The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview

DOCUMENT No. 137: Vasil Bil'ak's Recollections of Preparations for
the April 1969 CPCz CC Plenum, and the Removal of Alexander Dubček

Source: Paměti Vasila Bilaka: Unikátní svědectvi ze zákulisí KSČ, 2 vols. (Prague: Agentura
Cesty, 1991), vol. 2, pp. 183–189.

In this excerpt from his memoirs, Bil'ak gives an interesting view into the process of the reorganization
of the Czechoslovak power structure during the grim, early stages of "normalization". As part of the
wholesale eradication of untrustworthy elements from the party, Bil'ak and his fellow hard-liners verified
the political reliability of every member of the Central Committee. But the main task facing the country's
pro-Moscow leaders in the spring of 1969 was to replace Dubček as CPCz CC first secretary. Initially,
Oldřich Černík surfaced as the leading candidate, but when he was sent to Moscow for approval, he failed
to provide the necessary guarantees that he would eliminate "right-wing opportunist members" from the
party leadership and "pursue the policy of the Marxist-Leninist forces." In his place, Gustáv Husák got
the nod. Despite some earlier signs that he had favored certain elements of reform, Husák would go on to
complete the normalization process and rule the country until 1989.

Early in April it was clear that a political disentanglement was on the horizon in Czechoslovakia, that the political winter was coming to an end and that not only a symbolic but a genuine political spring had to follow. The situation had to be resolved one way or another. We were working with the members of the Central Committee actively and in a well thought out manner. We assessed every member of the CPCz CC against a political background and on the basis of their character. We needed to be certain and know what they were like. Whenever we did not know someone, and I am referring to those who were co-opted to the CPCz CC, we looked for someone who knew them and who was given the task of verifying their political qualities and character. There was a group like this in every region. We had to obtain a picture of each individual to be capable of foreseeing what would happen once things came to the crunch, to which side this or that member of the Central Committee would turn.

We realized that the preparations for the Central Committee session which was to be held in April "1969", as the CPCz CC Presidium had announced to the CPSU Central Committee, had to be well thought out down to the last detail. Even Černík and most other members of the presidium had begun to realize that Dubček must leave the post of first secretary of the CPCz CC. It became clear that the process of clarification had reached the phase that when the proposal for Dubček's dismissal as first secretary of the Central Committee was drawn up it would be adopted by a majority.

Comrades from Prague and messengers from various regions and districts met in my office at the CPCz CC for three or four weeks. Here we assessed the situation and determined further procedures. Among the most active were Comrades Drahomír Kolder, Karel Hoffmann, Alois Indra, Jozef Lenárt, Oldřich Švestka, Jan Fojtík, Václav David, Antonín Kapek, Josef Korčák, Vilém Nový, Miroslav Zavadil, Otakar Rytíř and others. It was a great help that Comrade Husák managed the situation correctly in Slovakia, which very much influenced the situation in the Czech Lands. Comrade Ján Janík, Ludovít Pezlár, Miloslav Boda, Ondrej Klokoč, Eugen Turzo and others worked with a great deal of initiative. Miloš Jakeš, chairman of the Central Control and Audit Commission of the CPCz, provided great support and assistance. In his position he was able to manage correctly and help with many questions.

Strong Marxist-Leninist groups were working in all regions behind the backs of many leading secretaries who hold right-wing positions. Links were established with regions, districts and major factories. This work meant that we had to obtain the necessary material resources. Many people were working in a dedicated manner, and voluntarily, but they were out of work and had to live on something. At a certain point I considered asking Černík for some money. Later I

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