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The Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968
On August 20, 1968, tens of thousands of Soviet and East European ground and air forces moved into Czechoslovakia and occupied the country in an attempt to end the “Prague Spring” reforms and restore an orthodox Communist regime. The leader of the Soviet Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev, was initially reluctant to use military force and tried to pressure his counterpart in Czechoslovakia, Alexander Dubcek, to crack down. But during the summer of 1968, after several months of careful deliberations, the Soviet Politburo finally decided that military force was the only option left. A large invading force of Soviet, Polish, Hungarian, and Bulgarian troops received final orders to move into Czechoslovakia; within 24 hours they had established complete military control of Czechoslovakia, bringing an end to hopes for “socialism with a human face.”
Dubcek and most of the other Czechoslovak reformers were temporarily restored to power, but their role from late August 1968 through April 1969 was to reverse many of the reforms that had been adopted. In April 1969, Dubchek was forced to step down for good, bringing a final end to the Prague Spring. Soviet leaders justified the invasion of Czechoslovakia by claiming that “the fate of any socialist country is the common affair of all socialist countries” and that the Soviet Union had both a “right” and a “sacred duty” to “defend socialism” in Czechoslovakia. The invasion caused some divisions within the Communist world, but overall the use of large-scale force proved remarkably successful in achieving Soviet goals. The United States and its NATO allies protested but refrained from direct military action and covert operations to counter the Soviet-led incursion into Czechoslovakia.
The essays of a dozen leading European and American Cold War historians analyze this turning point in the Cold War in light of new documentary evidence from the archives of two dozen countries and explain what happened behind the scenes. They also reassess the weak response of the United States and consider whether Washington might have given a “green light,” if only inadvertently, to the Soviet Union prior to the invasion.
THE PRAGUE SPRING AND THE WARSAW PACT INVASION OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA IN 1968 Edited by Günter Bischof, Stefan Karner, and Peter Ruggenthaler
The year 2008 serves as an important anniversary of the many crucial events that have shaped Czech history—the ninetieth birthday of the founding of the first Czechoslovak Republic in 1918; the seventieth commemoration of the 1938 Munich Agreement which gave the Sudetenland to Germany and de facto control of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, thereby dismembering the country and putting an end to democracy in Czechoslovakia; and the pivotal Communist coup in 1948 and the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Now, as the Czech Republic is poised to assume the presidency of the European Union during the first half of 2009, we find ourselves in a position to contemplate these historical anniversaries marked in the year 2008 and the changes that have led us to where we are today. The events that took place in Czechoslovakia in 1968 were a milestone in Czech, Slovak, European, and transatlantic history. As they had in 1938, the Czechoslovak people felt again in 1968 that the West was not prepared to fight for a strange country, and instead it let us down. I was six years old in 1968 when the tanks rolled into the country. As a young boy, I was excited to see the tanks in the streets and didn’t understand why my mom was crying and why my dad was angry. After that, I began to understand the true meaning of those tanks.
Two lessons arose from the Warsaw Pact intervention of 1968. First, intellectuals in the East and West came to realize that building socialism with a human face is not feasible. The second lesson of 1968 for the United States and the West is that the Czech Republic must not be abandoned again. This second lesson helped us gain entry into NATO in 1999 and has led to an alliance between the United States, the Czech Republic, and Central Europe that is stronger than ever before.
I thank the University of New Orleans, Center Austria, and all those involved for organizing the “Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968” conference. I am grateful to have the opportunity to mark these defining milestones in Czech history with you.
Petr KolářAmbassador of the Czech Republic to the United StatesUniversity of New OrleansNew Orleans,Louisiana3 April 2008
The day of 20 August 2008 marked the fortieth anniversary of the invasion of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (Č SSR). The Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research on War Consequences in Graz, Austria, organized an international network of Cold War scholars to produce a collective new scholarly analysis on the Prague Spring within the context of the international crisis year 1968. Some eighty scholars and eyewitnesses of these signal events in 1968 produced essays for the massive scholarly volume Prager Frühling: Das Internationale Krisenjahr 1968.1 A selection of these papers are reproduced in this volume in English as an offspring of the conference “The Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968” organized by CenterAustria of the University of New Orleans in April 2008. The essays by Mark Kramer, Mark Carson, and Alessandro Brogi were delivered in New Orleans for the first time and are new and original contributions to this collection. Together this multinational collective research collaborative produced a vigorous scholarly reassessment of this turning point in the Cold War. This reassessment is particularly timely and up-to-date since the essays are based on numerous new and unknown documents from Moscow archives and an additional three dozen archives from around the world. The key documents collected for this project have been published in both the original Russian language (and in some cases English) and a parallel German translation in a second documentary volume, complementing the essays.2 Taken together, this collective history amounting to almost three thousand pages in these two volumes constitutes a major contribution to Cold War history and is made available here in an abbreviated English version.
The “global disruption” of 1968 challenged the authority of many governments in both the East and West and sparked the quickening of the nascent policy of détente to reconstruct international order from the top down.3 The bloody war in Vietnam fueled much of the energy of the global protest movement.4 The heady reforms of the Czechoslovak Communist Party during the “Prague Spring” of 1968 and the invasion by the Warsaw Pact stopping the liberalization and democratization of this Soviet puppet state were key moments during this momentous year of crises in 1968.5 The Warsaw Pact invasion ended President Lyndon B. Johnson’s policy of “bridge-building” with Eastern Europe.6 It arrested Johnson’s policy of détente with the Soviet Union for the time being, but did not end this process of easing tensions with Moscow.7 The invasion of Czechoslovakia “doomed the summit and arms control negotiations,” concludes a major new history of U.S. foreign relations.8 During the hot summer of 1968, Johnson was hoping to arrange a summit meeting with the Soviets to produce results on strategic arms control as a principal foreign policy legacy of his presidency. The invasion of Czechoslovakia stopped all those efforts in their tracks. Had Johnson been able to negotiate the freeze on nuclear weapons he was looking for in 1968, it might have saved both superpowers billions of dollars in arms expenditures and avoided many of the averse political consequences of the 1970s and 1980s.9 Ironically, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia stabilized the region where the Cold War had begun and provided a solid basis for détente. After 1968, neither side seriously contemplated going to war in Europe, let alone nuclear war. During the Czechoslovak crisis, both sides “showed a prudent disposition to underestimate their own strength and overestimate the strength of the adversary,” concludes one scholar.10 Johnson’s inaction and marked aloofness during the Prague Spring and in response to the Warsaw Pact invasion also spelled the beginning of the end of U.S. hegemony in the global arena.11 Literature on Johnson’s foreign policies, the international crises of 1968, and the Czechoslovak crisis of 1968 has grown by leaps and bounds,12 including solid documentary collections from Soviet and former Warsaw Pact countries’ archives.13
The Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia were a turning point in the Cold War.14 These events spawned the “Brezhnev Doctrine” and Soviet claims for the right of intervention in its own sphere of influence if its “sovereignty” was threatened. The Soviet Union and its allies would guarantee the survival of socialism in their own sphere of influence.15 It alienated the Communist parties of Italy, France, and Spain.16 It launched negotiations for the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), including the Canadians and reluctant Americans, culminating in the Helsinki meeting of 1975, generally regarded as the high point of détente. It unleashed West German chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, improving relations with the Soviet Union and the Soviet satellites, including the German Democratic Republic (GDR). It spawned the development of the Soviet SS-20 medium range rockets to improve Soviet nuclear defenses by uncoupling militarily inferior Western Europe from U.S. nuclear deterrence. This produced NATO’s “double track” decision and unleashed a new arms race in the 1980s (including Ronald Reagan’s “Strategic Defense Initiative”) that was economically more harmful to Moscow than Washington. The Soviet Bloc’s increasing technological and economic backwardness and lagging behind the West were crucial factors in bringing down the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War. Moreover, Prague’s 1968 “socialism with a human face” model of reforming communism may also have influenced Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in the later 1980s that ultimately brought down communism by way of their spillover effects into the Soviet sphere, exactly as Moscow and its satellites feared in 1968. Neither should the factor of the Czechoslovak dissident movement of “Charta 77” on other dissidents movements in the Communist world and their impact on the end of the Cold War be underestimated.17
The invasion of Czechoslovakia surprised official Washington. The reforms of the Prague Spring had been going on for months without direct Soviet interference. Many keen observers expected a Soviet intervention. When it did not come, they thought the Czechoslovaks might get away with their reforms. Yet during the night of 20/21 August 1968, troops of the Warsaw Pact from the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria marched into Czechoslovakia, which was also a member of the pact. In doing so, they aborted the Prague Spring, the attempted democratization of the Communist system of the ČSSR under its leader, Alexander Dubček.18 The political goals of the military intervention had been defined by the Communist Party leaders of the Eastern Bloc countries at several meetings in the months that preceded the intervention: putting an end to the reform process (“socialism with a human face”), defeating the “counterrevolution,” putting the ČSSR back on a course loyal to Moscow, preventing the democratization of Czechoslovakia and the country’s leaving the Warsaw Pact, and staging a “bureaucratic” coup of the “healthy forces” loyal to Moscow against the reformers within the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Komunistická strana Československa or KSČ).19 The result is well known.
The reforms initiated by the KSČ, of course, were suspiciously viewed from the very beginning by the “fraternal states,” notably the hard-line Communist regimes in East Berlin, but also in Warsaw and Sofia. In the Soviet Union’s satellite states, political decision making resembled that of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Kommunisticheskaya Partiya Sovetskogo Soyuza or CPSU) in that it took place above all as a series of reactions to reformist developments in Czechoslovakia. The German Democratic Republic’s Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands or SED) under Walter Ulbricht was the first fraternal party to declare the reforms of the Prague Spring counterrevolutionary in character as early as March 1968.20 Support for and validation of the SED’s diagnosis was forthcoming above all from Leonid Brezhnev himself and from the Communist Party heads of Poland and Bulgaria, Władysław Gomułka and Todor Zhivkov. From March 1968 onward, stopping the “counterrevolutionary” reform process in Prague was the line to which the fraternal countries adhered. The weaker Warsaw Pact allies exerted considerable leverage on the imperial center in Moscow.
