No. 691

601.4911/7–2651: Despatch

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

No. 17

Subject: Call of Ambassador Prochazka at American Embassy Prague, July 25, 1951

Ambassador Prochazka called on me at the Embassy Chancery at his instance (somewhat belatedly, his agrément having been granted two months ago1) and he remained for an hour and a quarter. He is the first Czech to call on me since last February when Ambassador Outrata visited the Chancery. Prochazka is fifty-seven and looks several years younger; he has a round face and wears horn-rimmed glasses that give him a studious, slightly owlish look. His general attitude was friendly, almost ingratiating and—with respect to official business—very cautious. His English is halting and rather bookish but on the whole serviceable. The only nervousness he displayed, assuming he felt any, was in chain-smoking cigarettes.

I opened the conversation by inquiring about his travel plans, to which Prochazka replied that his departure had been postponed because of his wife’s ill health (she reportedly has a heart condition aggravated by high blood pressure), but that he now expects to travel on the Caronia, sailing August 2 from Le Havre. The Ambassador asked about Washington summer climate and then about resorts nearby in the Alleghenies, indicating that he would hope to have Mme. Prochazka avoid the capital at least until mid-September. There ensued some light talk about “why is Washington where it is?” to which I replied in terms of colonial history and air-conditioning. Coffee was served, and Prochazka started a second cigarette.

I then brought up the Oatis case, as summarized in Embtel no. 69 of July 25.2 After declaring that solution of that case should interest Ambassador Prochazka as much as me, since otherwise he might find it an obstacle to accomplishment on his part in Washington, I said I had discussed it with Siroky on July 16, in connection with delivering a note requesting Oatis’ release.3 A note in [Page 1384] reply, declining to release Oatis, had been received on July 21.4 I said I was reluctant to regard that reply as his government’s last word, since it seemed unreasonable to suppose that his government deliberately desired that relations be as strained as possible. I indicated they were strained now and would be bound to remain strained, as long as Oatis remained in prison. That being the case, I had been casting about for some possible solution of the matter which, leaving aside the sharply divergent positions our two governments have adopted, might lead to the desired result. For instance, I said, it is my understanding that there are several Czechs in prison in Germany; perhaps an exchange might be worked out, involving the release of one Czech in Germany for one Oatis in Czechoslovakia. Or, since there are several Americans in jail here, in addition to Oatis, perhaps an exchange could be made of several Czechs in Germany for an equal number of Americans here. And what did Prochazka think of that?

Prochazka replied with considerable caution. He has had “nothing to do with the case” and he only knows about it from hearsay and from my remarks. Good relations would be “a good thing”, which the Ambassador then amended by saying that “in these troubled times, good relations would be a good thing, within the possibilities of the present situation”. And as for Oatis, Prochazka said he would mention my remarks to the Foreign Minister. Was I expecting to see Siroky in the near future?

I said an appointment had been requested two days ago, for my British colleague and me, with reference to the proposed treaty with Japan, following which I hoped to have a few minutes with Siroky alone during which the Oatis case could be further considered.

So much for the Oatis case. The only additional concrete issue we discussed was the personnel quota at our respective missions, which I brought up, indicating that I personally am vastly more contented with twelve Americans in my Embassy in Prague than I was with eighty, the figure serving here when I arrived nearly two years ago. However, his predecessor, Outrata, had rather given me the impression that he found a quota of twelve in Washington somewhat inadequate. I said I had no instructions to discuss the matter and doubted whether the State Department would do so but that, following his arrival in Washington, should he wish to raise the matter and to suggest a modest increase, on a reciprocal basis of course, I thought there might be no objection.

Ambassador Prochazka continued noncommittal, but he gave the impression of being interested in the possibility of raising the personnel [Page 1385] quota, and equally interested in the notion that by reducing the staff of the American Embassy from eighty persons to twelve, Czechoslovakia had done the American Government a favor.

(My objects in mentioning this matter were two: first, with the thought of facilitating a slight and useful increase in the quota; and second, with an unchristian desire toward former Vice Minister Hajdu, architect of the quota system, whose stay in the local doghouse is not likely to be curtailed by circulation of a report that “after all, he did the Americans a favor”.)

Beyond discussion at my instance of the two foregoing points, Prochazka volunteered several general statements about world peace, international collaboration and the desirability of a Korean solution, usually however with some limiting phrase similar to “within the present possibilities” so that his remarks added up to little except perhaps a desire to convey a man-of-good-will impression. Once Prochazka started a line of suggestion relative to “peaceful co-existence” that was reminiscent of my opening remarks to Foreign Minister Clementis in December, 1949. I resisted the temptation to tell Prochazka he reminded me of myself addressing Clementis, and in any case he dropped the subject before anything clear had been implied.

When I complimented Prochazka on his English and asked where he had learned it, he replied that he had acquired such small facility as he possessed by translating books—“mostly English authors, including Shaw; but I also translated Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, using Henry Mencken’s American Language to follow the idiom of Oklahoma.”

I told Prochazka that if his mental picture of the United States rested on Grapes of Wrath, I thought he’d be agreeably surprised.

My preliminary estimate of Prochazka is that the Czechoslovak Government has purposely chosen as its new envoy a “civilized Communist”—that is to say, one who looks civilized and talks civilized, and who can even convey the impression (or illusion) of being civilized. A visit of twenty minutes would have sufficed to meet protocol requirements, whereas he remained with me nearly four times that period, giving off cautious but benevolently expressed paragraphs which if they had any special purpose were possibly supposed to represent amenities being taken for a very gentle promenade, with a weather-eye on the horizon and a raincoat in one hand and an umbrella in the other.

Prochazka is an old-line Communist reportedly a member of the Party since 1923. His ability to appear owlishly benevolent, even ingratiating, may well be protective coloring used to disguise a hard doctrinaire Communist who despises the West and would gladly cut our throats. Furthermore he is obviously a man of considerable [Page 1386] erudition, culture, and (to judge from survival in the rough and tumble in-fighting of Communist development), probably of toughness and durability also.

The high point in the morning was reached on Prochazka’s departure from the Chancery, when he was promptly pounced upon by the watching secret police, who forced the Ambassador’s car to the curb with a squealing of brakes fifty yards down the street. From what could be seen from our doorway, the police evidently demanded Ambassador Prochazka’s identifying documents and interrogated him briefly before allowing him to continue with one of their number transferring from the police Skoda to Prochazka’s automobile.5

Ellis O. Briggs
  1. See Perkins’ memorandum to the Secretary of State, Document 677.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See telegram 40 from Praha, Document 688.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 688.
  5. Some additional details of Procházka’s “arrest” outside the Embassy are recalled in Briggs, Farewell to Foggy Bottom, pp. 59–60 and 106.