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

4037. 1. Prevailing atmosphere here and apparently throughout country is one of unrelieved gloom which 50th anniversary celebrations unlikely to dissipate.

2. Cause is not so much current effect of Soviet intervention which until now has not greatly disturbed everyday life but what Soviets have [Page 283] done to break nation’s spirit. Hitherto irrepressible film producers who fared well even under Novotny view future with foreboding. Communist member South Bohemian National Council privately predicted that even though situation unlikely to return to pre-January conditions, necessary will is lacking to tackle problems calling for immediate action.

3. On larger scale, problems include federalization which has brought out latent animosities, economic reform which under best of circumstances requires strong direction and sacrifice, and party reorganization where certain tendencies toward self-destruction fostered by Soviet interference seem especially manifest. While Soviets obviously bent on producing pliant party and government leadership, it gives one reason to wonder how they envisage country is to be run without provoking kind of deterioration which will eventually redound to their disadvantage.

4. Positive factor from our standpoint is that while leaders’ statements have been cheerless and in varying degrees submissive, they still enjoy large degree of popular confidence with significant external Communist support and may continue to do so as long as they stick together. Furthermore resistance spirit is strong in many quarters and is capable of asserting itself in ingenious ways, short of being stopped by mass arrests.

5. Question is what we can do to offer encouragement. An anti-Russian campaign would revive drooping morale even though we realize the validity of other considerations. Point to keep in mind is that under new circumstances anything we say or do by way of encouragement in this context is not likely to complicate situation for regime or do it harm.

6. It seems to us that ending UNGA general debate2 we should try to find new ways to focus attention on Czechoslovakia, shifting emphasis to current blatant forms of Soviet intervention in internal affairs. Apart from non-justification of presence in Czechoslovakia of Soviet troops on basis of unequal treaty, Western spokesmen and media can play up continued presence troops above any agreed figure and outside of reserved areas. Type of gradual withdrawal of surplus troops presaged in Kosygin’s statement at October 16 treaty signing is obvious intervention in domestic affairs, re-enacting on greater scale the delayed withdrawal of maneuver forces in June–July, and is completely unjustified [Page 284] in terms of Soviet and bloc security. Such surplus forces demonstrate that real mission of Soviet troops is political intervention.

7. Publicity can be given to recent activities of Soviet officers in participating in political meeting at which current leadership is criticized, attempting to interfere with schools, and detaining local and foreign citizens without authority. Firm US public statements on order of those during past six weeks on Eastern Europe, Berlin, US and NATO contingency defense planning would continue to stress broad issues, as would further indications that US ready to resume dialogue on world security issues when Soviets abandon acts and dogmas alien to world community of independent and diverse nations. Until such indications received, US stance toward Soviets politically and socially would still be rather distant although it could conceivably soften slightly toward certain Pact allies when they have removed all troops from Czechoslovakia.

8. On a government-to-government basis we owe the Czechs very little since they have only caused us trouble and do not wish to be liked by us. On the other hand we feel it is in our interest to keep alive the objectives which the reformists, although Communists, were seeking to achieve and which are bound historically to have lasting repercussions. Meanwhile, we should go on treating Czechoslovakia as independent country until proven otherwise, maintaining normal relations wherever possible and, in any event, continuing and hopefully strengthening contacts and exchanges of all kinds.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL CZECH. Confidential. Repeated to Bonn, Budapest, Bucharest, Moscow, Munich, Sofia, and Warsaw.
  2. At the request of the Czech Government, the question of the Soviet invasion was withdrawn from the Security Council agenda on August 27. Thereafter U.S. representatives used discussions on issues inscribed on the calendars of the General Assembly and its subcommittees to highlight Soviet aggression. Secretary Rusk condemned Soviet behavior in his October 2 address to the General Assembly. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, October 21, 1968, pp. 405–410.