The Kremlin’s “politics of intervention” during the Czechoslovak crisis in 1968 can be subdivided into five phases. Phase I spans the time from January to March 1968, when Moscow “still kept relatively quiet regarding the events in the ČSSR.”21 Moscow confined itself to calling the situation in the country difficult and contradictory. The Kremlin was offering “maximum help to the Czechoslovak leadership.” The abolition of censorship in Czechoslovakia and the mass dismissal of party functionaries of the middle and lower levels caused alarm bells to start ringing in Moscow.22 In the runup to the March conference in Dresden, which was officially convened to debate economic questions only, Moscow was beginning to worry seriously about Czechoslovakia’s future. On 15 March, the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CC CPSU) debated a report by Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and Committee for State Security (KGB) chief Yuri Andropov. It outlined a worst-case scenario that was all but imminent in the Kremlin’s eyes: introduction of capitalism in Czechoslovakia and the splitting up of the Warsaw Pact.23
Moderate Moscow, on the one hand, at least initially conveyed again and again to the KSČ leadership its approval of the resolutions of the January plenum and the reform course on which Czechoslovakia had embarked. On the other hand, the hard-line East German, Polish, and Bulgarian leaders took a much more critical view of events and condemned them categorically. East German leader Walter Ulbricht always acted with his eyes anticipating or following the Soviet course. The political changes in Czechoslovakia, in evidence at least since 1967, were also painstakingly charted by Bulgarian diplomats. Bulgaria’s ambassador to Prague warned of growing discontent in Czechoslovakia. From the end of 1967, Todor Zhivkov, the bullish head of the Bulgarian Communist Party, insisted on personally reading the diplomatic dispatches from Prague. After the dismissal of the KSČ’s first secretary, Antonín Novotný, who enjoyed Bulgarian sympathies, Dubček assured the Bulgarians that the unity of the party was not in danger. Sofia’s worries were assuaged only mildly. While Zhivkov noted the exchange of the entire Czechoslovak state leadership, he was not the only one gravely concerned with it.24 Having been given the green light by Moscow, Władysław Gomułka, the head of the Polish Communist Party, had already had a meeting with Dubček as early as the beginning of February. Dubček tried to paint the situation in his country in the best possible light, but failed to convince Gomułka. The Polish party chief feared that the reforms would lead to a significant weakening of the party.25
In this first phase, the East German SED leadership was trying to gauge the consequences of Novotný’s ousting by Dubček; it prepared a first assessment of the new situation in the run-up to the meeting in Dresden on 23 March. The GDR Embassy in Prague sent regular reports to East Berlin, expressing their view of an impending threat: “The activities of the oppositional forces have been… stepped up and are displaying increasingly openly counterrevolutionary characteristics.” The Prague reformers’ key word—“democratization”—was synonymous for the SED with the desire for a counterrevolutionary regime change. This had to be prevented at all costs. Yet it accurately described the goal of the SED’s interventionist policy. The direction of East German goals paralleled Moscow’s: the Czechoslovak reforms had to be stopped! The power monopoly of the KSČ had to be restored! For the SED, the gist of the reforms in the ČSSR was perfectly clear: a counterrevolution was underway in Prague!26
The Dresden Warsaw Pact meeting ended the opening phase of the policy of intervention. It was the first of five meetings of the fraternal parties prior to 21 August. The party and state leaderships of Bulgaria, Hungary, the GDR, Poland, and the USSR were in attendance at these meetings. On 6/7 March, Zhivkov had already issued assurances in a Sofia meeting with Brezhnev and Aleksei Kosygin that Bulgaria stood ready to use its armed forces if necessary. However, Zhivkov’s willingness to use force can hardly be seen as the first proposal to use military force to end the reform process in Czechoslovakia. Rather, Zhivkov was aiming “to provide further proof of Bulgaria’s traditional role as a loyal and unflinching ally of the USSR.” Solving problems within the Warsaw Pact with armed force was a staple of his policy, even though he considered the “Stalinist methods of the past” no longer necessary.27 Yet despite such caveats, Zhivkov’s proposal is the earliest documented statement of the military option for the “solution” of the Czechoslovak question contemplated by the “Warsaw Five” (USSR, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, and East Germany). This is corroborated by Marat Kuznetsov, the former counselor in the Soviet embassy, who had accompanied the Soviet delegation to Sofia. The issue of an invasion of Czechoslovakia was raised: “Suddenly I noted to my surprise that the conversation had turned to an invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops. I was amazed…. Brezhnev himself seemed to be of two minds. It was a tug of war…. In Sofia the issue of the invasion was not on the agenda as such but it was discussed in private between members of the Warsaw Pact delegations.”28
In the final meetings of the Soviet Central Committee’s Politburo before Dresden, Moscow’s political decision makers advanced the idea for the first time that it might be necessary to enter into deliberations “along military lines.” Kirill Mazurov was a Politburo member and the first vice president of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. Before and after the August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, he also operated as “Brezhnev’s man” in Prague. Mazurov openly addressed the already prevalent anxiety when he averred in no uncertain terms: “We have to prepare for the worst” (emphasis added).29
The invitation to the March meeting in Dresden also included the KSČ leadership. The official purpose given for this Warsaw Pact gathering was a discussion of economic issues. Dubček himself is supposed to have suggested to Brezhnev to paint the conference as an economic meeting.30 Dubček, however, left his Czechoslovak comrades in the dark. He was at pains after the meeting to create the impression that the Czechoslovak side had been confronted out of the blue with the “counterrevolution” charges leveled against them in Dresden. Instead of discussions on economic issues, the Czechoslovak delegation found itself arraigned as if the meeting were a tribunal. In his initial statement, Brezhnev solemnly declared that the issues on the agenda were much too grave to tolerate any keeping of minutes. Yet contrary to the directive of the general secretary of the CPSU, the SED arranged for the proceedings to be recorded anyway.
These minutes are a blessing to historians of the crisis, for the East German minutes clearly document how severely their Communist brethren took the Prague reformers to task. Dubček first had to explain his party’s political course. Brezhnev then asked him what meaning he attached to the concept of “liberalization of society.” The Soviet party chief also bluntly asserted that a “counterrevolution” was imminent in Czechoslovakia. Gomułka told Dubček in plain words: “We are well aware of the dangers, the real dangers confronting the Czechoslovak party and the Czechoslovak people and we are convinced that it is still possible today to overcome these dangers, I mean to overcome them in a peaceful manner.” The aggressive Polish party chief added: “This calls for a forceful counteroffensive that would in our view have to be carried out by the leadership of the Communist Party of the ČSSR against the counter-revolutionary forces, against the reactionary forces that have surfaced and are active on a grand scale in the ČSSR.”31
In no uncertain terms, Brezhnev demanded Dubček restore the KSČ’s monopoly of power. The CPSU did not see the events in the ČSSR in the light of an “experiment,” but as a “calculated project,” in other words, as a deliberate attempt to change the system: “We have been empowered by our Politburo to… express the hope that you as the leaders will be in position to bring about a reversal of these events and to put an end to this very dangerous development. We are prepared to help… you.” In a more ominous tone he added: “If this should prove impossible… we cannot remain passive onlookers of the development in the ČSSR. We are inseparably linked to each other through ties of friendship, through obligations of an internationalist kind, through considerations for the security of the socialist countries.” This was a clear indication of the limits of Moscow’s patience. The forcible removal of “a link in the chain” that tied together the Socialist community could not be tolerated.
Yet the demands that were put to the Czechoslovak Communist Party were unequivocal. The Communist Party must reestablish its monopoly of power in Czechoslovakia and suppress the “counterrevolution” by every means at its disposal. The Warsaw Pact allies expected the KSČ to deal with the “problem” itself; after all, it was of its own creation. This, then, was the only alternative offered to the Czechoslovaks by the CPSU and its vassals: to reestablish order as understood by the Warsaw Pact through the use of all political means available in order to avoid a military “solution” that had been in the cards even before the Dresden meeting.
Everybody present at the Dresden meeting agreed to cloak it in absolute silence. Such a conspiratorial stipulation was observed above all by Dubček himself, who left his own party leadership in the dark about the Warsaw Pact allies’ demands. Dresden marks the end of the “reconnaissance phase,” which assessed the nature of goings-on in Czechoslovakia. The Warsaw Pact allies’ stark conclusion, stated openly and shared also with the Czechoslovaks present at the meeting, was that Prague had indeed embarked on a “counterrevolution.” In the ensuing phases moving toward intervention, the fraternal states increasingly subjected the Czechoslovak leadership to growing “political pressure.”32
Phase II lasted from the end of March to the publication of the “2,000 Words” and/or the Warsaw meeting in mid-July. Shortly before dissolving, the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party passed an “Action Program” on 1 April calling for domestic pluralism and changing the composition of the party leadership in favor of the reformers by way of elections. This bold Action Program was the first step in a transition from Stalinist Soviet-style socialism to democratic socialism “with a human face.” Ulbricht’s SED fretted that the Action Program was no longer recognizable as the program of a Marxist-Leninist Party and that the Czechoslovak Communist Party could no longer be considered belonging to that select league. It should not come as a surprise, then, that the Action Program was neither published in the GDR, nor did the press comment on it.33 Clearly, anxiety about the spillover of Czechoslovak reforms to the neighboring fraternal countries was growing ominously.
Moscow’s reactions were more muted. The Kremlin felt that while the Action Program had a number of deficiencies it was hardly reasonable to expect the Czechoslovaks “to come up with anything better.”34 The Kremlin leaders had had an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the Action Program since mid-March, when KGB circles close to Novotný had passed it on to them.35 It had already provoked a storm of criticism in Dresden. Yet the KSČ nevertheless stood by it and emerged from Dresden unscathed. Until early April, it had only been a topic in internal discussions in the Soviet leadership. In his speech opening the plenum of the Communist Party’s Central Committee meeting, taking place from 6 to 10 April, Brezhnev attacked the Action Program openly for the first time and called it “revisionist,” a term pregnant with sinister meaning in the Communist dictionary.36 This April Party Plenum marked the end of Soviet tactical forbearance, notably displayed by Brezhnev since the beginning of the Czechoslovak crisis.
The hard-line fraternal parties, led by the GDR, immediately responded to this signal from Moscow—a clear case of the tail wagging the dog.37 Poland’s Gomułka urged the Soviet military “to consider, within the framework of the Warsaw Pact Treaty, the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet forces.”38 Such assessment of the Action Program by Eastern European hardliners encouraged Kremlin dogmatists in Moscow, such as the Communist Party chief ideologist Mikhail A. Suslov and Ukrainian party chief Petro Shelest, to go on the offensive. Shelest, who was also a full member of the Politburo, was highly anxious that the Czechoslovak reforms might soon spill across the border into Ukraine and the rest of the Soviet empire. At the same time, he was aware that military intervention might not solve all the problems and could raise additional ones.
In April, Soviet hawks were pushing for military intervention. For Soviet minister of defense Andrei Grechko, however, the matter had reached a point of clarity: “We are ready at a moment’s notice, provided the Party passes such a resolution, to assist the Czechoslovak people with the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries, in case imperialists and counterrevolutionaries attempt to tear away the socialist ČSSR from the other socialist countries” (emphasis added).39 Two days earlier, the Soviet leadership had already decided to start military preparations. On 8 April, the commander in chief of the Soviet airborne troops, General Margelov, received a directive to start planning the deployment of airborne troops in Czechoslovakia. Margelov’s paratroopers were directed to be ready for deployment at a moment’s notice. In case the troops of the Czechoslovak armed forces took a friendly view of the Soviet paratroopers landing on their territory, suitable forms of cooperation were to be organized. If they resisted, they would be disarmed.
Moscow regarded military measures throughout the crisis as the option of last resort. Yet throughout the Prague Spring, military measures were never off the table.40 The loss of Czechoslovakia, a Central European country of key strategic importance within the framework of the Warsaw Pact, was considered unacceptable. It would have created a grave security problem for the Soviet military, irrespective of the larger political repercussions in the Cold War. The key importance of the military-industrial complex (MIC) receiving enormous attention under Brezhnev must also be kept in mind. In the 1960s and 1970s, the USSR sped up the development of a number of new defense programs. The KGB in particular did a great deal to further its own interests in the vast Soviet arms industry.41 Special favors for the military-industrial complex originated with both KGB chief Andropov and defense minister Dmitrii Ustinov having their roots in the MIC. Not surprisingly then, both Andropov and Ustinov “were the most categorical advocates of a military solution” during the Czechoslovak crisis.42
In the larger scheme of things, the Prague Spring and its long-range repercussions created a “hunger for innovation” and also an increasing bureaucratization of the structures of the military-industrial complex. From the spring of 1968 onward, all KGB activities in Czechoslovakia were made to serve the preparations for the invasion of the Red Army. With this objective in mind, the KGB produced fake evidence of the “inevitable intervention of the West” and put it into circulation. This was a precautionary measure in case the leadership of the USSR, losing its nerve, conceded freedom of action to Dubček, and was thus designed to drive home to the Soviet party leadership the necessity of a military solution.43
Yet the key hawks and most important catalysts outside the Kremlin for a “military solution” of the Czechoslovak “issue” were Ulbricht and Gomułka.44 In their eyes, all the key ingredients calling for intervention—ideological, political, and military—were in play. Particularly for Ulbricht, who was never tired of warning of the potential consequences and spillover effects into the Bloc and the Soviet Union itself, his own survival in power was at stake. Viewed from the perspective of 1989, when the countries of the Soviet Bloc fell like dominoes, his anxieties seem quite prescient.
