and in the party leadership besides Novotný and a few others. /…/
Todorov: /…/ The communists in Bulgaria are concerned about the fact that such a strong party as the Czechoslovak one is being attacked by unhealthy elements in such a negative fashion. The Bulgarian communists wonder why the leading party of the working class did not respond adequately and in a timely way to the questions raised. Instead opinions on the great principal questions were presented in such a spontaneous manner that some resulted in the distortion of Marxist-Leninist practice. Principles on the construction of socialism, even in the area of politics and on relations with the fraternal parties, are stated in new ways by which the role of the communist party in the construction of socialist society is decreased. Various people play games with young people, abuse them. Criticism of mistakes made becomes degradation, a negation of the 20 years of achievements of the Czechoslovak republic. Apparently some of the positions of some unhealthy elements in the ČSSR who have been misled, who have been deluded, coincide with the positions and intentions of the enemy of socialism, who have the objective of dividing the cadres and playing them off against each other, of weakening the party, who obviously, above all, wish to break the backbone of the party which has carried the major load, the heaviest burden in the antifascist struggle and in the construction of socialism. It docs not seem normal to us that some representatives of Czechoslovakia, such as Smrkovský, present the political line and explain their political objectives on West German radio, not in the appropriate bodies of the party. We do not understand why the right of the party to lay out the main line in the media is permitted. Moreover and finally, it is completely incomprehensible to us how one can tolerate opinions which are in the interest of the bourgeoisie and constitute a mesh of bourgeois democracy and socialism.
Kosygin: /…/ It can probably now be said without doubt that the entire world is currently looking at Czechoslovakia. The attention of the entire world, of all forces which fight along with us, is currently focused on the events in the ČSSR. This is completely natural because the ČSSR is at present the chain link where the forces of socialism, of progress and the forces of communism and imperialism evidently intersect. If we look at the international press altogether, we see that the entire international press is commenting on the Czechoslovak events two or three times a day. These are no singular instances, nor temporary events. These are events which the imperialists will not let rest until they have been severely rebuked. It is currently a fact that the organs which convey the thoughts of the leadership and our thoughts to each worker, farmer, student, and intellectual, are in the hands of the enemy. These are the TV, radio and even the newspapers. There is no need for me to explain and expose all of the massive material which is in our hands and to state all the occurrences in the Czechoslovak press. I would only like to discuss those issues which are currently of interest to the Czechoslovak press, that is the negative comments on the relations between the ČSSR and the USSR. You find such negative statements in the press of the ČSSR almost every day, statements which are directed against the international communist movement, statements against the Council on Mutual Economic Assistance. Then there are contrasting remarks on the role of the party, in particular with regard to [its] approach toward the development of a socialist position. This is a problem which concerns the entire socialist camp. These problems concern not only the entire socialist camp but our entire international communist movement. I have to say that the events in the ČSSR also appear in the entire communist press and communists worldwide worry about it. For this reason our collaboration today is of a very, very important nature. The leadership of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and of the government of the ČSSR have to find a resolution, a remedy to the situation in which the ČSSR finds itself now. I would like to say that besides these general political problems in the ČSSR, economic issues will now be dealt with in a very far-reaching manner, with the discussion proceeding in various ways. For quite a long time, for at least two months, I have not found a single article in the Czech press which supports socialist cooperation in the field of economics. If you check these articles, you only find critical remarks. You do not find a single article which actively states that the economic collaboration of the socialist countries is the only correct solution for the further development of the ČSSR economy./…/
Jozef Lenárt:/…/ I would like to make a few remarks. Above all I think that we were told much we can learn from by Comrade Brezhnev, by Comrades Gomulka, Kádár, Ulbricht and other comrades who appeared here. We cannot counter the facts, which have been listed here, and we ourselves can add such facts. We could offer, as an example, how the reactionary Catholic clergy is becoming more active, something we view as an important element in the current situation. This is one facet.
