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Alexander Dubček´s Recollections of the Moscow Negotiations and the Moscow Protocol
Our Source: Navratil, Jaromir.
"The Prague Spring 1968". Hungary: Central European Press, 1998, pp. 481-483
Original Source: “Alexander Dubček vzpomíná: Původní rozhovor pro Občanský deníc o pozadí srpnových událostí roku 1968,” Občanský deník (Prague), Part 4, August 24, 1990, p. 3.
Translated by: Mark Kramer, Joy Moss and Ruth Tosek
Comment: This is an interview publicized in 0bčanský deník. It takes the reader behind the political scenes and gives us a view of the person we have gotten to know as Alexander Dubček.
Občanský deník:At your first meeting with Brezhnev, according to certain accounts, prime minister Černik also took part.
Dubček: That's possibly and most likely true. I can't remember all of it. I just know that when I arrived there the first time, I didn't know what was going on back in Czechoslovakia and so I refused to negotiate. I remember that I learned about the support the people were giving us, about the international reaction, and about related matters only from other members of our delegation who arrived later on.
Občanský deník: At the time when you were still refusing to negotiate, our delegation was coming under pressure from the Soviet side to brand the results of the 14th Congress invalid. The resistance of our delegation began to crumble as a result of Husák, who said in Moscow that Slovakia could not accept the results of the 14th Congress because Slovak delegates had not been represented there. He threatened that it might lead to a split of the party between its Czech and Slovak components.
Dubček: What you are saying is correct. Husák also expressed these sentiments after he returned. In Moscow he felt he somehow had to exclude himself from the collective in order to demonstrate to the Soviets that be regarded their demands to be the key issue. In this way he had already shown in Moscow that he was willing to comply with their wishes.
The story regarding the congress did not end there. I felt, and other members of the delegation supported my view, that we had a certain responsibility to preserve at least part of the validity of the 14th Congress. I had tried to come up with a plan about what to do when we returned home already in Moscow. We needed to take steps that would substantially bolster the reformist wing of the Central Committee. But how? It occurred to me that for the sake of maintaining the unity of the party – at least that is how I presented it to Brezhnev – we could co-opt a certain number of people from the Vysočany Congress into the old CC. In that way the old CC, which had proven loyal at a critical moment when the Warsaw Letter was under consideration, could be strengthened in the way we needed it to be.
At the first session of the CC immediately after our return on 31 August, we co-opted a “certain number” of 87 people from the Vysočany Congress. But what then happened? During the session, which was taking place in the Castle in Prague, someone came over to me and said that I had a phone call waiting in the president's office. It was Brezhnev asking what in the world we were doing there at the CC by bringing in additional people through supposedly undemocratic methods. This was at a time when such a step was still only being discussed at the regional commissions. It had not even been approved when someone was already reacting to it from over there.
I explained to him that it was a political compromise, something that I had informed him earlier. Brezhnev said: “Da, vy govorili, no ne govorili skol'ko.” And I responded, “No vy tozhe ne govorili skol`ko." (”yes you mentioned it, but you did not say how many, ”But you also did not say how many”) We proceeded with the cooptation, but Brezhnev was very upset.
Občanský deník:It is a well-known fact that even during the final official meeting at the Kremlin on 26 August you refused to sign the protocol that had been prepared. In the end, however, you did sign the final version of the Moscow protocol. How did that occur?
Dubček: The other members of the delegation did not accept my resignation. The meetings were led on our side by Černik, and he was always asking me whether I would be willing to join them. No, I said, I wasn't willing to do so – and the important thing is how I conducted myself and why.
I had to decide these things in a difficult and complicated situation, when there was a danger lingering over our country that the resentment of the people toward the intervention might lead to a civil war. I could have acted in a way that would have promoted their defiance and resentment, which would inevitably have led to a confrontation, or, on the contrary, I could do everything possible to prevent such a confrontation. The second alternative was what I chose. And in the end I subordinated all other steps to that alternative.
I saw the people with whom I was personally connected – Svoboda, Smrkovský, Černik, Špaček, and others –collectively arriving at some sort of joint conclusion. I don't know whether I was under the sway of some kind of discipline, or whether it was the feeling that one must not abandon the others in a difficult and complicated situation and that one cannot and should not act only in accord with what one thinks is right. I also realized what might happen after we returned home if my signature did not appear alongside the signatures of Svoboda, Smrkovský, Černik and others, and if I did not return to my post. Then even these people could not have withstood popular scrutiny, and something would have happened that none of us wanted. I didn't feel justified in risking a confrontation between a morally courageous but unarmed populace, on the one hand, and the military machinery of a superpower, on the other.