A couple of weeks after the April plenum of the CC CPSU, the “reactions” of the fraternal states and their recommendations had been brought to the Kremlin’s notice. Konstantin Rusakov acted as the head of the Department of Liaison with the Communist and Workers’ Parties of the Socialist Countries. On 26 April, he presented a secret report to the CC CPSU underlining the SED’s contention that it was imperative for the fraternal parties to offer “collective help, including measures of last resort… in order to defend Socialist achievements in the ČSSR if circumstances require it.”45 Gomułka also supported the idea of an “armed intervention.” He even let it be known that for the time being he saw no alternative to “marching the troops of the Warsaw Pact, including the Polish army, into the territory of the ČSSR.” The Bulgarians had likewise opted immediately after Dresden “for taking the required measures forthwith, including military ones, if need be.” The only ones to drag their feet were the Hungarian party leaders. Raising the old bogey of Western subversion in the Bloc, Zhivkov declared in Sofia: “Western points of contact have been established and are active there. In the ČSSR as well as in Poland Zionism is playing a major role.” He added: “It is not necessary to revert to the Stalinist methods of the past yet we have to choose methods that will enable us to reestablish order in Czechoslovakia, Romania and subsequently also in Yugoslavia.”46
At the end of April, Zhivkov came to Prague on a state visit and met Dubček in person for the first time. Dubček tried to defend his reforms. Yet for Zhivkov, it was a foregone conclusion that Dubček was a revisionist. After having seen the situation in the country with his own eyes, Zhivkov concluded that a counterrevolution was unfolding in Czechoslovakia and that capitalism was being restored. Nowhere else but in Slovakia had he found sympathetic ears to his concerns, evident in talks with Bil’ak, not least because he had told the Slovak “healthy” forces loyal to Moscow that he himself sympathized with the project of a “federalization” of the ČSSR, namely giving the Slovaks more rights.47
Upon their return to Sofia, the Bulgarian party leadership informed the fraternal parties of the upshot of their state visit to the ČSSR. Like the East Germans, the Bulgarians had identified two revisionist hot spots within the leadership of the KSČ. They were emphatic that the devious counterrevolutionary process was still unfolding. Ulbricht had come to the same conclusion and suggested yet another meeting.48 It unfolded in Moscow on 8 May,49 just a few days after yet another round of bilateral talks in Moscow between the Soviets and Czech Communist leaders. The most important result of that meeting was that the Prague leadership reluctantly consented to the Warsaw Pact’s proposal to conduct military maneuvers on Czechoslovak territory.50 The fact that the Soviet leadership once again had received only unsatisfactory answers from the Czechoslovaks during this bilateral meeting was presumably the reason why the Czech Communist leadership was not invited to attend the meeting with the leaders of the fraternal parties scheduled a few days later.
The gathering of fraternal parties, entirely devoted to a discussion of Czechoslovakia, was marked by a high level of tension. The leaders of the CPSU found themselves wedged between a rock and a hard place in a situation without precedent in the history of the Soviet Union. On the one hand, the fraternal parties were clamoring for extreme measures. On the other hand, the Kremlin was well aware that these extreme measures would only be justified as a last resort if all political options had been exhausted. Brezhnev was not prepared to abandon his burning desire for détente.51 Leaders of the fraternal parties deemed it inadvisable to attack the Czech Communist leadership in its entirety. There was still a residue of hope that the “healthy forces” in Czechoslovakia were on the verge of gaining political clout. Brezhnev, however, knew that the odds for such a development occurring were rather long and stated that “we may have to meet again in this matter, and presumably more than once.”52
During this Moscow meeting, Ulbricht explicitly welcomed Warsaw Pact military maneuvers as an opportunity to demonstrate military strength. He desired them to take place in close proximity to the West German border. He also suggested providing additional outside support for the “healthy forces” in the KSČ to strengthen them in their intra-party struggle. Dubček was a hopeless case, Ulbricht decreed in Moscow. Gomułka polemicized vehemently against Hungarian party chief Janoš Kádár, who adamantly refused to recognize the “counterrevolution” unfolding in neighboring Czechoslovakia. Conversely, Ulbricht’s clear-cut diagnosis was grist to the Polish party chief’s mill.53 Gomułka was as fond of using the term “counterrevolution” as Ulbricht and Brezhnev.
In Moscow, the time had arrived to put the military option on the table openly. Brezhnev presented a written draft to the four leaders of the fraternal parties.54 He suggested installing a “red telephone” to facilitate communication between the five allies. The CPSU and the SED created a working group to monitor and analyze developments in Czechoslovakia. From May onward, the “Czechoslovak question” was on the agenda of the Politburo of the CC CPSU at least once a week. His analysis of the Politburo materials has led Mikhail Prozumenshchikov to conclude that in spite of the deterioration of the situation in Czechoslovakia the Kremlin was now inclining toward a more moderate assessment of the situation than in the spring. In his view, there are two reasons for this: on the one hand, Moscow did not want to lay itself open to the charge it was exerting “undue pressure” on Prague; on the other hand, hope was still alive that “Dubček might be induced… to impose order in the country of his own accord.”55
Significantly, in internal discussions parallels were drawn with increasing frequency to the scenario of Hungary in 1956. KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who had been Soviet ambassador and stage manager of the Soviet intervention in Budapest in 1956, had pointed out as early as March that “methods and appearances… were strongly reminiscent of the ones in Hungary. This was what the beginnings looked like in Hungary.” The results of the abolition of media censorship in Czechoslovakia supplied Kremlin hawks such as Andropov and Ustinov with arguments and “proofs” galore that the “counterrevolution” was rapidly advancing toward its goal and that forceful measures would be required to crush it.56
The role of the uncensored Czechoslovak mass media proved to be the greatest irritant for the Kremlin and was ultimately one of the most important factors in triggering the decision for military intervention. The proverbial last straw was the publication of Ludvík Vaculík’s “2,000 Words.” This manifesto vehemently advocated a continuation of the reforms and indeed voiced public doubts as to their viability. For the Kremlin, this marked a climax of the “counterrevolution” in Prague and signaled the beginning of the phase characterized by increasing military pressure on Prague. At the same time, options for a political solution to the crisis in the Soviet Bloc were waning, looking increasingly unrealistic. The Kremlin hawks were visibly gaining in strength. They now favored a military solution without thinking about the political consequences of an invasion. The hardliners in the fraternal parties aided and abetted their line. Seen in this light, Vaculík’s “2,000 Words” was “a proclamation of the counterrevolution.”57
Phase III began with the “2,000 Words” and was characterized by the actual military-political and operative preparations for the intervention and occupation of Czechoslovakia being put into practice. On 15 July, the die was cast for the intervention. The CPSU convened yet another meeting with the four fraternal parties in Warsaw, so there would be no lack of consultation.58 Moscow reserved the final decision as to the deployment of the troops for itself. Sensing what was in store in Poland, the Czechoslovak Communist Party leadership had declined to attend.59 The five parties sent a joint letter, the “Warsaw Letter,” to the KSČ. It contained a demand for a swift change of the reformist political course couched in the terms of an ultimatum.60 The Warsaw Five were no longer willing to credit the KSČ with having the energy needed to turn things around according to their wishes. For Zhivkov, the occupation of the ČSSR by Warsaw Pact troops was the precondition for victory over the forces of the “counterrevolution.” None of the other party leaders contradicted him; rather, Gomułka and Ulbricht joined him in clamoring for a military intervention. Ulbricht attacked Kádár in the strongest terms and declared that as far as the KSČ was concerned the Czechoslovaks were not merely guilty of “revisionism” (as Kádár maintained), but of staging a counterrevolution. “The next strike,” Ulbricht said, casting himself in the role of the prophet, “will be directed against you, against Hungary.” Brezhnev still harbored vestigial feelings of responsibility toward Dubček, “his man in Prague.” The hesitant Soviet party chief was the last one among the Communist leaders in Warsaw to advocate a more moderate course. Yet during the Warsaw meeting, the thunder of imminent military action could be heard clearly.61
On their leaders’ return from Warsaw, the mighty Communist Party of the Soviet Union convened a plenum at very short notice. Many Central Committee members were on holiday and did not make it back to Moscow in time to attend. At the plenum, Brezhnev all but prepared the party for a military invasion, a decision that was applauded in principle by those present. However, Brezhnev, ever the cunctator on this issue, was still insisting that “before measures of last resort are taken we will exhaust all political means, together with the fraternal parties, to help the KSČ… retain and defend its socialist achievements.”62
In view of the rapidly fading hope of the Czechoslovak Communist Party bringing about a change of course, the Kremlin intensified its preparations for military operations. On 19 July, four days after the meeting in Warsaw, the Politburo put the elaboration of the “extreme measures” at the top of its agenda.63 This was made easier for the Kremlin by the reassuring signals from Washington that were starting to arrive precisely in those days, intimating that the United States had no intention of interfering in Czechoslovak affairs.64 The following week was devoted to ongoing military preparations. On 20 July, the Soviet government dispatched a note to the Czechoslovak government protesting the criticism of the Warsaw Letter unleashed in the Czechoslovak media. The Kremlin also upbraided Prague for the inadequate security arrangements in place at the Czechoslovak-Austrian border, which it considered a threat to the security of the entire Socialist camp. On 22 July, the Politburo mandated Minister of Defense Marshall Grechko to take “measures… in accordance with the exchange of opinions at the meeting of the Politburo.”65These measures also included political arrangements for the installation of a revolutionary government of the ČSSR after the invasion. A number of declarations and proclamations were drafted that were ultimately supposed to help legitimate the intervention after the fact.
