The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview

DOCUMENT No. 1: Proceedings of the 4th Czechoslovak Writers'
Congress, June 27–29,1967, and a Follow-up Resolution
by the CPCz CC Plenum, September 1967 (Excerpts)

Sources: (1) IV. Sjezd Svazu československých spisovatelů (Protokol), Praha, 27.-29. června 1967 (Prague: SCSS, 1968), pp. 131–162; (2) VHA, MNO-HPS, RS 18–1/1968; and (3) Sb. KV, DIV - ÚSD, AÚV KSč, F. 01

The 4th Czechoslovak Writers' Congress in June 1967 symbolized, more than any other event, the
growing political and intellectual ferment in Czechoslovakia during Premier Antonín Novotný's last year
in power. The congress became a forum for unprecedented public criticism of the CPCz, and of Novotný
personally. These excerpts, from speeches by Milan Kundera, Václav Havel, Ludvík Vaculík, and Pavel
Kohout, convey both the spirited nature of the debate and the main demands put forth by the writers—for
greater freedom of expression and an end to censorship. The response of the top communist party official
responsible for cultural affairs and ideology, Jiří Hendrych, reflects the communist party leadership's
hard-line position against such "hostile views."

Kundera, Havel, Vaculík, and Kohout were among Czechoslovakia's best known writers. Kundera
gained prominence for his satirical and existential writings, a style he continued and perfected while living
in exile after 1968. Havel, only 31 years old in 1967, had already earned a reputation as a gifted and
courageous playwright. Vaculík was regarded as one of the finest writers in Czechoslovakia and had
recently published his acclaimed novel Sekyra (The Axe). He subsequently authored the famous "Two
Thousand Words "Manifesto (see Document No. 44). Kohout was a celebrated playwright and in mid-1968
became widely known for his "Message from the Citizens," which was published in Literární listy and
signed by hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks on the eve of the čierna nad Tisou negotiations
(see Document No. 63). The willingness of these four writers and their colleagues to speak out so boldly
posed a danger to their careers, their livelihood, and even their personal safety.

Hendrych's speech represents the CPCz leadership's extreme dissatisfaction with the Writers' Con-
gress. In his remarks, he condemns the regime's critics for espousing views "fundamentally at odds with
the policy of our republic and the policy of the communist party." He promises to exact retribution against
the "hostile" speakersa pledge fulfilled three months later, in September 1967, when the CPCz Central
Committee adopted a disciplinary resolution against several of the writers.


Excerpts from Milan Kundera's Speech

Large European nations with a so-called classical history look upon the European continent as something natural. But Czech history is interspersed with periods of awakening and periods of slumber, and missed certain major stages in the progress of the European spirit so they were forced to interpret the European context simply for themselves, to master it, and to re-create it. For the Czechs nothing was ever a matter to be taken for granted, neither their language nor their "Europeanism."…

In his letter to Helvetius, Voltaire wrote that beautiful phrase: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." This formulates a fundamental ethical principle of modern culture. Anyone who goes back in history to the period before this principle takes a step backward from modern times into the Middle Ages. Any suppression of views, even when the views that are being forcibly suppressed are erroneous, must lead, in the final analysis away from the truth, for truth can be attained only through the interaction of views that are equal and free. Any interference with freedom of thought and words, no matter how discreet the technique or name given to such censorship, is a scandal in the twentieth century and a shackle on our emerging literature.

Czech writers have borne responsibility for the very existence of their nation, and this is true even today because the standard of Czech writing, its greatness or smallness, courage or

-8-

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