The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By Jaromír Navrátil | Go to book overview

DOCUMENT No. 14: Stenographic Account of the Dresden Meeting,
March 23,1968 (Excerpts)

Source: SAPMOB, ZPA, IV 2/201/778; Vondrová & Navrátil, vol. 1, pp. 73–117.

This stenographic account of the Dresden meeting of the Warsaw "Five "leaders is the only comprehen-
sive record of the concerns and pressure put on CPCz leaders at the time. It is particularly useful in highlighting
the way they were deceived about the intent of the conference. The Czechoslovak delegation, consisting
of Dubček, Čemík, Jozef Lenárt, Drahomír Kolder, and Vasil Bitak, had come to Dresden expecting to
discuss questions of economic cooperation among the East-bloc states. This expectation seemed to be
confirmed by the invitations extended to the heads of central planning from all the participating countries,
but the presence of those officials proved to be almost wholly cosmetic. Walter Ulbricht laid out the real
agenda of the meeting in his opening remarks, explaining that the assembled leaders wanted to learn about
the "plans of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia" and about the status of
the CPCz's "Action Program." The transcript underscores how uncomfortable Dubcek and his colleagues
were when the underlying purpose of the meeting was described to them. The CPCz first secretary
expressed a strong "reservation "from the outset about the sudden change of agenda, but he and the four
other Czechoslovak officials did not refuse to take part. Their participation inadvertently legitimized the
notion that Czechoslovakia's "internal affairs "were a valid topic for a multilateral conference.

The transcript is also valuable in showing how the "Five" Warsaw Pact countries came to adopt
different approaches during the early stages of the crisis. Gomulka's pronounced hostility toward the
Prague Spring clearly stemmed in part from the difficulties he had been encountering at home, which he
suspected were being inspired, at least indirectly, by the events in Czechoslovakia. Dubček's inability to
assuage the Polish leader's concerns became evident a few days after the Dresden meeting, when Gomulka
told a secret conclave of PZPR regional first secretaries that the talks in Dresden had confirmed that
"anti-socialist" youth and intellectuals in Poland were like "vessels in communication "with the reformist
elements in Prague (AAN, KC PZPR, P. 1, T. 298). Ulbricht, for his part, was also wary of the domestic
repercussions from the Prague Spring, but he was even more eager to ensure that the Dresden conference
would reaffirm Czechoslovakia's stand against "our common mortal enemy, imperialism," and specifi-
cally against the "revanchist" brand of imperialism in the FRG. Brezhnev's approach was less extreme
than Gomulka'swhich was beneficial for the "Five "in many respects because it made the Soviet leader
appear conciliatory by comparisonbut all the CPSU delegates, especially Aleksei Kosygin, made no
attempt to hide their growing dissatisfaction with recent developments. Of the leaders of the "Five," only
Kádár had any hope that the "Czechoslovak comrades themselves know best" how to cope with their own
problems. Even Kádár however, sought to convince Dubcek and the other CPCz officials that resolute
measures must be taken soon to prevent the onset of a full-fledged "counterrevolution "in Czechoslovakia.

The positions of the various countries remained essentially along these lines until just after the Warsaw
Meeting in mid-July (see Document No. 52), when a greater consensus emerged among the "Five "(and
within Moscow) about the need for military intervention if prompt and decisive steps were not adopted by
the CPCz leadership. In the meantime, the differing approaches of the "Five," as the Dresden conference
well illustrated, proved useful for the Soviet leadership. The harsh views of Gomulka and Ulbricht helped
put pressure on the Czechoslovak authorities, whereas Kádár's approach facilitated Soviet attempts to
rely on "comradely persuasion "as well as coercion. The Dresden conference thus served as a microcosm
of the way Brezhnev managed the whole crisis during the first seven months of 1968.

Only recently it came to light that a secret stenographic recordalbeit a somewhat incomplete
onewas kept by East German officials, thanks to a hidden recording system. The proceedings were
apparently taped and transcribed without the knowledge of the other participants, including the Soviet
delegates. This excerptcharacterized by the sometimes impenetrable language of the monologuesis
based on that secret record.

L. Brezhnev: Unfortunately, we do not have full information on the course of the December Plenum and the January Plenum. It is, of course, no secret—one can take a look at it in the

-64-

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