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Alexander Dubček´s Recollections of the Invasion and Its Immediate Aftermath
Our Source: Navratil, Jaromir.
"The Prague Spring 1968". Hungary: Central European Press, 1998, pp. 420-423
Original source: "Alexander Dubček vzpomíná: Kůvodní rozhovor pro 0bčanský deník o pozadí srpnových události roku 1968," Občanský deník (Prague), Part 3, August 17, 1990, p. 3.
Translated by: Mark Kramer, Joy Moss and Ruth Tosek
Comment: Soviet troops imprison Dubček and his closest party friends and takes them to Moscow.
Občanský deník: We are interested in your personal testimony on the way the situation unfolded after Černik returned from the phone and informed you that Soviet troops had entered our country.
Dubček: When Černik came and officially announced that troops had crossed the borders, everybody reacted differently. I was stunned and I got up from my chair and started to walk gloomily around the room. I was taken aback by such treachery. I did not expect it. It might sound naive nowadays, but at the time I thought that maybe someone would call, that it might be possible to call Brezhnev, or that something else would happen. One thing was clear to me: we could not resign, we on the presidium had to do something. Gradually the view prevailed that we should adopt a position on the matter. The result was the famous declaration by the presidium in which we denounced the entry of troops as an illegal act, and so forth. I believed it essential to have the declaration published as soon as possible.
At the time I realized that another step was also extremely important: to decide whether or not to resist the military intervention. My position – which was espoused not only by me, but by those who thought in the same view – has often been judged in a negative light since. Yet even today, knowing all I know now, I would definitely act again the way I acted at that time, and would do everything I could to prevent a military confrontation. At the time I believed this was the right decision, and I still believe that today. To have done otherwise would have resulted in enormous and senseless bloodshed, and I am certain that the Soviet authorities did expect there to be fairly widescale armed resistance. Under the circumstances, we could have either given our consent to such action, or resistance could have taken place spontaneously. But my better judgment told me not to act the way the enemy was expecting us to act. That's why I told Černik and Svoboda: “Do not put up military resistance; let the invasion proceed without any sort of armed resistance.”
Občanský deník: Did you consult the president or Dzúr about the possibility of defending the country, or was this your decision alone?
Dubček: We did not talk about it beforehand, nor was there any special meeting. We agreed unanimously and spontaneously about the matter, without any meetings. When I spoke about it to Černik and Svoboda, they did not present any alternative views. We did not even seriously consider an alternative we simply agreed unanimously that there should be no military resistance.
Let's go back to that night. I kept turning to the phone the whole time, hoping that it would ring and someone would let me know what was going on. Nothing of the sort happened, and that reinforced my view that the intervention was far-reaching and that they would not negotiate with us. I no longer expected that any political official would contact us and instead waited for a military representative who would tell us something officially. But nothing of the sort transpired.
When troops finally entered the building and came into my office – there were seven soldiers in all, along with one officer – this was only the first wave. They were trying more or less to find out what was in my office. One went over to the window and another to the door, and in the meantime either the phone rang or I picked it up to make a call, I don't now remember which. One of the soldiers who had a machinegun ready pointed it at me, took the phone away, and pulled out the wires. At that stage nothing more happened.
Later on a major or lieutenant-colonel from the KGB arrived along with additional Soviet army officers and, I think, also an interpreter whom I had met somewhere before – he interpreted in Czech. This group also included some officials from our own State Security organs. The State Security agents officially, in the name of the revolutionary tribunal and the revolutionary government, announced that I was being arrested. I could have resisted and put up a fight, but I didn't see any sense in that. I'd already lived through a war, so I told myself, so I should go voluntarily. At that time they took me to the adjoining office (which belonged to Císař), and later on others were brought there as well. Smrkovský, Kriegel, etc.
In the morning the KGB official ordered me to follow him. We went down the stairs, and they took me out onto the courtyard where there were tanks and armoured combat vehicles. It was still morning, I am certain of that, although I didn't manage to look at my watch. When they took me into a tank, I asked whom they were giving me as a partner. Later they brought Kriegel. They drove us out of the courtyard, and I surmised they were taking us to the airport. At the airport we waited until the evening. Then I told my guards that after all those hours of waiting I had to be let outside into the fresh air. They demurred, went away somewhere, and then permitted me to go outside. Then they took me back inside, and I was there until that night. I said to myself that something must be going on and that they don't know what to do with me, because they had taken Kriegel away and I was left by myself. Then they took me aboard a plane, and I again had to wait a long while until it was dark – it was late at night. Then they took me out of that first plane and put me into another. The plane was a Tupolev, though precisely what kind it was I don't know. After a certain amount of flying time, they switched me onto another Tupolev; and in that plane we landed at an unfinished airport somewhere on Polish territory. Holes had been dug out there and a barracks had been built. When they took me to one of the barracks, I saw the same official – he was, I think, a KGB lieutenant-colonel – who had been present during my arrest. There I sensed that something was happening and that this was not just a 100 percent liquidation measure; instead, it was some kind of program.