On the other hand, I believe the following: The characterization of the situation in Czechoslovakia given here sounds as if a state of counterrevolution has already occurred. I do not know if this evaluation is correct. I think that, as far as I know the situation, we are not dealing with a counterrevolution at this point. This is the first point. The second question is whether a counterrevolution is at all possible.
I say: Yes, counterrevolution in Czechoslovakia is possible in a situation in which our party, our governmental order fall into passivity and leave the field to spontaneous developments of the situation, in which our party leadership and our state leadership do not at present proceed on grounds of principle and flexibility. As far as I know Comrade Dubček and the core of the comrades in the CC and in the districts and counties, the situation can be characterized as one in which the party is capable today of mastering the situation with principle and flexibility. /…/
Drahomír Kolder: /…/ For the first time I am able to participate in such an important consultation. Of course, we have to be concerned after the cold shower, which we received here. Above all I think we need to make available to our comrades the minutes of the December and January plenums, on the basis of which it can be seen that these plenums undertook a deep political analysis of the situation in our countries, that it was not about a gathering of officials but about a principled discussion in which 152 members and candidates of the CC participated. Secondly, I think that we have to send our comrades in the central committees of the fraternal parties official information, estimates on how the situation in the party is developing without underestimating the danger which we see as well, with regard to the impact of the mass media. So much as an introduction.
Now, comrades, regarding the main question: Above all I understand that there is the question: How can one characterize the current situation in our country? After hearing the comrades' statements, there are two views: According to the first point of view, a counterrevolutionary situation exists in our country. According to the second view, today's situation is critical and measures have to be taken to master the situation. We came together for a meeting on economic questions – this was what we were told. We have not had the opportunity to consult here. But in the Presidium we assessed the situation the day before yesterday. In my opinion, the situation today is complicated, is critical, and we – as they say, the Komsomols of this leadership – have to undergo a great Leninist test if we are to master the situation. In assessing and evaluating the situation, questions about the causes have to be asked above all else, how this situation came about: The analysis of causes allows us to find the correct solution. /…/
Oldřich Černik: /…/ This is my first time at such an important meeting of the representatives of the fraternal party [sic]. I would like to say right away that we have bad very harsh words directed at us, at the five of us who represent the communist party here. In the spirit of our internationalist relations we can assure you that we will give serious thought to what has been said, and not only that: What we in the Presidium and the CC consider correct, necessary and useful for our work, we will implement. Everybody was convinced that everything is in order in our party. We both certainly have an interest in a strong Czechoslovakia, in a strong communist party. Unfortunately the situation bas developed so that, given the impression that the party was strong and our relations firm, we did not imagine that something unhealthy could develop. We have started a general discussion in our party about our party the only objective being that the party will emerge stronger out of the resulting discussion and facts. One gets the impression that we should feel guilty that we started to improve party work. I will pass to an assessment of today's discussion, from two viewpoints:
What is the situation in Czechoslovakia? Is it a counterrevolutionary situation, or is it of a mostly pro-socialist nature? Comrades, for this we need very profound analyses, factual analyses. A one-sided assessment of the situation does not help us or our party. We have to know the motives of the people, have to know how they act and what they do in order to be able to explain that such-and-such a situation exists. We in the party leadership--we will also convey this assessment to the CC-are of the opinion that the situation is serious, that the danger of an attack from left or right exists, and that progressive forces do exist. But we see today's state of affairs in Czechoslovakia as overwhelmingly progressive and pro-socialist in character. What do we base this on? Comrades, since February 1948 we have not had such waves of political interest within our party, such activity of the working class and intelligentsia, as we now witness.
Thousands of meetings are being held, in factories, villages and cities. The halls are overcrowded, and the party members are implementing and defending the policy of the party. Millions of people attend the party meetings and other gatherings. For years we have bad a situation in which halls bad been empty, passivity was evident and increasing. We stated that a certain degree of passivity among the masses and party membership existed. We said that we could not blame the masses but the leadership for this. We, comrades, can say that our party has a very healthy core. That which is happening within our party and within our society-believe us, comrades-is not creating an atmosphere of fear. There is an unusual interest in the political life of Czechoslovakia, in the fate of socialism.