749.13/3–1550: Telegram

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


375. As Department is aware, rumors and reports of Clementis’ impending disappearance from local scene have long been current but his fall at this particular time1 was complete surprise to all western observers and few Czechs Embassy has so far been in touch with. No information even purporting to be reliable yet available but Embassy believes it likely resignation was suddenly precipitated either by (1) some disagreement, perhaps important and perhaps straw-that-broke-camel’s-back type, within government and party, or (2) sudden implication of Clementis in deviationist activities, probably by Novy.2

Coldness of Gottwald’s acceptance of resignation indicates Clementis out of favor but fact he was allowed resign voluntarily points to likelihood first hypothesis and indicates he may continue at liberty but shorn of all responsibility. Some speculation by western observers tends toward second spectacular hypothesis, in which case Rajk3 type trial involving Clementis, Novy and other minor figures not excluded.

In any event resignation seems likely further prejudice Czechoslovak relations with West, as whoever successor may be it is doubtful he will exercise even minimum moderating influence of Clementis. Fierlinger4 has had long-standing ambition for post but Siroky’s temporary appointment makes him probable choice for permanent nomination. Although he speaks neither English nor French, and is known more for ruthless faithful adherence to party line than for intellectual capacity, Siroky is said by those who know him to have [Page 538] moral integrity in carrying out commitments to which he agrees. We are therefore inclined to regard him as preferable to Fierlinger from our point of view.

Sent Department 375, repeated Moscow 15, London 45, Paris 51; pouched Budapest, Belgrade, Warsaw. Department inform Army.

  1. Clementis’ resignation as Foreign Minister was announced on March 14. It was also announced that Viliam Široký, Czechoslovak Deputy Prime Minister, Chairman of the Slovak Communist Party, and member of the Presidium of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, would assume direction of the Foreign Ministry. Clementis was arrested in 1951, was tried and convicted of treason in the “Slansky Trial” of 1952, and executed. For an authoritative account of the circumstances of Clementis’ resignation, as demanded by the Czechoslovak Communist Party leadership because of his alleged “bourgeois nationalism” and his hostility to the USSR, see Jiří Pelikán, ed., The Czechoslovak Political Trials 1950–1954: The Suppressed Report of the Dubček Government’s Commission of Inquiry, 1968 (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1971), pp. 87–90.
  2. Vilém Nový, member of the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and editor of the Party newspaper, Rudé Právo, until his secret arrest in the autumn of 1949. Rumor of Nový’s arrest had reached the Embassy.
  3. László Rajk, former Hungarian Minister of Interior and Foreign Minister and a leader of the Hungarian Communist Party, was tried and convicted with seven others in Budapest in September 1949 of treason and war crimes, and was executed the following month.
  4. Zdenék Fierlinger, former Czechoslovak Social Democratic leader, wartime Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and first postwar Czechoslovak Prime Minister; in 1950, Deputy Prime Minister and member of the Presidium of the Czechoslovak Communist Party.