At the barracks I met and spoke to Černik, and he described to me how he'd been arrested. He said that he had fought his captors and they'd had a difficult time regaining control over him. They then loaded us onto a train, and we were taken still further. This time they transported us to somewhere around Uzhgorod. Černik, Šimon, and I were there. At Uzhgorod station, some brawny and athletic young men weighing about 100 kilograms apiece were waiting for us, and they ordered us to get into their car. So I climbed in, and all of a sudden I could hear Černik screaming. They couldn't force him into the car. I scrambled out of the car and began yelling at them in Russian: “Do you know that you're dealing with the head of a government? Let go of him immediately!” When I was shouting at them in Russian, they stopped in surprise. And they let him go. They were all civilians. I don't know whether they were even aware that this was the head of a sovereign state. That's the reason I screamed at them, so that they would know.
They drove us to a house on the mountainside; I don't know how long it took us to get there. At least an hour. Based on what I know now, they drove the others there as well. I met up with Černik and Šimon, but I still didn't know what bad happened to Kriegel, Smrkovský, and Špaček.
The next day they told me to come with them to the telephone. They put dark glasses on me and then took me to the elevator, which we took upstairs, where the OBKOM office was located. After a short while the phone rang, and it was Podgorny speaking. He talked to me very cordially, and then said that we needed to negotiate. I said to him: “Where?” He replied: “How about Moscow?” And I said into the telephone: “Well, fine, but in what capacity will I be brought there? As a prisoner? You see, I demand to know where the others who were arrested with me are. I am unwilling to discuss anything until we're all together.”
Občanský deník: We need to determine precisely what time that conversation with Podgorny took place because the tone of it indicates that sometime before it the Soviet policy line must have started to change.
Dubček: This might have been sometime in the morning hours. At eleven o'clock the following day, 23 August. I lost sense of the time, but it was definitely sometime in the morning.
After we arrived at the Kremlin, they took me away separately to have a discussion. Brezhnev, Kosygin, Podgorny, and most likely Suslov were there, I don't recall precisely. That talk was very brief. They said it would be necessary to hold negotiations with the members of the presidium, but I still didn't know where they were. I now know that earlier, while I was still in Uzhgorod, they had already had something like a preliminary meeting with the segment of the leadership that had been led to Moscow by Svoboda. There the Soviet authorities laid down for them their own ideas in a clear effort, as they were accustomed to doing, to plan something with one group first so that they could create a split between us. At that time they were mainly trying to decide what to do with us. Before I again sat down at a table with Brezhnev, once more they tried to gauge what my position would be. It was obvious that I was very upset, and I told them that I couldn't undertake any sort of negotiations with them because I didn't know what the situation was like back home. Under these circumstances, I didn't want to sit down and negotiate with them.
After I finished this brief discussion and made it clear that I would not be willing to take part in any joint negotiations, I went to another room. There I saw some of the members of the presidium, including Svoboda and others. When I saw Svoboda I reacted quite emotionally and impulsively. I don't know, but I think I dashed over to him. It was a real schoolboys' greeting. But when I look at him, I felt peculiar. I sensed in his face a certain stiffness. He had always been restrained on the outside, but we'd had a deep mutual respect and friendship. His reaction was strange. I'm not saying that be was not glad to see me, but he was having a tough time. I expected something different from him. He was terse the whole time, as though he were doing something he didn't really want to do. I never asked him about it because I forgot and because there were other, larger problems to contend with. But I did want to ask him about it at some point. However, I never got a chance to.
What else should I mention about the Moscow part. Psychologically, everything affected me very badly. When it was decided that some kind of joint document would be prepared, I said. “They've done something which I'll never be able to reconcile myself to for the rest of my life. And under these circumstances I cannot and do not want to serve any longer as first secretary.” I called Černik and asked him to accept my resignation. I told them that if I were to remain among them, they wouldn't succeed in achieving anything because I was in such a disoriented state of mind and I would most likely start fighting with them. I didn't take part in the negotiations until the very last day.