Events Surrounding the Čierna nad Tisou Negotiations
Source: "Alexander Dubček vzpomí'ná: Původní rozhovor pro Občanský deník o pozadí
srpnových událostí roku 1968," Občanský deník (Prague), Part 1, August 3, 1990, p. 3 and
Part 2, August 10, 1990, p. 3.
The four-part interview with Alexander Dubček that appeared in Občanský deník in August 1990
provides his most elaborate recollections of the 1968 crisis. These first two sections cover the period from
the Warsaw Meeting to the Bratislava conference. Dubček's personal memory offers a behind-the-scenes
account of the Čierna talks and his own role, thoughts, and decisions.
In the interview, Dubček recounts his private meeting with Brezhnev, in the Soviet's leaders' private
railroad car at Čierna nad Tisou, when no other officials were present. Describing what that meeting was
like, he discusses the way the whole episode fit into the Soviet leader's broader negotiating strategy.
Dubček also gives a detailed presentation of the demands that Brezhnev and other Soviet officials were
seeking to extract from him, and he deals at some length with the question of whether "concessions" on
his part—such as the reimposition of censorship, the dismissal of prominent reformers, and the dissolution
of political groups—might have altered the Soviet decision. Dubček expresses skepticism that anything
short of the wholesale repudiation of the Prague Spring and a reversion to "neo-Stalinism" would have
been enough to mollify the Soviet Politburo. "Should I have used an iron hand?," he asks, and answers:
"If I had I would have betrayed myself, the people, the nation, and everything we stood for."
Memories of Dresden and Warsaw and of meetings at Čierna nad Tisou and Bratislava in the spring and summer of 1968 are still swathed in mystery, and many questions remain. This is even more the case with regard to the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the armies of five countries, as well as the Moscow talks between our delegation and representatives of the Kremlin. We asked the person who knows most about those events—Alexander Dubček—for a testimony and some personal memories.
Občanský deník: The threat to the renewal process from the Warsaw Pact actually began with the meeting in March 1968—the meeting at Dresden. But a more urgent threat arose at the meeting of the five communist parties in Warsaw in July 1968, when they drafted a letter. How would you characterize the situation at that time?
Dubček: As I see it, the Warsaw Letter was a turning point. A watershed. Until then, in my view, no decision was made on intervention. Brezhnev and the others were still working to find a "fifth column" in our country, including some elements from the State Security as well as some in the army and the CPCz. They wanted to do everything they could to stir up internal unrest in our country. But intervention had not yet been decided on. In my view, this was the logical progression of events.
And in this situation they prepared the Warsaw Letter, which was supposed to be the signal that a "fifth column" had been found. At that time they said we were refusing to negotiate with them. That's nonsense, we didn't refuse. We said we wanted the joint meeting to be preceded by bilateral meetings. We received threatening letters from individual parties. In particular, what Ulbricht wrote me was awful. So we said that first we wanted to meet these parties individually, and then these bilateral meetings would culminate in a joint meeting.
But they insisted on holding these meetings in such rapid sequence that it took us aback.
They did not accept our proposal, and decided to meet without us, without the bilateral meetings, and without having the Romanians and Yugoslavs present, contrary to what we had proposed. There is, in my view, another point to be made here, namely, that they attempted to