Občanský deník: At that time did you have any concrete ideas about what would have happened if you had refused to sign? As far as we know, at the meeting with the part of the delegation that was headed by Svoboda, the Soviet side made a number of threats to the effect that there would be “either an agreement or a civil war.” In subsequent meetings, were similar threats made?
Dubček: Not against me. But irrespective of what they said and did, I was convinced that from the very first night. the Soviet army was just itching for a confrontation, and that I must do what I could to prevent that from occurring. If there had been a violent confrontation, they would have portrayed it all as a counterrevolution.
As concerns me personally, let me say this. Since the night of 20-21 August, when we voted on the famous declaration of the presidium, I had had no illusions about what I could expect. I had decided there already. It is not easy, but it is not as difficult when you are deciding only for yourself. And by the time they put me into the tank, I was already at peace with myself. I took account of the possibility that I might not come back at all. My eyes no longer shed tears at the thought.
And why did I sign the protocol? Why did I not hold out until the end as Kriegel did? If I had been in his place, I would have acted identically. But in my place I simply couldn't do that. I was accountable for far more than he was. I couldn't have abandoned the others.
My defiance, and my refusal to take part in the meetings and acquiesce in the diktat originally laid down by the Soviets, did bear fruits. It was not only my own countrymen who were interested in getting me to take part in the meetings, the Soviets were perhaps even more interested. When the option of using military intervention to underwrite the formation of a workers' and peasants' government didn't work out, they tried to find other options by way of the protocol.
They were particularly interested in ensuring that the protocol included these three things:
- We must acknowledge that the military intervention was justified and, therefore, that a counterrevolution had existed;
- We must acknowledge that the presidium and the CC plenum took an improper stance toward the Warsaw Letter; and
- We must discreetly abandon the Action Program.
We were not in a position to defend everything we had accomplished or to avoid making concessions. But on these three points we did prove successful and that was thanks to my refusal to go along.
Občanský deník: How did the process of actually signing the protocol take place?
Dubček: When Smrkovský and Černik were trying to persuade me to take part in the concluding ceremony, I didn't know whether I would have sufficient strength to do it. There still wasn't anything said in the protocol about our future political line, which we would be expected to adhere to after returning home. I finally realized that I could not exclude myself from the collective. But I warned that there was no guarantee I could make it through. As a result, they gave me some sort of sedative.
Well, I entered the meeting room. On the opposite side I saw the black eyebrows, the faces /…/ I had to hold onto a table. Everything started to well up inside me. I ordered myself. “Hang on, hang on!” But in the end I couldn't stand it. I openly told them my view of what they had done and said I thought they had irreparably destroyed everything through their aggressive actions.
Obviously they couldn't put up with that, especially at an official meeting like this. The entire Soviet delegation led by Brezhnev demonstratively left the room, and the meeting broke up. I couldn't sense how long the interruption lasted, and I didn't know they were off somewhere debating what to do with me now that they couldn't count on me to guarantee the dictated agreements.
When the meeting resumed, the whole atmosphere was such that the Soviets backed down on the question of the Action Program. The protocol made no direct mention of it, but it did refer to the line of the January and May plenary sessions of the CC – and the May plenum had embraced about 99 percent of the Action Program. That was very important for me. There was still hope that the reformist forces who did not lose their positions might – on the basis of the political line of the January and May plenary sessions – be able to salvage at least part of the process of renewal and democratisation. Our retreat after this did not appear so catastrophic. The outlook for us did not appear so hopeless, and that was a precondition for us to achieve unity after returning home. In that light, I came to believe that it would be possible to devise a political line that would overcome this difficult era. As it turned out, of course, it merely led to the rise of Husák and normalization.
Nowadays one might object that I was incorrect in my assessment of the situation. Perhaps I was. But how would history have judged us if we had decided not to sign and risked the outbreak of a civil war and the inception of a collaborationist revolutionary workers' and peasants' government, while failing to take advantage of the only opportunity we were offered? I signed.