65. Despatch From the Embassy in Czechoslovakia to the Department of State1

No. 457


  • The Attitude of the Czechoslovak Government toward Relations with the United States

During the past months a number of indications have appeared that the Czechoslovak Government desires to improve and extend its relations with the United States.

On the personal and social side, as compared with a year or two ago, the Czechs are noticeably making an effort to put themselves on better personal terms with representatives of the United States. This is true not only of myself and members of the Embassy staff but we also note that the change is making itself felt on the social side in Washington. Among concrete instances there may be mentioned the behavior of Premier Siroky who on such occasions as the Liberation Day reception on May 9 or a meeting of the National Assembly has taken the initiative in opening a conversation with me. Deputy Premier Kopecky made a point of attending the Porgy and Bess reception which Mrs. Johnson and I gave at the Residence. He has for some time, and particularly at the airport upon the arrival of the Indian Vice-President, Dr. Radhakrishman and again at Siroky’s dinner in his honor, been overwhelmingly cordial toward me and paid me unusual attention. At gatherings he has gone out of his way to greet me and introduce me to Czechoslovak officials. Foreign Minister David was unprecedently friendly and expansive when I called on him on February 13 and Deputy Foreign Minister Sekaninova as well as Deputy Foreign Minister Nosek and his wife have obviously endeavored to be personally cordial toward my wife and myself at receptions and dinners. Sekaninova and the Noseks have conducted themselves in a similar manner toward the Vedelers and at concerts during the Prague Musical Festival Sekaninova was noticeably forthcoming.

At receptions given by the Czechs such as that on Liberation Day and in honor of the Indian Vice-President no attempt is made at segregation of Westerners and Czech officials endeavor to mix with and be agreeable to Americans. At the reception on Liberation Day the Army Attaché conversed on friendly terms with a Colonel of the Czechoslovak Army and the Air Attaché had his first opportunity to talk with General Vosahlo, First Deputy Minister of Defense. The Czechoslovak officials with whom we have conducted economic discussions [Page 177] gave a dinner to the Embassy staff members who have participated and the dinner recently given by the Czechoslovak Ambassador at Washington for members of the Department represents a new departure.

In the political sphere the Czechs changed their practice regarding invitations for Liberation Day this year when for the first time in some years their invitations to the reception here and apparently at a number of missions abroad no longer contained the objectionable wording “in celebration of the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army”. We believe that the change was made after great deliberation in order to take account of our attitude as we have manifested it by our conspicuous absence at their National Day celebrations during the past years. They desired us to attend and acted so as to make it possible for us to do so. For almost two years it was impossible in spite of repeated efforts on the Embassy’s part to fly into Czechoslovakia a United States Air Force plane for my travel. Within a month, however, we have obtained permission for three flights (made on May 10, May 23 and June 7) even though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reiterated on each occasion the permission was not to be considered a usual diplomatic privilege.

As regards travel, the Czechs are beginning to encourage tourists from the United States to visit Czechoslovakia. Toward this end they publicize tourist possibilities in this country, arrange tours through CEDOK, the official travel agency, and sell abroad tourist accommodations at reduced rates which ignore the official rate of exchange. They have also acceded fully to our interpretation that under the Treaty of Naturalization American citizens of Czechoslovak origin naturalized since the beginning of the War are not to be considered Czechoslovak citizens and treated as such while traveling in Czechoslovakia. They are allowing a few visitors in exceptional cases to go from Czechoslovakia to the United States. They are also granting a few more exit permits for immigrants to rejoin separated families in the United States. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has proposed that the Embassy resume full visa services and has raised the matter of reopening Czechoslovak consulates in the United States on the basis that it is prepared to see the reestablishment of the American Consulate General in Bratislava and the removal of limitations on the size of the Embassy staff.

The attitude and conduct of the Czechs in the current economic negotiations reveal a desire to see a readjustment of relations in this field. The Czechoslovak officials give the impression that they are aware of the costly mistake represented by the economic consequences [Page 178] of the Oatis case2 and are unhappy about the serious deterioration in economic relations that characterized the period 1951–54. They are unhappy that the state of economic unsettlement continues and we believe that they would like to see a solution of the outstanding economic issues between the two countries if the price is one which they think they can bear. While they are hard bargainers and have not yet offered any substantial concessions, they have carefully refrained from pushing the exchange to the point of our breaking off discussion. On several occasions when debate has reached a sharp point they have drawn back and taken a more reasonable attitude.