Even at this late point in the game, Brezhnev and some in the Kremlin hesitated.66 Before the Politburo passed the final resolution to authorize the intervention, a final attempt was to be made to browbeat Dubček and the KSČ leadership into accepting a “political solution” on the basis of the Dresden demands. At the end of July, Soviet-Czechoslovak bilateral negotiations took place in the Slovak town of Čierná nad Tisou at the CzechoslovakSoviet border. Contrary to the Kremlin’s expectations, these talks seemed to hold out some promise after all.67 In the run-up to the meeting in Čierná nad Tisou, yet another meeting of the Warsaw Five in Moscow had been in the pipeline. This was canceled at short notice by the Politburo of the CC CPSU. For the first and only time in the history of the USSR, the entire Soviet Politburo ventured to go abroad across the border to the Čierná meeting. Dubček was given a very last chance to stop the “counterrevolution” himself. After the bilateral Čierná meeting in eastern Slovakia, the Warsaw Five met with the Czechoslovak Communist Party leaders in the Slovak capital of Bratislava on 3 August. The Soviet leadership felt it was important “to record the results of our negotiations with the KSČ leadership in a joint document.” This was tantamount to putting the agreements on an international basis, which was done during the Bratislava meeting: “In principle… the results of the negotiations were laid down in the declaration of Bratislava.”68
Today, it seems safe to assume that the Czechoslovak side agreed to implement the Soviet demands for cadre changes and dismissals as a result of the Čierná meeting. The signing of the declaration of Bratislava provided the Soviet side with a frame of reference that, as they saw it, made their own further actions and the actions of the Warsaw Five appear legitimate. The result of Bratislava was a last attempt before a military intervention in Czechoslovakia to achieve a compromise on the basis of the Soviet draft agreement between the parties involved. This legitimated the “bureaucratic coup” already being prepared by the “healthy forces” in the presidium of the KSČ. In the course of the meeting, Bil’ak handed the Soviet delegation the notorious “letter of invitation by the healthy forces” in the KSČ, asking the five interventionist states to provide “collective assistance.” The letter reputedly changed hands in a men’s bathroom.
Signing the declaration of Bratislava also provided a point of reference for the programmatic preparation of the “bureaucratic coup” that was being planned by Bil’ak and his comrades in the presidium. Dubček’s nonadherence to the declaration of Bratislava was ultimately used by the Soviet side to justify the invasion. Moscow needed time to organize the “bureaucratic coup,” which was planned to unfold in the presidium of the KSČ at the same time as the military invasion was occurring. If Dubček failed to adhere to the agreement—which was quite inevitable—the “healthy forces” had a lever with which to oust him from his position.69
Dubček would not be bullied, and Brezhnev did what he had threatened to do: “I may look soft, but I can strike so hard that afterwards I feel sick for three days.”70The military intervention of the Warsaw Five put an end to all attempts on the part of the Five to solve the “crisis” in the ČSSR by political means. It marked the transition to Phase IV, the military phase, which had begun with the Warsaw Pact maneuvers in Czechoslovakia in May. The military preparations had been completed by 30 July. The Politburo of the CPSU took the final decision as to the date of the intervention as late August. A day later, Zhivkov, Kádár, Ulbricht, and Gomułka arrived in Moscow. Brezhnev informed them of the decision to reestablish the “old order” in Czechoslovakia by military means, and they all signaled full agreement. Newly accessible Soviet sources document that Moscow concurred with the request of the “healthy forces” in Czechoslovakia urging the exclusion of the GDR’s National People’s Army from the military action as such. Ulbricht and the SED leadership, which had been among the most vociferous advocates of an intervention, found it difficult to stomach that they should not be part of the forces that would snatch the country from the jaws of the “counterrevolution.” In 1968, as in 1953 and 1956, the Soviet empire was still kept in place by coercion.71
Gathering information on the situation in the ČSSR was above all the task of the Soviet embassy in Prague, the consulate in Bratislava, and the KGB on the ground. After Moscow had acceded to the suggestions of the Czechoslovak secret service in May 1968, the KGB advisers of the state security services of the ČSSR were withdrawn from the country and replaced by new personnel, who were active in the country “protected by the embassy and their diplomatic status.”72
Writing up detailed reports on the situation in the ČSSR was part of the routine work of the Soviet embassy in Prague. Stepan Chervonenko, the Soviet ambassador in Prague, was “familiar with working against the background of diplomatic crises,” having served as Soviet ambassador to Peking (during a period crucial for Soviet-Chinese relations) before his stint in Prague. Chervonenko reported directly to Brezhnev’s secretariat, the Foreign Ministry, and the CC CPSU. He and the majority of his staff were in close contact above all with politicians from Novotný’s entourage. This was the most important reason for the lack of trust in the new leadership of the KPČ, which became more and more pronounced over the course of time. The man below Chervonenko in rank was Ivan Udal’tsov, who was in charge of the basic operations of secret service activities of the embassy. As opposed to Chervonenko, who resembled Brezhnev in that he was bent on exhausting all political possibilities in a crisis, Udal’tsov was much stricter and more rigorous ideologically. Any deviation from the Soviet model of Marxism-Leninism was anathema to him. He viewed Dubček very critically from the start. This often led to differences of opinion between him and Ambassador Chervonenko in the assessment of the situation in the ČSSR. The embassy’s “troika” was completed by Vasilii Grishanov, the secretary of the party organization.
While the official diplomatic channel was reserved for reports filed by the ambassador and the embassy counselor to Brezhnev’s secretariat, all the other staff members’ reports, following routine practice, were filed to the Foreign Ministry. All incoming reports were scheduled to cross the desk of Evgenii Gromov, the head of the 4th European Department (responsible for a number of European countries including Czechoslovakia). Analyses were made under his supervision and submitted to the CC CPSU. The reports of the most senior diplomats were also filed directly to Foreign Minister Gromyko and Konstantin Rusakov, the head of the Department of Liaison with the Communist and Workers’ Parties of the Socialist Countries in the CC CPSU, and to Brezhnev’s secretariat. Foreign Minister Gromyko and the party’s chief ideologue Mikhail Suslov, along with Brezhnev, were the only members of the Politburo, the Soviet Union’s top decision making body in 1968, to have direct access to all secret diplomatic reports.
Mention of “the first symptoms of a worsening of the antisocialist mood and of the criticism leveled against the USSR” in Czechoslovakia can be found, according to the Russian historian Ol’ga Pavlenko, in a report of 22 November 1966, filed by the Department of Liaison with the Communist and Workers’ Parties. The report was signed by Yuri Andropov, secretary of the CC CPSU from 1962 and formerly the head of that department. Shortly afterwards, Andropov was made head of the KGB. Moscow’s focus on the crisis in Prague had reached a critical stage after Novotný’s dismissal, and the Kremlin started monitoring Czechoslovakia closely, with Andropov serving as a member of all commissions dealing with the situation in the ČSSR. “KGB chief Andropov,” asserts Russian historian Nikita Petrov, “played an important role in all discussions on Czechoslovakia.”
After the withdrawal of the Soviet advisers of the Czechoslovak state security services from the country, Moscow was forced to switch to a new ball game. Nikolai Semyonov, a counterespionage cadre officer, was recalled from Estonia to Moscow for a half-year briefing in the First Chief Directorate to equip him for his mission in Prague. The KGB continued to be the hub for gathering the most diverse kinds of information on the ČSSR. An analysis in May 1967, which was based primarily on information from the Czechoslovak Ministry of the Interior, concluded that widespread discontent was due above all to mistakes in the economic reforms. This first set off alarm bells in the KGB.73
In the following months, the debate centering on freedom of expression in the media became more and more prominent in the KGB’s analyses, focusing on one of the root causes of all ills. Since 1964, Jiří Pelikan, the head of Czechoslovak National Television, had been producing in cooperation with ORF, the Austrian National Television corporation, a program called Stadtgespräche Wien-Prag. These lively “city communications” between Vienna and Prague were a historic first, featuring uncensored, live TV conversations across the Iron Curtain on a wide variety of topics.
In a timely show of its decisiveness, the KGB diagnosed a rapidly spreading crisis in Czechoslovakia. Andropov immediately stepped up the pressure on the Czechoslovak reformers. Leaving aside the differences of opinion on the “solution of the Czechoslovak problems” within the Soviet leadership, they had one thing in common: unanimity that the reforms must be stopped, ideally by the KSČ leaders themselves. This soon appeared to be wishful thinking in Moscow. So Andropov started to devise a worst-case scenario that outlined what might happen if the reformers were not stopped. Since Andropov had witnessed the victory of the “counterrevolution” in Budapest in 1956, parallels with and historical lessons from the Hungarian Revolution were becoming more prominent by the day. By mid-March, the KGB had definitive proof that its worst fears were justified. The Action Program of the KSČ had been passed on to them by friendly party members. On 13 March, the Action Program and the reforms planned by the KSČ were on the agenda of the Politburo’s meeting in Moscow. The Soviet leadership’s patience and forbearance were being exhausted. Two days later, the Politburo dispatched a letter to the KSČ bristling with the tough rhetoric of class struggle. Dubček was still able to dissuade the Soviets from taking action right away. The meeting in Dresden marked a compromise of a kind between Dubček, the Kremlin, and the leaders of the fraternal parties. Among them, Ulbricht had also done his homework, in a manner comparable to Andropov and Suslov. Dresden was the first of several meetings of the scheming fraternal parties from which the KSČ was subsequently excluded. The hardliners in these fraternal parties exerted their influence on the Kremlin’s course of planning for an intervention by underwriting, boosting, and endorsing it. The tail was wagging the dog, and the leverage of the weak was felt once again in the Cold War alliance structures.
The response of the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson not to intervene after the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia was quite predictable given previous U.S. behavior vis-à-vis crises in the Soviet Bloc. During the Soviet intervention in the German Democratic Republic in 1953 and in Hungary in 1956, the U.S. response had been minimal, too. Even when it was in an overall much more favorable strategic position during the Cold War than the Johnson administration was in the late 1960s, the Eisenhower administration had engaged in some tough “liberation of captive peoples” rhetoric, but refrained from considering any direct military response, nor did it unleash Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) covert operations.
The international environment and the U.S. position in the Cold War had changed considerably since the mid-1950s. The global U.S. position and the country’s relationship with its allies were under stress. The deepening quagmire of the Vietnam War, demands for NATO reforms and sharing of defense burdens, and hopes for launching arms control with the Soviets as well as a vigorous détente regime, kept the Johnson administration off balance. Moreover, the Johnson administration faced a deepening domestic crisis in 1968 during a highly contentious and divisive national election. The American youth were rebellious over the deepening and interminable Vietnam War. Johnson also faced a growing resistance in his own party to his policies in the Vietnam War after the Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong. During this deepening vortex of domestic unrest in late March 1968, Johnson made the momentous and surprising decision not to run again for reelection.74 The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. in April and Robert Kennedy in June added to the national trauma. In this deepening domestic crisis, President Johnson was incapable of responding to—let alone resisting—the burgeoning Soviet pressure on Dubček.
Johnson’s nonresponse to the Warsaw Pact invasion was clearly foreshadowed in an early May exchange between Undersecretary of State Eugene V. Rostow and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Rostow wanted Rusk to send a strong deterrent signal to Moscow not to intervene in Czechoslovakia. Rostow reasoned: “In retrospect, our failure to deter the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948 was one of the most serious mistakes of our foreign policy since the war.” He reminded Rusk: “Similarly, stating in public that the U.S. would not intervene during the Hungarian crisis in 1956… gave the Soviets full license.” Rostow sternly admonished the Secretary of State that the Russians were hesitating and that “the moment to give them a deterrent signal is therefore now.” Rusk wrote two words on top of the one-page memorandum and initialed them with “DR”: “No action.”75 While State Department diplomats had been expecting some form of Soviet intervention ever since the more radical reforms of the Prague Spring were unfolding, the CIA was circumspect and full of wishful thinking that somehow the Czechoslovaks might get away with their reform agenda.
