The Prague Spring 1968: A National Security Archive Documents Reader

By Jaromír Navrátil | Go to book overview

PART SEVEN

DOCUMENTARY EPILOGUE

DOCUMENT No. 139: Vadim Medvedev's Account of the Legacy
of the 1968 Crisis in the Age of Perestroika

Source: V. A. Medvedev, Raspad: Kak on nazreval v "mirovoi sisteme sotsializma " (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 1994), pp. 137–154.

This excerpt from the memoirs of Vadim Medvedev, a top Soviet official during the Gorbachev period,
focuses on Soviet-Czechoslovak relations in the late 1980s, including the legacy of the "Prague Spring."
From 1986 to 1988 Medvedev was the CPSU CC secretary responsible for intra-bloc relations. From
September 1988 on, he was both a full member of the CPSU CC Politburo and the CPSU CC secretary
responsible for ideological affairs. In all these posts, he played a crucial part in relations with Czecho-
slovakia, including decisions on how to handle the "1968 Syndrome," as he called it. Having been the
secretary of the CPSU's Leningrad branch (and a strong supporter of the invasion) in 1968, Medvedev
knew from personal experience how different the calculations in the Soviet Union were in 1989.

Medvedev had a reputation as one of the most hard-line members of the Gorbachev-era Politburo, and
some of that comes across in his memoir. He praises Gustáv Husák as an "honorable and open man," and
writes that "Husák's willingness in April 1969 to assume leadership of the party and country was, in my
view, the most courageous and responsible step possible." He also asserts that Husák's successor, Miloš
Jakeš, "sincerely attempted to implement perestroika" in Czechoslovakia in 1988–1989 and "to engage
everyone in the active work of perestroika." Despite these claims, Medvedev's account overall is solid
and incisive, and is sharply critical of CPCz hard-liners like Vasil Bil'ak, Jan Fojtík, and Alois Indra.
Moreover, Medvedev acknowledges that Jakeš "stopped half-way "in his efforts to adopt perestroika, and
that "no decisive steps were taken to bring about national reconciliation and to do away with the 1968
syndrome."

The excerpts here are from a section entitled "The 1968 Syndrome." The section as a whole discusses
the effect that Gorbachev's reforms had on Czechoslovakiadirectly and indirectlybefore, during, and
after the "Velvet Revolution" of late 1989. Medvedev's account provides many new insights into this period
and is especially valuable in conveying the shifting mood within the Soviet leadership as pressures for
"new thinking "gained a life of their own. Medvedev rightly emphasizes the special problems posed by
the legacy of the 1968 crisis. "For two decades," he writes, "the whole ruling elite "in Czechoslovakia"
had been steeped in an ideology that totally rejected any model of society other than the one that was
forcibly established in the country after 1968." Soviet efforts to reevaluate the 1968 crisis through the
prism of "new thinking "were inherently constrained so long as CPCz leaders like Bil'ak, Indra, Husák,
and Jakeš remained in power.

The extent of direct Soviet pressure on the Czechoslovak leadership during this crucial period is not
entirely clear from Medvedev's account. On the one hand, Medvedev dismisses the notion that he or
Gorbachev or any other Soviet official would have "delved into Czechoslovakia's internal affairs."
Although CPCz hard-liners like Bil'ak and Indra strongly suspected that deals were being worked out
"behind their backs" by Štrougal and Husák in connivance with Moscow, Medvedev denies that this was
the case. On the other hand, Medvedev readily acknowledges that Gorbachev preferred certain CPCz
officials (e.g., Štrougal) over others, and one can infer that the Soviet leader's preferences on this matter
were conveyed, in one form or another, to the ruling elite in Prague. Moreover, the new Soviet position
on the 1968 crisis, as Medvedev's account shows, could not help but affect the "internal affairs" of the
CPCz leadership. Although Gorbachev himself refrained from any public condemnation of the 1968

-571-

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