The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview

PART FIVE

AUGUST—THE MONTH OF INTERVENTION

INTRODUCTION

On August 3, the day the last Soviet units from the Šumava exercise finally left Czechoslovakia, communist party representatives from the USSR, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the GDR and Czechoslovakia met in Bratislava on the basis of the agreement reached at Čierna. On August 2, the Warsaw Five had held separate talks where Brezhnev reported about the Čierna meeting. The views of the various participants differed: while Kádár welcomed the Čierna session because it had averted the acute threat of intervention, Gomułka and Zhivkov showed considerable skepticism, as did Ulbricht. The Polish leader was mildest, expressing only ""a" certain irritation … that the Soviet comrades had agreed to a bilateral meeting … at Čierna" (Document No. 70). Zhivkov stated bluntly to the Soviet ambassador afterwards: "It's impossible to trust Dubček, Černík, and Smrkovský … We must rely on other forces," while the East German Politburo on August 1 declared the need ""t"o deal a collective blow, using all available means, against the reactionary and counterrevolutionary forces in Czechoslovakia" (Documents Nos. 68, 69).

The Soviets convened the Bratislava meeting of the "Six" to ratify a Kremlin-drafted document on socialist unity and party development aimed at bringing Prague in line. After accepting several Czechoslovak remarks, the joint declaration was adopted. (As promised at Čierna, there was no further discussion of the Warsaw meeting.) On the one hand, Dubček succeeded in insisting on the right of each party to determine its own road to socialism in accordance with the specific conditions in its own country. On the other hand, the document retained the usual clich6s about unity, a common anti-imperialist struggle, loyalty to Marxism-Leninism, and so forth. However, there was an additional formulation on joint responsibility for the defense of socialism which was soon to be invoked to justify the right of the Five to intervene. It later became the point of departure for the Brezhnev Doctrine.


The 'Solicitors' Emerge

At this point, an event of fundamental significance took place: five top Czechoslovak party officials handed over a "letter of invitation" to the Soviets for help against the threat of alleged counterrevolutionary forces within Czechoslovakia (Document No. 72). Acknowledging "a number of mistakes" by "our collective—the party leadership," the letter claimed that ""t"he very existence of socialism in our country is under threat." "In such trying circumstances we are appealing to you, Soviet communists … with a request for you to lend support and assistance with all the means at your disposal" (Document No. 72). Vasil Bil'ak handed the letter personally to Soviet Politburo member Pyotr Shelest. (According to Shelest, the delivery took place in a lavatory in the conference hall.) The document played an important part in justifying the approaching invasion.

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