On 22 July, Rusk issued a cautious warning to Soviet ambassador to the United States Anatolii Dobrynin for the first time. Rusk noted that “the USA has been against interference in the affairs of Czechoslovakia from the very start.” In the message summarizing this conversation Dobrynin sent to the Politburo, Rusk apparently added: “This is a matter for the Czechs first and foremost. Apart from that, it is matter for Czechs and other nations of the Warsaw Pact” (emphasis added).76 As noted above, Russian historian Prozumenshchikov has interpreted this message as a “green light” from Washington to Moscow that they would not intervene if the Kremlin cleaned up the Czechoslovak mess. This may well have been Moscow’s perception, but it was hardly the precise meaning of Washington’s message. These vital signals from Washington undoubtedly provided grist to the mills of the Kremlin hawks who had been demanding a military intervention for weeks. Given that Dubček’s promises had all been empty ones, those Kremlin decision makers who had warned about the international consequences of an intervention were muted.
When the Warsaw Pact invasion came on 20 August, the Johnson administration was surprised and reacted with the same passivity with which Eisenhower had reacted to the 1953 and 1956 crises. The president himself was deeply disappointed that the invasion shattered his dreams for détente to salvage at least one signal foreign policy success as a legacy of his troubled presidency. Clearly he was not prepared to test Soviet resolve with a military response as the late night discussions of the National Security Council on the day of the invasion on 20 August suggest. Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford noted that Johnson felt doubled-crossed by the Kremlin leaders and only reluctantly agreed to cancel the summit meeting that was already scheduled for early October in Leningrad. Secretary of State Dean Rusk averred that the United States could do little to help Prague; the Czechs had to help themselves. General Earle G. Wheeler, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made it abundantly clear that a military U.S. response was out of the question: “We do not have the forces to do it” (emphasis added). The United States found it impossible to respond to two major international crises at the same time. All that could be done was “giving the Russians hell” by castigating their intervention in the United Nations and registering a formal protest via the Soviet ambassador with the Kremlin.77 During the 1968 Czechoslovakia events, CIA director Richard Helms did not play the role of primus inter pares that Allen Dulles had enjoyed as key adviser to Eisenhower during crises in the Soviet Bloc.78
“No action” characterizes Johnson’s response to the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Over the next weeks, Rusk and the State Department were busy rejecting charges about prior U.S.-Soviet “collusion” tolerating a Soviet intervention. Charges from French president Charles de Gaulle’s government that the Yalta spheres of influence agreement explained the meek U.S. response were particularly galling. The Americans were worried about a possible spillover of the crisis into Romania or Yugoslavia and cautioned the Soviets about further invasions in the Bloc. Washington used the invasion crisis without hesitation to stop all Congressional talk of withdrawing American forces from Europe. The Johnson administration ironically seized the opportunity of the advance of Warsaw Pact forces along Czechoslovakia’s West German border to strengthen NATO and demand higher Western European contributions to their own defense. Efforts at East-West détente were put on ice, but not for very long.79 The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia and the pronouncement of the Brezhnev Doctrine caused only minor ripples in the fall of 1968 during the divisive presidential campaign. Unlike during the Hungarian crisis, the cold warriors of Radio Free Europe in Munich stuck by their scripts during the crisis in Czechoslovakia and did not escalate propaganda warfare. As far as we know, no CIA covert operations were launched behind the Iron Curtain (despite unsubstantiated Soviet propaganda that U.S. “green berets” had infiltrated Czechoslovakia through neutral Austria). The debate in the United Nations quickly fizzled out, too. Soviet control of the Western frontiers of its Eastern European sphere of influence was firmly respected in Washington, particularly at a time when the U.S. military was overburdened by the war in Vietnam. It was also obvious that President Johnson did not want to risk nuclear war with either a U.S. or a NATO military intervention in Czechoslovakia.80
The “reconnaissance phase,” in which the nature of the events in Prague was assessed, ended in Dresden in March 1968. From then on, the Czechoslovaks saw themselves confronted with demands for an end of their reforms and the restoration of the status quo ante. The ensuing phases were marked by the search for ways and means to realize these demands. The next phase of “political pressure” gave way in May 1968 to a combination of “political and military pressure.” The publication of the “2,000 Words” was grist to the Kremlin’s mill and enabled it to turn up the heat on the KSČ leadership. The die was cast finally in Warsaw in mid-July. After the meeting of the Warsaw Five in Poland, the Politburo of the CC CPSU passed a resolution in favor of a military intervention and the political preparation of a “bureaucratic coup,” counting on the support of “healthy forces” in Prague loyal to Moscow around Vasil Bil’ak and Alois Indra. The military intervention went according to plan, but the machinations to topple Dubček failed miserably. After the invasion, the Kremlin quickly reached a political dead end. The Kremlin then played the “national card” and courted the Slovak Gustav Husák. Moscow could always count on the support of the fraternal parties throughout the crisis and got Czechoslovakia back on the road of “normalization.” Communist rule in Czechoslovakia was consolidated once again without rescinding all the reforms right away, but by slowly reestablishing a Communist government along neo-Stalinist lines. This postinvasion reestablishment of Communist control in Czechoslovakia was Phase V.
On the basis of hitherto inaccessible resolutions of the Politburo of the CC CPSU, historians now can fill in the details about Soviet preinvasion decision making.81 By mid-July, the invasion was a foregone conclusion. The meeting in Čierná nad Tisou at the end of July was the very last attempt to substitute a “political” solution for the military one. It was Dubček’s last chance to deal with the “counterrevolution” on his own terms, without having his arm twisted by “fraternal assistance.” Despite the prevalence of the opinion that Dubček would never be able to deliver on his promises, in an unprecedented step the entire Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party traveled to eastern Czechoslovakia to meet their counterparts. The heads of the Communist parties of the fraternal countries were scheduled to meet on the very next day in Moscow. This meeting was canceled at short notice after Dubček had managed to convince Brezhnev that he was still in charge.
Early first hints that Moscow was considering a military “solution” to the “Czechoslovak crisis” exist. During the April plenum of the CC CPSU, Soviet minister of defense Grechko intoned that the Red Army was ready to play its role and launch an invasion if the party ordered it. We must also keep in mind that positions of individual actors in the Kremlin were by no means immune to change or clear cut. One might speak of two distinct camps inside the Kremlin, hawks and moderates. Kremlin insiders considered Kosygin, for instance, a hawk, yet after his trip to the ČSSR, he switched to a more “moderate” role.82 Given his background during the Hungarian crisis, Andropov saw events in the ČSSR entirely in light of the situation in Hungary in 1956. The hawkish KGB chief contributed to making the situation appear more ominous than it was. The duplicitous Andropov went so far as to misinform the Politburo members in order to buttress arguments for a drastic “solution.”
Brezhnev’s astounding hesitancy throughout the crisis comes as the biggest surprise. Brezhnev would have preferred a “political” solution to the Czechoslovak crisis. Even as late as early August, he engaged in wishful thinking, hoping that his friend Dubček and the KSČ might recognize the danger of a “counterrevolution” on their own and stop the reforms. But Brezhnev was not averse to the last resort of a military solution and did not need to be persuaded by others to accept it (and certainly did not need to be outvoted in the Politburo).
The leverage of the weak—the influence of the fraternal parties on the decision-making process in the Kremlin and their reckless abandon in calling for the military solution—emerges powerfully in these new documents. Ulbricht was the first to use the term “counterrevolution” in Prague. He received substantial support from Zhivkov and Gomułka in this matter. Zhivkov and Gomułka identified a “second center” within the KSČ leadership, and later even a “Zionist” conspiracy, as the old Stalinist diction put it. The leaders of these three fraternal parties became crucial outside catalysts to drive the decision-making process in the Kremlin. Janoš Kádár, the head of the Hungarian Communist Party, played his own special role. After the crushing of the Hungarian uprising twelve years earlier, Kádár had been responsible for steamrolling his countrymen back on a course loyal to Moscow. In this particular “band of brothers,” he was the least inclined to advocate a repetition of this scenario. Yet in the end he supported Moscow’s decision without reservations. All his attempts at mediation failed.83
Ulbricht may have been the most adamant from the get go to enforce the end of the reform process in Prague. He is credited even today with having shown restraint in his attitude toward the Czechoslovaks. Some also give him credit for having wisely decided to refrain from dispatching German troops into Czechoslovakia and thus refraining from stirring painful memories of Hitlerite aggression.84 Newly opened archival sources from Moscow tell a different story. The last-minute decision not to include the East German National People’s Army in the Warsaw Pact invasion force was requested by Czechoslovak Communists loyal to Moscow. The German comrades, according to Brezhnev, were bitter about their exclusion from the invasion force.85
Alliance politics drove the Warsaw Pact. Keeping the Eastern European Communist parties together in a close alliance was of paramount concern. The Kremlin needed to shore up the Communist Bloc and contain China’s hegemonic demands that were increasingly in evidence ever since the SinoSoviet split. Brezhnev himself summed up the matter at the Communist Party Plenum in October 1968 when he noted that the Soviet leadership had been so engrossed with China politics that it failed to devote sufficient attention to Soviet Bloc matters.86 For this reason, it was crucially important for the Kremlin in 1968 to paint the military intervention as an action of Warsaw Pact solidarity. To the Kremlin, it mattered that the intervention was an “internationalist socialist measure” originating with the joint deliberations among the fraternal parties. The Soviet Union was deeply concerned with preserving the status quo in Europe as laid down by the Yalta agreements. Moscow was just as concerned with consolidating its own hegemonic position within the Communist world against the challenge of China’s ascendancy in acting as a competing power in Asia and the Third World. The invasion of Czechoslovakia also mattered in terms of solidifying Moscow’s premier hegemonic position in the Communist world.
Alliance politics drove the U.S. response to the Warsaw Pact invasion as well. The Johnson administration was deeply concerned over escalating the crisis toward the nuclear threshold with a military response. The United States was stuck in its Vietnam morass and was running out of military manpower to fight the war. Since the United States had failed to convince its NATO allies to support it in Vietnam, it put pressure on its NATO allies in Europe to carry more of their own defense burden. In this sense, the invasion of Czechoslovakia was a “blessing in disguise” for NATO, concludes Saki Dockrill. Indeed, London and Paris were equally disinclined to confront the Warsaw Pact over Czechoslovakia.87 In a veritable “war of nerves,” Washington and NATO perceived the greatest threat after the invasion of Czechoslovakia as being a possible spillover of the crisis to reluctant pact-ally Romania, or nonaligned Yugoslavia, or neutral Austria, or even exposed West Berlin. In spite of considerable paranoia, both sides kept their cool through the aftereffects of the Czechoslovak crisis.88 Those were the fearful crisis scenarios in 1968 that did not come to pass.
While the old Warsaw Pact is now on the ash heap of history, the politics of history remind us of the legacies of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia today. On 1 December 1989, a mere three weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the People’s Parliament of the GDR declared that “in response to the manifest will of the citizens of our country… it sincerely regrets the GDR’s involvement in military actions in the states of the Warsaw Pact in connection with internal struggles within the ČSSR in August 1968 and apologizes for it on behalf of the people of the GDR to the peoples of the ČSSR.”89 On 1 March 2006, Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, conceded in a meeting with Václav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, that Russia as legal successor to the Soviet Union, accepted “moral” but not legal responsibility for the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. He added that excessively dwelling on the past would lead nowhere.90 Yet apologies do matter as a form of restitution for past injustice for those who have been victimized, particularly to a people who had suffered two brutal invasions within a period of thirty years from totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century.
