136. Telegram From the Embassy in Poland to the Department of State1

4540. Subject: Effect of Czechoslovak crisis on Polish scene. Ref: Warsaw 4300.2

Effects of intervention in Czechoslovakia will certainly be felt in Poland for some time to come. Most important short-term consequences of recent events will probably be general clamping down of lid in Poland. Long-term consequences are not so clear, however. Following are some implications for various elements in political scene here.
Party—Immediate effect of Warsaw Pact joint actions against Czechoslovakia is to strengthen Gomulka’s position within party. His leadership has sustained serious challenge over past fifteen months from “nationalist” and ambitious younger elements of party. He had appeared to lose ground following “March events”3 of this year. Though he succeeded in reasserting himself in May and June, published discussions [Page 372] at July Plenum showed there was no consensus on major issues and, in fact, there existed considerable turmoil in party. Speculation was rife that Gomulka might again lose ground to his challengers at November Party Congress. Now, however, those who may have argued within party councils for change in the guard and/or greater autonomy from Moscow might well lie low for time being. Soviets can hardly tolerate at this moment any rocking of Polish boat. Gomulka would not in any case give up without fierce struggle, in which he would presumably be able to count on Soviet support. However, long-term prospects are not so clear; Polish regime has been increasingly exposed as Soviet satellite by willy-nilly identifying itself with Soviet international adventures and miscalculations.
Armed Forces—Military has not in recent times played well-defined role of its own in Polish politics, except to extent that some individual military officers have been identified with “Partisans” and that military has also purged itself of “Zionists” of alleged doubtful loyalty. It is conceivable that differences exist within military leadership on political aspects of Czech venture, as was true during aftermath of Arab-Israeli war. Fact that First Deputy Chief of Army’s main political administration (Gen. Czapla) found it necessary to go to Czechoslovakia two weeks ago to talk to Polish troops on spot (Warsaw 4316)4 may tie in with rumors of low morale among Polish occupying forces. Reading between lines in press leads to strong suspicion political “Commissars” will have some difficulty in future with military elements who experienced truth in Czechoslovakia. It is not impossible that coming weeks or months will bring further shake-up in military hierarchy, like those which followed Arab-Israeli war last year and Polish student demonstrations this spring.
Intellectuals—From representative sampling, Embassy concludes that Polish intelligentsia (cultural and technical) has all along strongly sympathized with liberalizing trends in Czechoslovakia and feels considerable shame and disgust at Polish complicity in invasion of Czechoslovakia. However, apart from leaflet reported in Warsaw 4320,5 which is probably work of Warsaw intellectuals or students, we know of no active manifestations of solidarity with Czechoslovakia.
Students—Regime has been fortunate in that Czechoslovak crisis came to head during vacation season when students are scattered. What will happen when academic year begins and students are concentrated again in Warsaw, Krakow and elsewhere is difficult to foresee. We cannot discount possibility that there will be attempts to organize protests. [Page 373] However, odds will be strongly against potentially dissident students. Steam may well have gone out of Czechoslovak crisis by time students get together. Regime organs will certainly be more than usually vigilant with memory of “March events” in Poland still fresh and with example of Czech students’ behavior before them. Polish students themselves may be skeptical about utility of protest actions in view of way their protests last March were turned against them and exploited for internal party purposes. Their most militant leaders of last spring are, in any case, in jail.
Church—So far, church has not spoken out on events in Czechoslovakia. Although we take it for granted that church hierarchy is strongly opposed to Polish participation in Warsaw Pact action against Czechoslovakia on moral and patriotic grounds, we believe that church will be cautious about expressing its views in public. Church leaders may well conclude that it would not be in church’s best interests here to enter fruitless debate with regime on issue of relations with another socialist state or on merits of internal Czech liberalization process (led, after all, by Communists). Church may well prefer to save its ammunition for issues of more immediate concern to it.
Workers—In aftermath of Czech crisis Poland has not witnessed anything comparable to series of factory rallies organized in support of government at time of March events. Those manifestations of solidarity which have occurred with some regularity have mainly taken the form of letters, greetings and gifts directed towards “heroic” Polish soldiers in the field. Absence of any serious attempt by regime to evoke working class endorsement for its stand may indicate that government considers the workers at best apathetic or at worst uncooperative on this issue. Regime has clearly chosen to rely more on emotive power of its arguments (threat of FRG) to justify its actions and probably has decided not to use Czech affair to dissipate momentum needed among the workers for the pre-Congress campaign.
Poland’s Foreign Relations—Poland’s participation in Warsaw Pact actions will have at least temporary chilling effect on its foreign relations, above all with Western Europe and US. WE countries have already taken measures to cancel visits or other joint activities planned for near future to indicate their displeasure. Most dramatic of such actions is indefinite postponement by French of Gomulka September visit to Paris. Poland’s careful efforts over recent years to cultivate smaller European countries (Scandinavia and Benelux in particular) and gain sympathetic hearing for its view on Germany, European security and European boundary problems appear for moment, at least to have suffered severe setback. Whenever Poles begin picking up threads again they will no longer enjoy psychological advantage as leading victims of Nazi wartime brutality and as first East European country to liberalize its internal [Page 374] structure in 1956. Wellspring of special sympathy which Poles enjoy in West Europe, in other words, has probably run dry, at least temporarily. It had already been significantly reduced by increasing illiberalism of Gomulka regime in recent years, stubborn rigidity on Central European issues, increasingly vocal subservience to Moscow line on all international matters, and above all outbreak of internal anti-Semitism earlier this year. Absence of Foreign Minister and current demoralization of Polish Foreign Service will not help in coping with problem.
Conclusions—Unhappy as large sections of Polish public may be over Czechoslovak affair, we are not aware of any significant protest actions and hardly anticipate any. In short run at least, we expect tightening of regime controls. Gomulka will in all likelihood be able to take advantage of current atmosphere to maintain his position in party and possibly win back some lost ground through PZPR Congress in November. However, this immediate prospect does not necessarily correspond to longer range trends.
To be sure, Gomulka may use his Czech windfall to pick off his potential rivals and opponents in party leadership and so maintain his predominant position indefinitely. However, younger, less dogmatic, more nationalistic elements of party—those who have been challenging Gomulka’s establishment since last March student unrest—do not appear despondent re prospects following Czech invasion. While some are skilled and pragmatic, they do not necessarily sympathize with Czech democracy, liberalism and economic reform. At this stage “the game” is more nihilistic: That of making room nearer top of power structure and occupying it. Today it is Zionists and revisionists who must make room; tomorrow, their protectors (Gomulka establishment) must yield. Moreover, top contenders, Moczar and Gierek, appreciate that under Polish international and domestic conditions only way to climb to top is on Gomulka’s back. If Gomulka’s long-term authority and respect are debilitated along way by involvement in unpopular affairs—like anti-Zionist campaign, clamp-down on students and intellectuals, and Czech invasion—so much the better.
Power struggle in Poland continues with Czech occupation constituting temporary windfall for Gomulka. Final chapter Czech occupation and its influence on future Soviet leadership and behavior not yet written. Outcome in Prague and Moscow will be major factors influencing eventual political course and leadership pattern in Poland.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–1 COMBLOC–CZECH. Confidential. Repeated to Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Moscow, Prague, Sofia, Munich, USNATO, and Poznan.
  2. Telegram 4300, August 21, analyzed the implications for Poland of the Czech crisis. (Ibid.)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 133.
  4. Telegram 4316, August 26, reported Polish press comments on Czechoslovakia. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–1 COMBLOC–CZECH)
  5. Dated August 27. (Ibid.)