The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By JaromÍr NavrÁtil | Go to book overview

PART FOUR

THE JULY CRISIS

INTRODUCTION

The proceedings of the CPCz district conferences at the end of June caused great concern in Moscow, Berlin, Warsaw, Sofia and Budapest. The outcome of the conferences clearly indicated that the pro-Brezhnev conservatives would lose their posts at the forthcoming Extraordinary 14th CPCz Congress. In this context, the "Two Thousand Words" Manifesto became a welcome pretext for a new round of massive Soviet military, political and ideological pressures on the Czechoslovak reform movement and its leadership. For the Soviets, after all, the manifesto represented a platform for counterrevolution.

At that time, as part of Hungarian-Soviet friendship celebrations from June 27 to July 4, confidential talks were going on in Moscow between a Hungarian delegation led by János Kádár, and representatives of the CPSU Politburo led by Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksei Kosygin. Despite certain differing assessments of the Czechoslovak situation—the Hungarians judged the matter more moderately—their points of view grew closer together. Kádár, it is clear, endorsed a proposal to call another meeting of representatives of the five socialist countries (the "Five"), whether or not the Czechoslovak leadership was to be included. From the minutes of a meeting of the HSWP Politburo on July 7, 1968, it is evident that the situation in Czechoslovakia was to be discussed there.

Kádár also agreed with a critical letter from the CPSU Politburo to Prague (Document No. 48). Dated July 4, the letter began on a stark note, declaring that ""c"onditions in the ČSSR are becoming even more dangerous than before." After describing a litany of ominous developments inside the country, the authors arrive at "the crucial question … Will there or will there not be a socialist Czechoslovakia?"

Immediately afterwards, the CPCz Presidium received four letters from the leaders of the other members of the Five. While differing in the degree of criticism they leveled at the Czechoslovak situation, all were essentially based on the Soviet assessment. The note included a proposal for a meeting along the lines Brezhnev had expressed over the telephone to Dubček on July 5. The coordination of the letters by the Kremlin was obvious.

Meanwhile, the Czechoslovak leadership had to deal with serious complications which arose after the Šumava command-staff exercises. It turned out that Marshal Ivan Yakubovskii, commander of the Warsaw Pact Armed Forces, tried to prolong the exercise beyond the originally agreed-upon date (June 30), as well as delay the departure of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia. It was only when Dubček and Oldřich Cerník intervened personally that the exercises were reviewed (Document No. 45). The failure to provide for a joint assessment of the maneuvers was only one of the "irregularities" the Czechoslovak leaders discovered during a briefing they received from Yakubovskii on July 1. Dubček and Černík complained that "the continuation of the exercises is causing anxiety among our public and among the staffs and troops of the CzPA." Yet despite their demands to bring the maneuvers to an end, Yakubovskii never responded, and, notwithstanding various promises he and his staff had previously given, the withdrawal of troops dragged on until August 3. This naturally increased tensions in the country, a fact reflected in the critical reaction voiced by the Czechoslovak media.

-183-

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