To launch their research project for completion before the 2008 fortieth anniversary of the 1968 Czechoslovak crisis, the Boltzmann Institute for Research on War Consequences and the Russian State Archive for Contemporary History and the Russian Academy of Sciences signed a declaration of intent regarding a joint publication on the Prague Spring as early as 2003. They immediately initiated the planning and realization of the project. In a historic first step, the former Central Committee Archive made the relevant Politburo resolutions from the period of 1967 to 1969 systematically accessible for the first time ever. In July 2006, the actual analysis of these thousands of newly accessible files began. The result of this collaborative effort is the two volumes mentioned at the beginning of this introduction.
Altogether more than one hundred researchers from Europe, Russia, and the United States, including prominent eyewitnesses to those events, cooperated in an extensive international research network established under the aegis of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research on War Consequences in Graz. The key partners in this research collaborative were the Russian State Archive for Contemporary History (formerly the Archive of the CC CPSU under the directorship of Natalya Tomilina), the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow (Institute of World History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, directed by Alexander Chubaryan), Center Austria of the University of New Orleans (Günter Bischof), the Institute for Contemporary History 26 of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague (Oldřich Tůma), the Institute for Contemporary History, both in Munich and Berlin (Horst Möller) and Manfred Wilke, Berlin. Stefan Karner headed the entire project.
The coordination of the project lay in the hands of Peter Ruggenthaler (Graz), Mikhail Prozumenshchikov, and Viktor Ishchenko (Moscow). An additional three dozen research institutions were involved in Austria, Russia, Czechoslovakia, the United States, Germany, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom during the course of the two-year collection effort from 2006 to 2008.
Needless to say, such a vast collective research endeavor would have been impossible to launch without many generous sponsors and supporters. Funding from the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Science, and Culture (since 2007 the Federal Ministry for Science and Research) was essential in launching the project. We owe the respective Ministers of Science Elisabeth Gehrer and Johannes Hahn our deepest gratitude, along with their dedicated ministry staff Anneliese Stoklaska, Gisela Zieger, Alois Söhn, Peter Kowalski, and Elmar Pichl. Other significant sponsors were the provincial government of Styria, where Governor Franz Voves showed great interest in the progress of the research effort. Also Mayor Siegfried Nagl and the City of Graz enthusiastically supported the project. Additional generous sponsors were the Dokumentationsstelle Zeitgeschichte/Volksgruppenbüro of the provincial government of Carinthia and its head, Peter Karpf; the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship in Berlin with the help of Anna Kaminsky, Markus Meckel, and Ulrich Mählert; the Gerda Henkel Foundation, Düsseldorf; the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna and its director, Ambassador Jiři Gruša; and the Austrian Cultural Forums of the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, which made significant contributions to the conferences in Moscow (May/June 2007), New Orleans (April 2008), and Vienna-Graz (20–22 August 2008), with the enthusiastic support of Ambassador Emil Brix. Ewald Stadler has been extremely helpful both as director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Budapest and then in New York, where Martin Rauchbauer also lent us his helping hand. Aleksandr Bezborodov, Ol’ga Pavlenko, and Viktor Ishchenko organized an interim conference in early summer 2007 at the Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow. This allowed project scholars an opportunity to discuss emerging theses and arguments intensively and shape the future conception and direction of the two volumes.
The research demands of this Boltzmann Institute project also found wonderful supporters at the Austrian embassy in Moscow. Special thanks must go to Ambassadors Franz Cede and Martin Vukovich who both offered their contact networks unstintingly to direct us toward valuable resources. They kindly offered embassy facilities on more than one occasion to project coordinators for meetings with Russian counterparts. While we are indebted to many kind staffers at the embassy, this applies especially to attaché Sieglinde Presslinger for the help she has unfailingly given us over several years. In Vienna, we have always been able to count on the help from the Russian embassy, especially from Ambassador Stanislav Ossadtchii.
The Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft in Vienna, above all President Christian Konrad and Managing Director Claudia Lingner, have been extremely helpful with this project throughout its duration. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.
At CenterAustria in New Orleans, where the English version of this book was completed, we would like to thank Gertraud Griessner, Marion Wieser, Sandra Scherl, Michael Maier, and Christina Sturn. Susan Krantz, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, quietly gave CenterAustria her support when needed. Scott Manguno assisted Günter Bischof in his research. Jennifer Shimek of Loyola University performed her usual wonders as copy editor of this volume. In Graz, Harald Knoll and Silke Stern came through whenever their help was needed. We would like to thank Otmar Binder, Vienna, for his smooth translations of nine of the articles in this volume from German into english. We are extremely grateful to Mark Kramer for including this volume in his Cold War History Series with Lexington Books without any hesitation and with much good cheer to help us pull through the final production effort.
1. Stefan Karner, Natalja Tomilina, Alexander Tschubarjan, Günter Bischof, Viktor Iščenko, Michail Prozumenščikov, Peter Ruggenthaler, Oldřich Tůma, Manfred Wilke, eds., Prager Frühling. Das internationale Krisenjahr 1968: Beiträge, Veröffentlichungen des Ludwig Boltzmann-Instituts für Kriegsfolgen-Forschung, Sonderband 9/1 (Vienna: Böhlau, 2008) (hereinafter abbreviated throughout this book as Karner et al., Beiträge, with corresponding page numbers).
2. Stefan Karner, Natalja Tomilina, Alexander Tschubarjan, Viktor Iščenko, Michail Prozumenščikov, Peter Ruggenthaler, Oldřich Tůma, Manfred Wilke, with the support of Irina Kazarina, Silke Stern, Günter Bischof, Aleksei Filitov, and Harald Knoll, eds., Prager Frühling. Das internationale Krisenjahr 1968. Dokumente. Prazhskaya vesna. Mezhdunarodnyi krizis 1968 goda. 2. Dokumenty, Veröffentlichungen des Ludwig Boltzmann-Instituts für Kriegsfolgen-Forschung. Sonderband 9/2 (Vienna: Böhlau, 2008) (hereinafter abbreviated throughout this book as Karner et al., Dokumente, with corresponding document number in the collection).
3. Jeremi Suri, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 211–13; Jeremi Suri, “Lyndon Johnson and the Global Disruption of 1968,” in Looking Back at LBJ: White House Politics in a New Light, ed. Mitchell B. Lerner (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2005), 53–57.
4. Norbert Frei, Jugendrevolte und globaler Protest (Munich: DTV, 2008), 50; see also Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey, 1968: Eine Zeitreise (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2008); Wolfgang Kraushaar, Achtundsechzig: Eine Bilanz (Berlin: Propyläen, 2008).
5. On the crisis year 1968, see Mark Kurlanski, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World (New York: Ballantine, 2004); Ronald Fraser, ed., 1968: A Student Generation in Revolt (New York: Pantheon, 1988). For the larger context of the 1960s, see Terry H. Anderson, The Movement and the Sixties: Protest in America from Greensboro to Wounded Knee (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); David Bruner, Making Peace with the 60s (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996); Arthur Marwick, The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, c. 1958–c. 1974 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); Udo Wengst, “‘1968’—40 Jahre danach. Ein Literaturbericht,” Sehepunkte 9, no. 1 (2009), http://www.sehepunkte.de/2009/01/14414.html (accessed 26 January 2009).
6. Mitchell Lerner, “Trying to Find the Guy Who Invited Them: Lyndon B. Johnson, Bridge Building and the End of the Prague Spring,” Diplomatic History 21, no. 3 (2008): 77–103.
7. Alan Schwartz, Lyndon Johnson and Europe: In the Shadow of Vietnam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 210–22; H. W. Brands, ed., The Foreign Policies of Lyndon Johnson beyond Vietnam (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999), 118–21.
8. George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776, The Oxford History of the United States, ed. David M. Kennedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 756.
9. John Prados, “Prague Spring and SALT II,” in Brands, The Foreign Policies of Lyndon Johnson beyond Vietnam, 32–35.
10. Vojtech Mastny, “Was 1968 a Strategic Watershed of the Cold War,” Diplomatic History 29, no. 1 (2005): 149–77, here 176.
11. H. W. Brands, The Wages of Globalism: Lyndon Johnson and the Limits of American Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 254–64; George C. Herring, “Tet and the Crisis of Hegemony,” in 1968: The World Transformed, ed. Carole Fink et al., Publications of the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 31–53.
12. Vladislav M. Zubok, A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); Mark Kramer, “The Czechoslovak Crisis and the Brezhnev Doctrine,” in Fink et al., 1968: The World Transformed, 111–72; Robert A. Divine, The Johnson Years, vol. 3, LBJ at Home and Abroad, ed. Robert Divine (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1994), 239–79; Mitchell B. Lerner, ed., Looking Back at LBJ: White House Politics in a New Light (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2005); Warren I. Cohen and Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, eds., Lyndon Johnson Confronts the World: American Foreign Policy, 1963–1968 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Lawrence Kaplan et al., eds., NATO after Forty Years (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1990); Hal Brands, “Progress Unseen: U.S. Arms Control Policy and the Origins of Détente, 1963–1968,” Diplomatic History 30, no. 2 (2006): 253–85; John C. McGinn, “The Politics of Collective Inaction: NATO’s Response to the Prague Spring,” Journal of Cold War Studies 1, no. 3 (1999): 111–38; A. Paul Kubricht, “Confronting Liberalization and Military Invasion: America and the Johnson Administration Respond to the 1968 Prague Summer,” Jahrbücher fur Geschichte Osteuropas 40, no. 2 (1992): 197–212; Andreas Daum et al., eds., America, the Vietnam War, and the World: Comparative and International Perspectives, Publications of the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Alexandra Friedrich, “Awakenings: The Impact of the Vietnam War on West German-American Relations in the 1960s” (Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 2000).
13. Jaromír Navrátil et al., eds., The Prague Spring 1968, National Security Archive Cold War Readers (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1998); Vojtech Mastny and Malcolm Byrne, eds., A Cardboard Castle? An Inside History of the Warsaw Pact, 1955–1991, National Security Archives Cold War Readers (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2005); on new sources, see also the chapter by Mark Kramer in this volume.
14. The idea of turning points in the Cold War is explicated in the volume by Kiron K. Skinner, ed., Turning Points in Ending the Cold War (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2008).
15. Matthew J. Ouimet, The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
16. See the chapter by Alessandro Brogi in this volume.
17. A good summary of some of these factors is Gerhard Wettig, “Längerfristige Folgewirkungen des Reformkommunismus und der Militärintervention in der ČSSR im Jahr 1968,” HISTORICUM (Winter 2007/2008–Spring 2008): 69–76; see also the chapter by Mark Kramer in this volume.
18. For details see above all Jan Pauer, Prag 1968: Der Einmarsch des Warschauer Paktes: Hintergründe—Planung—Durchführung (Bremen: Edition Temmen, 1995), which was for a long time the only work of reference in German to be based on Soviet files.
19. Parts of this introduction are based on the extensive introduction by the same authors to Karner et al., Beiträge, 17–67.
20. See the chapter by Manfried Wilke in this volume. See also appendix 1.
21. For details here and subsequently, if no other references are specifically cited, see Karner, Bischof, Wilke, and Ruggenthaler’s introduction, in Karner et al., Beiträge, 17–67.
