421. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

SOV M 200–29X

Czechoslovakia: Gorbachev and the Husak Ouster


Gustav Husak’s resignation as Czechoslovak General Secretary in December 1987 was primarily the result of internal leadership pressure and not a demand by Moscow. Czechoslovak Politburo members most likely concluded that some economic change was necessary and that this could be more adeptly and safely managed by a competent, pragmatic conservative like Milos Jakes than by the aging and increasingly uncertain Husak. [less than 2 lines not declassified] We do not believe that Gorbachev dictated Husak’s removal or the elevation of Jakes. [portion marking not declassified]

[2 paragraphs (24 lines) not declassified]

[7 lines not declassified] During his April 1987 visit to Czechoslovakia, Gorbachev in his public comments:

Did not take the side of the pro-reform faction in the Czechoslovak Communist Party (CPCZ) and came out indirectly against approving the 1968 reforms.
Emphasized that national conditions had to serve as the yardstick for socio-economic changes; admitted that the Soviet Union lagged behind the East Europeans in introducing economic change; and praised the overall situation of the Czechoslovak economy.
Proclaimed a new conceptual basis for relations between the Bloc countries based on equality and national independence.

[1 paragraph (less than 3 lines) not declassified]

These visits, however, as well as the atmosphere of invigoration and change Gorbachev created within the Bloc, and increased availability of information about Gorbachev’s reform efforts in the Soviet media, probably caused the Czechoslovak leadership to perceive increasing pressure to embark on a course of modest economic change. Overall, the Gorbachev phenomenon certainly caused the reform debate in Prague to intensify, and—even without overt interference from Moscow—the leadership, as a loyal ally of the Soviets, probably felt obliged to follow the lead of Gorbachev in order not to be left behind. [portion marking not declassified]

[Page 1385]

Further Consideration of the Soviet Role

[6 lines not declassified] According to a US Embassy source, the Soviets were consulted on the decision to replace Husak, but only after the change had been worked out in the CPCZ leadership. In a similar vein, Gennadiy Gerasimov, chief of the Soviet foreign ministry information directorate, said in a press interview that the Soviets knew “a lot” about it, that it was “a process which was discussed”. On balance, we believe it is unlikely that the Soviet Union initiated or otherwise directly ordained this Czechoslovak leadership change. [portion marking not declassified]

Although the Soviet Union has tools enabling it to exert influence over East European successions, we believe it is unlikely that Moscow was sufficiently concerned to direct the ouster of Husak. The Soviet leadership probably believes that in Czechoslovakia—as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, possibly with the exception of Romania—it can trust most members of the local leadership. They all have a worldview and interests generally in common with the Soviets; have learned to deal with Moscow; and are masters of accommodation. Given the USSR’s preponderance of influence in the region, the East European leaderships can be relied upon to take Soviet preferences into consideration when formulating major decisions. [portion marking not declassified]

Jakes is an excellent case of a leader Moscow feels it can trust, and Moscow has readily accepted him as Husak’s successor. Jakes has always shown unswerving loyalty to Moscow and is well known to the Soviet leadership. He attended the higher party school in Moscow from 1955 to 1958, was a party secretary for agriculture when Gorbachev had similar responsibilities, and frequently met Soviet officials during his long tenure as a CPCZ Central Committee secretary. In his new role, Jakes has already visited the Kremlin for discussions, which were described by Soviet officials in notably positive terms. [portion marking not declassified]

Such a “hands off” policy toward Czechoslovakia does not necessarily mean that Gorbachev would not attempt to play a more direct role if he perceived that stability or party control might be weakening in another East European country. [7 lines not declassified]

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Rudolf Perina Files, Czechoslovakia—Substance (1988). Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. Prepared in the Regional Policy Division, Office of Soviet Analysis and the East European Division, Office of European Analysis.