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Open Letter from 134 Czechoslovak Writers and Cultural Figures to the CPCz Central Committee, March 25, 1968
Our Source: Navratil, Jaromir. "The
Prague Spring 1968". Hungary: Central European Press, 1998, pp. 76-77
Original Source: “Otevřený dopis 134 čs. Spisovatelů a kulturních pracovníků ÚV KSČ,” Literární listy (Prague), No. 5 (March 28, 1968), p.1
Translated by: Mark Kramer, Joy Moss and Ruth Tosek
Comment: This letter was signed by the Czechoslovakia’s most famous artists and writers who ant to show their support for the reform process.
25 March 1968
We are appealing to you at a time when, we believe, political developments in Czechoslovakia are entering a new phase. The resignation of Antonín Novotný as president of the republic was a sign of important change at home, while the preceding phase was marked by growing political activity among our citizens. And the reputation of communists has also improved thanks to those who have been carrying out the proposals of the December and January sessions of the CPCz Central Committee soberly, judiciously, and with determination. 'The great majority of the citizens of our state are confident that things will turn out for the better by this they understand unequivocally the socialist character of our society. What is most gratifying in this process is that the project for democratic socialism has been taken up by the younger generation, who consider it exciting and remarkable.
Nevertheless, comrades, we would like to draw your attention to several points whose solution will be viewed as a litmus test of the sincerity of all statements about democratic socialism. The first point concerns international relations. We know and understand that on various occasions delegations of the CPCz are obliged to explain the nature of the democratization process in our country to other communist parties. We realize what we owe the socialist countries and our allies. However, the Dresden communiqué, for example, has made it clear to us that the CPCz CC must stand up to pressure motivated by doubts about the nature and objectives of our internal measures. Thus, although we want to assure you that you have our full support in all your statements, we reemphasize that the need to maintain international solidarity among socialist states should not cause you to forget that your responsibility for this country is above all to its own people.
We see the current democratization process as a road that will lead to permanent democracy, and not as a process in which certain people are to be replaced by others while their thinking and working methods remain unchanged. That is why we attach major importance to the question of who will be appointed to vacate high posts in the state, and to the way this is going to be done. We believe it would not be appropriate to the situation if decisions on this matter were made exclusively after internal discussions in certain organs-in other words, decisions made behind closed doors. in our view, decision-making will have taken on a truly democratic shape only if the public is informed about proposed changes and is given the chance to express its views on them in various quarters. We know that until the elections we must live with some kind of provisional arrangement based on "a word of honor." But even though we have no new deputies in Parliament we are now on the threshold of electing a new president. That is why it is especially important to know who the candidates for this office will be. We are convinced that the deputies will be able to cast their votes in accordance with the wishes of the people only if the candidates are able to live up to the public's expectation that the president should be a generally respected and well-known person with the kind of energy needed to cope with this post-a person, in other words, who is capable of independent and penetrating thought. In our view, it goes without saying that this must be someone involved in the democratization efforts so that their election will be ample evidence of the fact that democratization is really gaining the upper hand.
We therefore expect a president who is sufficiently firm but also judicious, educated, and astute, someone whose arrival in office can rectify the moral damage that the office of the president has suffered in past years. We would consider it ideal if someone is chosen who is linked with the workers but close to the intelligentsia or the other way around. We are therefore hoping for a sufficiently dynamic personality who would play a full part in the first stage of socialist democratization, but we also expect that in the subsequent phase this person will be properly limited in keeping with the future constitution. We believe that the same yardstick must be applied to the future prime minister. We also believe that maximum attention must be given to changes in the government. We agree with the demand often heard nowadays that major ministries such as the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of National Defense must be entrusted to people known to the public for their favorable qualities and whose character alone would provide guarantees that they would not abuse their power. With regard to the minister of national defense, we would like this to be someone known at least in the army for his work on behalf of worthy objectives, someone whose progressive views and democratic thinking did not emerge only this past January. We state that this is not merely a question of filling a post but of cleaning the slate.
Recently, we have done our best to demonstrate that we were anxious to bring Czechoslovak socialism out of its tragic isolation. But our past commitment also pledges us to react to phenomena that may signal stagnation and, later on, even a reversal of our course. That, comrades, is how we want you to understand the motives behind these words....