22. See Mikhail Prozumenshchikov’s chapter in this volume.
23. See Prozumenshchikov’s chapter in this volume.
24. Iskra Baeva, “Bulgarien—der treue Vasall des Kreml,” in Karner et al., Beiträge, 461–80.
25. Paweł Piotrowski, “Polen und die Intervention,” in Karner et al., Beiträge, 447–60.
26. See the Wilke chapter in this volume.
27. Baeva, “Bulgarien—der treue Vasall des Kreml,” 468.
28. AdBIK, transcript of the conference “Sovetskii Soyuz, Avstriya i mezhdunarodnyi krizis 1968 goda,” Russian State University of the Humanitites, Moscow, 31 May–1 June 2007.
29. Ol’ga Pavlenko, “Der Informationsfluss an die Moskauer Machtzentrale,” in Karner et al., Beiträge, 243–78.
30. See the chapter by Csaba Békés in this volume.
31. SAPMO-BA, DY 30/11834, pp. 1–271, stenographic transcript of the consultations between the five fraternal parties and the KSČ in Dresden, 23 March 1968, in Karner et al., Dokumente, #75.
32. On the fear of counterrevolution and its contagiousness on the regime of fraternal states, see the chapter by Mark Kramer in this volume.
33. See the Wilke chapter in this volume.
34. See the Prozumenshchikov chapter in this volume.
35. Pavlenko, “Der Informationsfluss an die Moskauer Machtzentrale,” 267.
36. RGANI, F. 2, op. 3, d. 95, pp. 3f., 73–87, speech of the general secretary of the CC CPSU, L. I. Brezhnev, “On current problems of the international situation and on the CPSU’s struggle for the unity of the worldwide communist movement,” at the plenum of the CC CPSU, 6 April 1968, reprinted in Karner et al., Dokumente, #31.
37. Pavlenko, “Der Informationsfluss an die Moskauer Machtzentrale,” 273.
38. Gomułka’s meeting with Marshall Yakubovskii on 19 April is cited in Piotrowski, “Polen und die Intervention,” 449; see also Mastny, “Was 1968 a Strategic Watershed in the Cold War?” 156. The Germanophobe Gomułka also urged the Soviets not to deploy any East German troops in such an operation. The maneuvers launched in Czechoslovakia soon thereafter also were supposed not to include forces of the East German Nationale Volksarmee (NVA). Only after Ulbricht’s massive lobbying in Moscow were NVA troops included. Ulbricht also insisted on being part of the military preparations for the invasion and the inclusion of the NVA. Only upon sincere pleading by faithful Czechoslovak Communists in Moscow were East German forces asked not to join the operational forces in the final hours before the invasion. Gomułka tried to trivialize the marginalization of the East Germans before a group of the Polish Central Committee in Warsaw. He argued that the NVA troops were scheduled from the very beginning only to occupy adjoining border areas to the GDR. Gomułka wanted to convince his party colleagues that he had considerable pull in Moscow. The NVA’s exclusion from the invasion operations is covered in Rüdiger Wenzke, “Die National Volksarmee der DDR: Kein Einsatz in Prag,” in Karner et al., Beiträge, 673–86, as well as the Wilke chapter in this volume; Gomulka’s intrigues vis-à-vis the NVA are also covered in Pauer, Prag 68, 229.
39. RGANI, F. 2, op. 3, d. 94, pp. 1–15, speech of the minister of defense of the USSR, A. A. Grečko, at the plenum of the CC CPSU, 10 April 1968, reprinted in Karner et al., Dokumente, #33. Partly reprinted in this volume as appendix 2.
40. Valerij Vartanov, “Die militärische Niederschlagung des ‘Prager Frühlings,’” in Karner et al., Beiträge, 660–73.
41. Aleksandr Bezborodov, “Sowjetische Hochrüstung als Folge des Einmarsches,” in Karner et al., Beiträge, 701–16.
42. Bezborodov, “Sowjetische Hochrüstung als Folge des Einmarsches,” 716.
43. See the Nikita Petrov chapter in this volume.
44. Pavlenko, “Der Informationsfluss an die Moskauer Machtzentrale,” 271.
45. Pavlenko, “Der Informationsfluss an die Moskauer Machtzentrale,” 271; RGANI, F. 5, op. 60, d. 313, pp. 5–23, report of the CC CPSU head of the Department of Liaison with the Communist and Workers’ Parties of the Socialist Countries, K. Rusakov, on the Socialist countries’ reactions to the events in the ČSSR, 26 April 1968, reprinted in Karner et al., Dokumente, #163.
46. Baeva, “Bulgarien—der treue Vasall des Kreml,” 468.
47. Baeva, “Bulgarien—der treue Vasall des Kreml,” 470.
48. Pauer, Prag 68, 73; see also the Wilke chapter in this volume.
49. RGANI, F. 10, op. 1, d. 235, p. 27, minutes of the meeting of the leadership of the CC CPSU with the leaders of the Communist parties of Bulgaria, Hungary, the GDR, and Poland, 8 May 1968. The stenographic transcript of the meeting is reprinted in Karner et al., Dokumente, #77.
50. The maneuvers codenamed “Sˇumava” (Böhmerwald) “were staged to demonstrate that the Czechoslovak army was not up to its task,” argues Vojtech Mastny who adds, “perhaps the only military exercise in history meant to show that forces taking part in it, were not ready to fight.” See his “Was 1968 a Strategic Watershed in the Cold War?” 158. The pitiful state of the Czechoslovak Army is also part of an early July conversation between Yakubovskii and Dzúr, see SAPMO-BA, DY 30/3618, pp. 80–87, reprinted in Karner et al., Dokumente, #89.
51. Melyn P. Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union and the Cold War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007), 234–58; for Brezhnev’s intense interest in the success of détente, see also Zubok, Failed Empire, 207–9, 218–22.
52. Karner et al., Dokumente, #89.
53. Karner et al., Dokumente, #89.
54. Baeva, “Bulgarien—der treue Vasall des Kreml,” 471–72.
55. See the Prozumenshchikov chapter in this volume.
56. See Prozumenshchikov’s chapter in this volume; Kramer also stresses the importance of the Hungary 1956 historical analogy for Kremlin decision makers.
57. See the Wilke chapter in this volume.
58. The stenographic transcript of the meeting’s proceedings is reprinted in a German translation in Karner et al., Dokumente, #82. Excerpts in English are reprinted in Navrátil et al., Prague Spring 1968, 212–33.
59. Pauer, Prag 68, 108–9.
60. Pauer, Prag 68, 123–26.
61. Pauer, Prag 68, 116–23; SAPMO-BA, DY 30/11836, pp. 1–116, stenographic transcript of the meeting of the interventionist coalition Warsaw, 14/15 July 1968, reprinted in Karner et al., Dokumente, #82.
62. RGANI, F. 2, op. 3, d. 114, p. 118, stenographic transcript of the meeting of the plenum of the CC CPSU, closing speech of the general secretary of the CC CPSU, L. I. Brezhnev, 17 July 1968, reprinted in Karner et al., Dokumente, #38; see also Pauer, Prag 68, 127, partly reprinted in this volume as appendix 4.
63. See the Prozumenshchikov chapter in this volume.
64. It is not possible to go into further detail here; see the chapter by Günter Bischof in this volume.
65. RGANI, F. 3, op. 72, d. 189, pp. 2, 4, Politburo resolution of the CC CPSU p. 92 (II), “On the question of the situation in Czechoslovakia,” 20 July 1968. See also the chapter by Mark Kramer in this volume.
66. Brezhnev’s health began to suffer from the stress of the ongoing crisis; he feared that “losing Czechoslovakia” would leave him politically vulnerable to potential rivals; on this strain and Brezhnev’s continued hesitation, see the chapter by Mark Kramer in this volume and Zubok, Failed Empire, 208.
67. For details, see the chapter by Peter Ruggenthaler and Harald Knoll in this volume.
68. See the chapter by Peter Ruggenthaler and Harald Knoll in this volume.
69. See the chapter by Peter Ruggenthaler and Harald Knoll in this volume.
70. Brezhnev quoted in Zubok, Failed Empire, 208.
71. John Lewis Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997), 17.
72. Pavlenko, “Der Informationsfluss an die Moskauer Machtzentrale,” and the chapter by Petrov in this volume.
73. Pavlenko, “Der Informationsfluss an die Moskauer Machtzentrale,” and the chapter by Petrov in this volume.
74. The background was the worsening situation in Vietnam after the Tet Offensive and the monumental struggle between his principal foreign policy advisers over launching a peace initiative vis-à-vis North Vietnam; see Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Waging Peace & War: Dean Rusk in the Truman, Kennedy & Johnson Years (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 465–91.
75. “Soviet threat to Czechoslovakia,” Rostow to Rusk, 10 May 1968, Folder “6/1/68,” Box 1558, POL-Czech, RG 59, NARA, reprinted as appendix 3 in this volume. See also the chapters by Günter Bischof and Donald P. Steury in this volume.
76. See Ouimet, Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine, 34, and the Bischof chapter in this volume. In the State Department minutes of the 22 July conversation with Dobrynin, Rusk’s message is less direct than Dobrynin’s dispatch sent to Moscow—the Warsaw Pact is not mentioned: “He said we had not wished to involve ourselves directly in this matter, that the U.S. had been attempting to develop better relationships with Eastern European countries as well as with the Soviet Union” (emphasis added), see Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, vol. 8, Eastern Europe (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996), 212–14. In a 26 July resolution by the Politburo, reference is made to the 22 July Rusk-Dobrynin conversation, in which the secretary of state noted “that events in Czechoslovakia were a matter that concerned solely the Czechs and the other countries of the Warsaw Pact,” see RGANI, F. 3, op. 72, d. 191, pp. 84–85. Politburo resolution of the CC CPSU P 92 (82), 26 July 1968, partly reprinted in this volume as appendix 5.
77. “Notes of Emergency Meeting of the National Security Council,” 20 August 1968, 10:15 p.m., in FRUS, 1964–1968, vol. 8, Eastern Europe, 236–41; also reprinted in Navrátil et al., Prague Spring ’68, 445–48; see also the Bischof chapter in this volume. Mastny also noted this discrepancy in the U.S. and Soviet records and observes tongue in cheek that each side included the details they felt suitable “to embellish its own record,” surely a cautionary tale for diplomatic historians, see “Was 1968 a Strategic Watershed in the Cold War?” 162.
78. It may be good thing that Allen Dulles was no longer advising presidents in 1968, for during both the 1953 and 1956 crises, he had made disparaging remarks about the Czechs. During the National Security Council discussion following the East German uprising, he had observed that among the peoples of the satellites “the Czechs were certainly the most phlegmatic and the least likely to rise in revolt,” see Christian F. Ostermann, ed., Uprising in East Germany, 1953, National Security Archives Cold War Readers (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001), 227. When President Eisenhower asked Allen Dulles about the Czech reaction to the invasion of Hungary, Dulles answered that he did not know, but it did not matter much since “all the potential Gomułkas in Czechoslovakia had been pretty well slaughtered,” in Csaba Békés et al., eds., The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: A History in Documents, National Security Archive Cold War Readers (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2002), 241. Incidentally, Dubček had survived the purges.
79. The Soviet ambassador to the United States, Dobrynin, also came to the same conclusion after the invasion of Czechoslovakia; see Dobrynin’s report, RGANI, F. 5, op. 60, d. 469, pp. 57–69, partly reprinted in this volume as appendix 10.
