88. Telegram From the Embassy in Czechoslovakia to the Department of State1
Prague, August 24, 1968, 1600Z.
3163. Subj: Czechoslovak situation.
- As occupation goes into fourth day, following is situation as viewed from here.
- This is bizarre kind of occupation. Although occupying forces have taken over key points they have not established martial law (except in some provincial cities), have not imposed military government, and have not yet installed puppet government. Legally constituted government claims to be still in being: 22 out of about 30 Ministers attended Cabinet meeting yesterday, apparently in Hradcany Castle. National Assembly claims to be in continuing session in its own building. Communist Party organs not only continuing to operate but managed to convene Party Congress under noses of occupying forces despite fact that Congress severely complicates Soviets’ problems in installing compliant regime.2 Several district and regional committees have announced they will respect new CC elected by Congress.
- Much credit for remarkable cohesion of Czechoslovaks in present situation must go to brave and competent individuals manning [Page 258] numerous radio stations, many of which seem to have at least nine lives. Hazards and operational difficulties, including jamming, continuing to increase, but at least nine transmitters, including two in Prague and two in Slovakia, could be heard at various times last night. Press has also performed well, publishing numerous special editions (presumably under highly adverse circumstances) which are handed out on street corners.
- Population in Prague has conducted itself very well. Nonacceptance of occupation has been demonstrated in unmistakable and in some cases ingenious ways. Downtown area was almost completely plastered with placards yesterday (many have disappeared this morning, either as result of rain or clean-up by Soviets during curfew). Last night we saw new neon sign in bright light district which read simply “Dubcek.” On advice radio stations which anticipating [garble] street signs and house numbers have completely disappeared in some districts of city. Actions of population and slogans (including many which equate Soviets with Fascists) are highly provocative, but with few exceptions people have been able to avoid provoking extreme reaction by occupiers. Widespread calls for neutrality represents wishful thinking which could embarrass reformist leaders seeking realistic solution. Cancellation of mass demonstration late Thursday afternoon with enforcement by young Czechs is best example of self-discipline practiced by population. Silent clearing of streets during general strike at noon yesterday also impressive.
- Public transportation in Prague is reduced and few private cars are in circulation, probably because of gasoline unavailability (gas stations no longer operating). Most shops remained closed through yesterday but are beginning to open this morning. Prague factories were open yesterday but did not seem to be working. Food still available in limited supplies, for which long queues wait, but we have seen little evidence of obvious hoarding.
- Scene [Serene?] attitude of Soviets perplexing in many respects. Except for resistance and firing first day in vicinity Prague Radio building (Embtel 3054)3 they have not used much muscle and sporadic apparently aimless firing may primarily be intended as reminder of military presence. At beginning Prague populace inclined to talk to soldiers asking them why they were here but this has stopped and silent contempt treatment may be making troops edgy.
- Czechoslovakia presents remarkable demonstration of a country running itself without an effective central government. Main direction so far being provided by strong party elements controlling clandestine radios. Interesting Soviets have not used their own means of issuing proclamations and their decisions, which have to be heeded, [Page 259] such as curfew, are carried on resistance radios. In some other cities, notably Pilzen which has been observed, accommodations of mutual non-interference have been worked out between commanders and local party chiefs. Lacking a Quisling administration Soviets were obviously unprepared to take over the country and had not called forward conventional instruments of occupation such as a pervasive secret police and military government commands.
- All of this, reinforced by calm determined attitude of population and avoidance of anti-Soviet excesses, places Czech reformist (and non resistance) Communists in stronger political position than could have been expected under occupation conditions. This is apparently their belief, at any rate, and widespread belief many Czechoslovaks. If “new government” just announced by TASS does not reflect overwhelming popular strength of reformists it will have difficulty establishing its authority without continued Soviet military presence.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–1 COMBLOC–CZECH. Confidential; Immediate. Repeated to Bonn, London, Paris, Moscow, Munich, USNATO, and USUN.↩
- The August 22 meeting called by the Prague Party Committee reaffirmed loyalty to Dubcek and the other captured leaders and organized a 1-hour general protest strike on August 23.↩
- Telegram 3054, August 21, summarized Prague radio reports on the Czech situation. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–1 COMBLOC–CZECH)↩