860F.00/4–347: Telegram

The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State


311. The following is résumé of information gleaned since my return1 from conversations with Masaryk and this morning with President Beneš.

There has been no direct intervention by the Soviet Government in Czech affairs other than the Soviet request for the recent Czech-Polish treaty.2
Indirect influence on Czech policies by the Soviet Government appears to be considerably less marked than heretofore, causing uncertainty on the part of an increasing number of Czech and Slovak Communist officials as to the extent to which they should follow what they believe to be Soviet policies in Czechoslovakia.
Both the Czech and Slovak public give evidence for Communism and subservience to Soviet wishes, a development which the Czech and Slovak Communist leaders have disregarded up to the present time but must soon take note of.
Gottwald’s leadership of the Czech Communist Party is in no immediate danger but he is having increasing difficulty in controlling the “younger extremists” in his party. His health would be better if he drank less.
The Social Democratic Party has definitely broken with the Communist Party and consequently has gained considerable strength throughout Bohemia and Moravia. Fierlinger’s3 authority while not immediately imperiled has been badly shaken. There has been no change in Fierlinger’s complete subservience to Moscow and in Beneš’ opinion there will be no change which may ultimately result in his overthrow as leader of the Czech Social Democratic Party. The moderates in the Social Democratic Party are steadily gaining influence and, to a certain extent, increasing their authority.
The recent party congress held by the National Socialist Party has materially strengthened the party. The Peoples Party is badly crippled by incompetent ‘and absentee leadership caused by Sramek’s4 determination to “die a Minister” and Hala’s5 incompetence and unpopularity within the party.
During the past 8 months the Social Democratic Party has gained votes at the expense of the Communist and Peoples Parties.
Tiso will probably be condemned to death.6 The Slovak National [Page 202] Council will presumably recommend “grace” to the government. The Communists and Social Democrats in the government will vote as a bloc to deny grace. The President has polled the Cabinet which at present is in favor of carrying out the sentence by a majority of one vote. The Social Democrats in the government are not following the Communists lead in their intention to deny grace but if anything are even more hostile to Tiso than the Communists by reason of his attempt to exterminate the Social Democratic Party. The President favors grace but is bound under the present constitution by the recommendation of the government and is seeking to persuade one or two members of the government to change their intended votes so that he may extend grace. He anticipates short-lived demonstrations and difficulties whatever the ultimate decision may be, recognizing that if an execution is carried out the Slovak Democrats, clergy and western Catholic world will be incensed whereas if grace is extended the Communists and Social Democrats will be displeased. He feels that as there will be unpleasantness in either event, whatever is done should be done quickly and he has so advised all of the party leaders.7
Beneš has discussed with Masaryk and Gottwald the desirability of reaching a prompt settlement of all American claims and has urged them during the past 2 or 3 days to start negotiations seriously and to push them to a successful conclusion as rapidly as possible.8 He feels that a mutually satisfactory settlement of our claims as soon as possible is more important than whether the Czech Government agrees to pay 5 or 10 million dollars more or less and has urged Gottwald to instruct his subordinates not to quibble about technicalities or to try and save a few thousand dollars.
Some of the nationalized industries are already operating creditably. Others are in bad shape due to incompetent management, shortage of raw materials and labor and are losing large sums.
Difficulties are being encountered in meeting the requirements of the two year plan in the field of Agriculture and it is probable that although production of agricultural products this year will exceed last year’s production barring “acts of God”, the requirements of the plan will not be met. Duris9 is primarily to blame for this condition.
Relations with Yugoslavia have deteriorated recently whereas relations with Poland have improved. The deterioration in relations with Yugoslavia has resulted from the conviction of the Yugoslav Government that the Czech and Slovak Communists are “bourgeois”. Although little if any progress has been made in arriving at a solution to the Teschen controversy, the recent Czech-Polish treaty has improved the atmosphere and perhaps laid the groundwork for an ultimate satisfactory solution of Teschen.
While the efficiency of labor is by no means satisfactory, there has been a marked improvement in production which holds promise of a further improvement if URO implements its promise that there will be no serious labor disturbances and the political parties do not interpose too many obstacles to carrying out their recent agreement to cooperate. This will depend to a large extent on the interpretation placed by each party on the agreement.

The President appeared to be in good health and is leaving tomorrow for 2 weeks vacation. Masaryk on the other hand appeared to be depressed and bluntly referred to his loss of prestige in the United States and England as well as his irritation with the obstacles which confront him in his daily work.

  1. During February and March 1947, Ambassador Steinhardt was in Washington on consultation. He returned to Praha on March 28.
  2. During the visit of the Czechoslovak Delegation in Warsaw on the occasion of the signing of the Polish-Czechoslovak Alliance of March 10, 1947, Chargé Gerald Keith talked briefly with Foreign Minister Masaryk. Despatch 1294, March 13, from Warsaw, not printed, reported on that conversation in part as follows:

    “Mr. Masaryk remarked on the good fortune of the Czechoslovakians that Prague was intact, that they were getting along very well, and that people could say anything they liked. And then, with clear reference to the Soviets, he added that he did not believe in ‘talking back’ too much. He said, ‘This freedom which we have is a very delicate flower.’” (760C.60F/3–1347)

  3. Zdeněk Fierlinger, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party.
  4. Monsignor Jan Sramek, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the People’s Party.
  5. Monsignor František Hála, Minister of Posts and Telegraph and a leader of the People’s Party.
  6. The trial of Monsignor Joseph Tiso, former President of the so-called “Slovak State”, 1939–1944, was held in Bratislava from December 2, 1946, to March 14, 1947. Former Slovak Minister of Interior Alexander Mach, and former Foreign Minister Ferdinand Durchansky were tried at the same time, the latter in absentia. On April 15, 1947, Tiso and Durchansky were condemned to death for crimes against the Czechoslovak Republic, against democratic liberties, in preparing for war with Poland, and against humanity. Tiso was hanged on April 18.
  7. Telegram 423, April 24, from Praha, not printed, reported that the execution of Tiso had been marked by great calm in Slovakia and by the absence of any organized demonstrations (860F.00/4–2447).

    For a statement of the policy of the United States Government with respect to the trial and execution of Tiso, see the letter of May 7, from the Secretary of State to Congressman Feighan, p. 205.

  8. According to telegram 262, March 25, from Praha, not printed, negotiations began at Praha on March 24 between the Embassy and the Czechoslovak Government regarding the compensation to American citizens for nationalized and illegally occupied properties (860F.5034/3–2547).
  9. Jan Duriš, Minister of Agriculture; member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party.