It is clear from their statements both in and outside the negotiations that the Czechs are interested in rebuilding their trade with the United States. They would like to obtain the restoration of MFN benefits but the argument that the solution of outstanding economic problems will provide some stimulus to the growth of trade by creating a more favorable atmosphere may have some plausibility with them in spite of what they say in the economic discussions. They are of course interested in the dollar income from increased trade. In addition they would doubtless like to demonstrate a return to a more normal condition and an ability to do as well as Poland at the present time and their non-Communist precursors in Czechoslovakia.

The regime’s efforts to broaden cultural relations with the United States are reflected in the sponsorship of Porgy and Bess involving a considerable dollar outlay for the Ministry of Finance and the invitations to American musicians to participate in the International Musical Festival, to the American pianist Julius Katchen and the American singer Hubert Dilworth to give a series of separate concerts in Prague and provincial cities, and to American skaters and tennis stars to appear in Czechoslovakia. It should be noted that the Czechs took the initiative in each of these cases to bring the American performers here and no official American interest was expressed in any of their visits. While this involves some expected reciprocity, the Government has not yet asked for much in return, apparently only seeking to arrange a tour in the United States for the Smetana Quartet. As we have previously reported and as we see it from the Embassy, the benefits of these cultural visits are proving very much in our favor.

Since the regime must be aware in some measure of the advantages accruing to the United States from cultural visits to Czechoslovakia the question of course arises as to why they are permitted or even [Page 179] sought. The regime may consider these advantages not too dangerous in comparison with the effects of admitting the entry of American books, magazines and newspapers. At the same time such cultural visits help the regime to gain a certain amount of respectability through promoting culture, through giving some support to the claim of lowering the Iron Curtain, and through giving the people something that they strongly desire.

We see little if any reason to think that this interest in extending cultural relations will reach in the near future to matters of a more purely informational character. We have seen no indication of a willingness to stop jamming or to permit the entry of Western publications. There appears no imminent possibility of opening a United States Information Service Library or even a substitute in the form of a reference library under some other name. Whatever limited changes have occurred so far since the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union the regime continues to reject any concessions looking toward freedom of information. The reaction to the students’ demands, particularly as revealed in the recent National Conference of the Communist Party, leaves no doubt on this score. The regime continues to be very strict regarding any encroachments on its ideological monopoly.

The main interest of the regime in improving and extending relations with the United States is doubtless explained as an aspect of the Soviet bloc’s campaign for peaceful coexistence and the relaxation of international tension. It may be noted, however, that a number of officials below the top leaders seem to welcome personally the opportunity permitted by present Soviet tactics in international affairs to take a more friendly attitude toward the United States and things American. Many of them, like the people generally, are sick of the isolation forced upon Czechoslovakia in the Stalinist period and are glad to come out into the light of contacts and exchange with the West. They do not like the reputation of maintaining an Iron Curtain and wish to do something to rid the regime of that onus. And finally the regime cannot altogether neglect the attitude of the people whose admiration and affection for the United States have not diminished.

Such an attitude on the part of the Czechoslovak Government does not of course prevent the secret police from maintaining surveillance over Embassy staff members, installing microphones in the Chancery or other American quarters and opening a secret entry to the Chancery attic. These efforts of the police to ascertain intelligence about the operations of the Embassy or to restrict those operations will doubtless continue as long as the Communist regime exists. Nor will its efforts cease to combat by both diplomatic and propaganda means balloon transmissions and what it describes as American “espionage” activities.

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The Embassy has already suggested in a number of separate communications to the Department its conclusions from these developments. It is believed that advantage should be taken of them to extend our efforts to settle outstanding problems in the relations of the two governments such as economic issues, the imprisonment of the American citizen Jaromir Zastera, exit documentation for American citizens and for close relatives of American citizens. The Embassy also considers it desirable to utilize such opportunities as are presented by this modification of attitude to increase the influence of the United States among the Czechoslovak people by facilitating the travel of Americans to Czechoslovakia, encouraging the visits of recognized American artists and other performers, arranging exhibits of American art, reopening the Consulate General at Bratislava, resuming certain visa services, and resuming payments by Treasury check to individual recipients of benefits now denied them in actual effect.

U. Alexis Johnson
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.49/6–2556. Confidential.
  2. William N. Oatis was the Associated Press correspondent in Prague when he was arrested on espionage charges in April 23, 1951. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. After vigorous American protests and the blocking of Czechoslovak assets in the United States, he was released on May 15, 1953. For documentation relating to the case, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. IV, Part 2, pp. 1338. ff. and ibid., 1952–1954, vol. VIII, pp. 1 ff.