77. Telegram From the Embassy in Czechoslovakia to the Department of State1

2825. Subj: Assessment of Czech-Soviet confrontation.

Dubcek regime can take considerable credit for saving its skin at Cierna and for staring down the Soviet threat of force. We understand this is what actually happened at first meetings, when Dubcek stood up against personal attack and Svoboda said he would resign if Soviets insisted on troop stationing in Czechoslovakia. Czechs also seem to have essentially preserved their ability to pursue their own domestic program.
Czechs however paid heavy verbal price in language of Bratislava Declaration2 (see below), which if nothing else clearly implies that Czechs will hew closely to Soviet foreign policy line. They also agreed at Cierna to hold down anti-Soviet material in media and reportedly agreed to restrict emergence of new political groups; both concessions spell trouble for Dubcek group’s relations with progressive domestic allies. Additional concessions may have been made and not yet brought to light, e.g. on Soviet military presence here or on personnel adjustments (either removal of progressives or retention of others).
We regard following as principal Czech concessions in Bratislava Declaration:
Acceptance of proposition that high international tension exists and that “subversive activity of imperialism” requires strengthening Communist unity;
International obligation of all to defend socialist achievements, which provides possible future justification for intervention in Czechoslovakia or demands for tighter CSCP control;
Recognition that leading role of CPs is under attack and that “extraordinary vigilance” is needed in this regard;
Agreement to “harmonize and coordinate” foreign activities in context sharp criticism US, West Germany and Israeli “ruling circles;”
Acknowledgement that in face international tension marked by growth of revanchist forces in West Germany, political and military cooperation in Warsaw Pact must be strengthened.
The passing of this latest crisis will assuredly be welcomed with relief here but will also give rise to much questioning as to what kind of deals were made with Czechoslovakia’s hard-line ideological opponents. Reinstitution of terminology of cold war could provide cover for special measures which may be demanded in name of European Communist solidarity and security. The setting and atmosphere would thus be beyond Czech regime’s control.
Meeting organized by students in Prague Old Town Square last night indicated questions already being raised; one prominent placard demanded that truth be told about Bratislava. Perhaps Dubcek speech scheduled tonight and public rally we understand being planned for tomorrow evening will help clarify matters. Tito and Ceausescu visits—if latter in fact still comes after reading communiqué—could also provide enlightenment on where Czechs now stand.3
Communiqué will be difficult for us to handle publicly since we can hardly extract much joy from its invidious language. Perhaps Department could express satisfaction that costly crisis, which was provoked artificially as means of pressure against small state, seems to be surmounted. We would hope the Cierna meeting will enable the Czechoslovak nation to pursue its self-development insofar as possible in accord with its people’s wishes.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL CZECH. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to Belgrade, Berlin, Bonn, Bucharest, Budapest, Moscow, Munich, USNATO, Sofia, Warsaw, and USUN.
  2. Soviet, Czech, and Eastern European Communist leaders met at Bratislava on August 3. For the text of their communiqué, issued on August 4, see Remington, Winter in Prague, pp. 265–261. For extracts, see Department of State Bulletin, September 9, 1968, p. 264.
  3. President Tito of Yugoslavia visited Prague August 9–11; President Ceausescu of Romania visited Prague August 15–16.