No. 675

Editorial Note

During Ambassador Briggs’ call upon Foreign Minister Široký on May 16 to discuss the Oatis case (see telegram 721 from Praha, May 16, supra), Široký raised the questions of alleged border violations by American troops and hostile broadcasts by Radio Free Europe. On May 21, Czechoslovak Acting Foreign Minister Sekaninova handed Briggs a lengthy note alleging that the United States was responsible for a campaign of “espionage, sabotage, and other hostile activity” against Czechoslovakia. The note charged: (1) that the United States was allowing its facilities to be used by Radio Free Europe for a recently inaugurated broadcasting campaign beamed into Czechoslovakia, (2) that a group of United States soldiers violated the Czechoslovak frontier on May 5 near Marianske Lazne and observed frontier installations and took photographs, and (3) that the West German Government, at the direction of American authorities, was assisting Western agents illegally crossing the Czechoslovak frontier. (Telegram 734 from Praha, May 21, 749.00/5–2151) For an unofficial translation of the text of the Czechoslovak note, which was released to the press by Czechoslovak authorities, see Department of State Bulletin, September 10, 1951, page 421. The note was summarized and extensively quoted in the New York Times, May 23, 1951. For Ambassador Briggs’ comments on the note and the circumstances related thereto, see telegrams 214 and 754 from Praha, Documents 678 and 679.

Following telegraphic consultations with the Department of State, Ambassador Briggs delivered a note to the Czechoslovak Foreign [Page 1360] Ministry replying to the Czechoslovak note of May 21. The June 19 note stated in part that “the United States Government cannot accept the view that a responsibility exists to require Radio Free Europe or any private American radio organization to transmit only what will please the Czechoslovak authorities. The Czechoslovak Government will doubtless appreciate that freedom of expression whether of the press, radio, or individual utterance, constitutes a fundamental principle of American democracy, indeed of the Western democracies generally.… It is not, therefore, possible or desirable to exercise control over these organizations in violation of the principle of freedom of information.” The note of June 19 also observed that the frontier violation complained of by the Czechoslovak Government was “unintentional and inadvertent” on the part of American military personnel unfamiliar with the frontier segment, and that all possible steps were being taken to prevent a recurrence of the incident. The note went on to add that the United States would not tolerate the violation of the United States Zone of Germany by Czechoslovak personnel, called attention to two recent flagrant violations of the frontier by Czechoslovak forces, and asked for disciplinary action and a report on preventive measures taken. For text of the Embassy’s note of June 19, see Department of State Bulletin, July 2, 1951, pages 12–13 and 35.

In a lengthy, 11-page note of July 21 to the Embassy in Praha, the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry responded to the Embassy’s note of June 19 and renewed the accusations made earlier in its note of May 21. For an unofficial translation of the text of the July 21 note, see ibid., September 10, 1951, pages 418–421. Acting on instructions from the Department of State, the Embassy replied to the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry in a note of August 24. The Embassy’s note stated that the United States was unalterably committed to the basic principle of freedom of information, and that under the United States Constitution there was an inherent right to criticize the United States Government and its policies, as was constantly done by such publications as the Daily Worker (the official organ of the Communist Party of the United States). The note observed that the Czechoslovak Government was “apparently unable to allow such criticism by publications under its jurisdiction and is seeking to prevent such criticism from the press or radio of other countries”. The Embassy note of August 24 also commented on the unwillingness of the Czechoslovak Government to acknowledge the fact of Czechoslovak frontier violations mentioned in the Embassy’s note of June 19 and indicated that such an attitude was hardly conducive to border tranquility and was “unacceptable to the United States”. The note went on to declare that the United States Government would take every precaution to prevent any future [Page 1361] border violations, and appropriate remedial action in case of any inadvertent violations. In turn, the United States Government expected the Czechoslovak authorities to deal “with such problems in an equally correct manner”. For text of the Embassy’s note of August 24, see Department of State Bulletin, September 10, 1951, pages 417–418.

Documentation on these matters is principally in files 749.000 and 611.49.