80. See also Bennett Kovrig, Of Walls and Bridges: The United Sates and Eastern Europe (New York: New York University Press, 1991) and Brands, Wages of Globalism. On the role of the Vietnam War, see the chapter by Mark Carson in this volume; see also George C. Herring, “Tet and the Crisis of Hegemony,” in Fink et al., 1968: The World Transformed, 31–53; Schwartz, Lyndon Johnson and Europe; Hubert Zimmermann, “Who Paid for America’s War? Vietnam and the International Monetary System, 1960–1975,” in Daum et al., America, the Vietnam War, and the World, 151–73; Frank Costigliola, “Lyndon B. Johnson, Germany, and ‘the End of the Cold War,’” in Cohen and Tucker, Lyndon Johnson Confronts the World, 173–210; see also the chapter by Günter Bischof in this volume.
81. For details, see Pavlenko, “Der Informationsfluss an die Moskauer Machtzentrale,” and the chapter by Prozumenshchikov in this volume.
82. For details, see Pavlenko, “Der Informationsfluss an die Moskauer Machtzentrale,” and the chapter by Prozumenshchikov in this volume.
83. For further details on Kádár’s role, see the Békés chapter in this volume.
84. Hans Modrow, In historischer Mission: Als deutscher Politiker unterwegs (Berlin: Edition Ost, 2007), 173, writes: “On 4 December 1989 representatives of the states of the Warsaw Pact, who had assembled in Moscow for consultations, issued an apology to the Czechs and Slovaks for the military intervention in August 1968. The NVA did not take part in the operation. Walter Ulbricht was wise enough not to let a single German soldier cross the border. In view of the experiences of 1938/1939 the decision was perfectly justified. The GDR provided logistical support, that is correct. But this is where the matter ended.”
85. For details, see Wenzke, “Die Nationale Volksarmee der DDR: Kein Einsatz in Prag,” in Karner et al., Beiträge, 673–86. RGANI, F. 89, op. 38, d. 57, pp. 1–19, stenographic transcript of the meeting between the Soviet leadership and the state president of the ČSSR, L. Svoboda, and M. Klusák, 23 August 1968, reprinted in Karner et al., Dokumente, #107. According to Gomułka, the NVA was kept back at the express request of the group around Bil’ak and Indra. On this, see Pauer, Prag 1968, 229, partly reprinted in this volume as appendix 8.
86. RGANI, F. 2, op. 3, d. 130, pp. 1–26, speech by L. I. Brezhnev at the session of the plenum of the CC CPSU, 31 October 1968, reprinted in Karner et al., Dokumente, #122.
87. See the chapters by Saki Ruth Dockrill and Georges-Henri Soutou in this volume.
88. In considerable detail (including Romanian sources), see also Mastny, “Was 1968 a Strategic Watershed of the Cold War?” 169–72; on Yugoslavia, see the Tvrtko Jakovina chapter in this volume.
89. Neues Deutschland, 2 December 1989, in Deutschland Archiv 1 (1990): 137; Lutz Prieß et al., Die SED und der “Prager Frühling” 1968: Politik gegen einen “Sozialismus mit menschlichem Antlitz” (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1968), 17.
90. On Vladimir Putin’s visit to Prague, see Die Welt, 1 March 2006.
When turmoil engulfed many parts of the world in 1968, the Soviet Bloc was not wholly immune. A series of momentous events in Eastern Europe in 1968 marked a turning point in the Cold War. Until then, the Iron Curtain separating Communist states in the East from democratic countries in the West had seemed impermeable. The division of Europe had, ironically, been reinforced when violent rebellions erupted in several of the East Bloc countries in the first few years after Josef Stalin’s death—in Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in June 1953, in Poznań, Poland in June 1956, and in Hungary in October 1956. Faced with violent instability and the imminent collapse of the East German regime in 1953 and the Hungarian government in 1956, Soviet leaders deployed vast numbers of combat troops to crush those challenges and restore orthodox Communist rule. The Soviet Army’s success in quelling the two uprisings consolidated the USSR’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and exposed the hollowness of U.S. rhetoric promising the “rollback” of communism from the region.
A very different problem arose for the Soviet Union in 1968, when Czechoslovakia embarked on a dramatic but entirely peaceful attempt to change both the internal complexion of communism and many of the basic structures of Soviet–East European relations. This eight-month-long experiment, widely known as the “Prague Spring,” came to a decisive end in the early morning hours of 21 August 1968, when hundreds of thousands of Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia on behalf of “healthy forces” in the local Communist Party who set about reinstating a hard-line Soviet-style regime.
Neither the Soviet Union nor Czechoslovakia exists any longer, but the legacy of the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion is still being felt. The reforms that took place in Czechoslovakia in 1968 under the leadership of Alexander Dubček offered the first opportunity for an East European Communist regime to earn genuine popular support. Moscow’s unwillingness to tolerate those liberalizing reforms ensured that, from then on, stability in the Eastern Bloc could be preserved only by the threat of another Soviet invasion.
That threat sufficed to hold the Bloc together for more than twenty years, even when tested by severe crises like the one in Poland in 1980–1981. But soon after Mikhail Gorbachev came along and was no longer willing to use military force in Eastern Europe, the whole Soviet Bloc collapsed. Because of the legacy of 1968, all the East European regimes still lacked the legitimacy they would have needed to sustain themselves without Soviet military backing. The invasion of Czechoslovakia saved Soviet-style communism in Eastern Europe for more than two decades, but it could not forestall the eventual demise of the Bloc.
During the Cold War, historians and political scientists devoted a great deal of scrutiny to the Prague Spring and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Countless books, monographs, and articles about the invasion and the events preceding and following it appeared in the West. For many years, all such studies had to rely exclusively or almost exclusively on open sources. Although new firsthand information about the Soviet-Czechoslovak crisis became available in the late 1970s and 1980s when some valuable memoirs and interviews appeared, these retrospective accounts were not enough to make up for the total unavailability of secret documentation in the Warsaw Pact countries. Declassified cables, memoranda, and reports from the U.S. government and from some of the West European countries helped to fill in certain gaps, but the lack of archival evidence and solid memoirs from the Soviet Bloc posed formidable problems.
By the mid-1980s the existing, open-source materials had been thoroughly mined. Without access to the Soviet and East European archives, researchers had little prospect of coming up with many additional insights. But until the late 1980s there seemed almost no chance that the East Bloc archives would ever be accessible. Given the continued sensitivity of the topic, the closed nature of the Soviet and East European societies, and the lack of any procedures in the Communist Bloc for requesting the declassification of documents (even for purely scholarly purposes), secret archival materials about the Prague Spring seemed destined to remain unavailble to scholars. Not until 1988 and 1989, when Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost (official openness) sparked bolder public discussions of Soviet foreign policy, did the opportunities for research begin to expand. Former officials—and even some active officials—in both the USSR and Eastern Europe began reassessing the whole question of the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion. This auspicious trend gained vastly greater momentum after the collapse of East European communism in 1989 led to free elections that brought noncommunist governments to power in the former Soviet Bloc countries. The trend accelerated still further when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Soviet state disintegrated in late 1991. Sensitive documents and firsthand accounts of the events leading up to and following the 1968 invasion, which once would have been wholly off-limits to Western (and Eastern) scholars, suddenly were available in abundance. Although many difficulties have persisted in gaining access to archival collections in Moscow and elsewhere, researchers are at last able to pore over key materials that only recently were kept under tight guard.
The recently declassified documents include stenographic accounts of all the multilateral Soviet–East European conferences in 1968; transcripts of all bilateral Soviet-Czechoslovak negotiations; transcripts of meetings of the Presidium and Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Komunistická strana Československa, or KSČ); transcripts and supporting documents from CPSU Politburo sessions and CPSU Central Committee plenums; transcripts of meetings of the ruling organs of the Communist parties in other East European countries; the texts of secret high-level letters and messages; the detailed contemporaneous diaries of a CPSU Politburo member, Petro Shelest, who played an important role in the crisis; transcripts of high-level phone conversations; secret military directives and planning materials; reports on military exercises; memoranda and cables from the Soviet embassy in Czechoslovakia; records amassed by CPSU Central Committee departments; records from the Czechoslovak embassies in Moscow and other East Bloc capitals; reports by senior officials from other East European countries; the text of the Moscow Protocol and associated documents; and many other items. Many illuminating retrospective accounts by top-ranking participants in the crisis are also now available.
In addition to all these materials from former East Bloc countries, many additional documents from the United States, West European countries, and the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are also now available. Although some important Western (especially U.S.) records were available well before the Cold War ended, access to U.S., West European, and NATO documents has increased immensely since 1991. Huge collections from the U.S. State Department, National Security Council, Defense Department, and Central Intelligence Agency, including many items originally released through the Freedom of Information Act or Mandatory Review Requests, are available at the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas. Similar types of documents, albeit less numerous and with larger gaps, can be found in the national archives of most of the West European countries as well as at NATO’s main archive in Brussels. Although Western diplomatic and intelligence analyses of Soviet decision making during the 1968 crisis were imperfect at best (in this respect, the documents indirectly confirm that Western governments were unable to recruit sources anywhere near the highest levels of the Soviet regime), the Western documents provide vital information about the policies of the U.S. and West European governments and also contain some information about the Soviet and East European armed forces that is currently, and will for many years likely remain, unavailable from the Russian and other former East Bloc archives. A case in point is a September 1968 U.S. Army intelligence report offering a remarkably detailed overview of the Soviet Army’s use of electronic warfare (EW) and jamming during the invasion.1 No documents pertaining to EW or other sensitive operational matters have been released from the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Archive.
This huge outpouring of new sources has greatly enriched earlier accounts of the Prague Spring and of the crisis that emerged between the hard-line Warsaw Pact countries (including the USSR) and Czechoslovakia. Previously unknown aspects of these events have now come to light, and countless important details have been filled in, as is evident in the many fine chapters of this book. Although the new sources do not drastically change our basic understanding of the Prague Spring (which was superbly analyzed in H. Gordon Skilling’s landmark book published in 1976, as well as in dozens of other books and many hundreds of articles), they do allow us to gain a much more nuanced and comprehensive sense of what went on in Czechoslovakia.2 More importantly, the new archival evidence permits a far more complete and accurate picture of Soviet decision making, interactions within the Warsaw Pact, and the events that led up to the August 1968 invasion. Although Karen Dawisha, in her 1984 book analyzing Soviet decision making vis-à-vis Czechoslovakia, did an admirable job on the basis of the exiguous information that was available as of the early 1980s, her book (not to mention other analyses that were less perceptive) has now been overtaken by the deluge of new archival evidence and firsthand testimony.3 No scholar writing about this subject can any longer hope to do a satisfactory job without taking account of the vast quantity of recently declassified documents, memoirs, and interviews from both East and West.
The new evidence underscores just how bold the changes in Czechoslovakia were, even in the face of relentless pressure from the Soviet Union and its hard-line Warsaw Pact allies (especially the GDR and Poland). Far-reaching reforms early in the Prague Spring, including the elimination of censorship, the emergence of unofficial political “clubs,” the removal of orthodox Communist officials, and the general effort to forge “socialism with a human face,” brought a sweeping revival of political and cultural life in a country that had long been one of the most repressive in the Soviet Bloc. As the reform program gained pace and public support grew, the Prague Spring took on a life of its own and gradually eluded the control of the KSČ. Traditional Marxist-Leninist institutions in Czechoslovakia were on the verge of being swept away.
Officials like Dubček remained loyal Communists, but their willingness to press ahead with wide-ranging political liberalization facilitated the emergence of more radical reformers within the party and the growing visibility of proponents of liberal democracy outside the KSČ. The new evidence confirms that senior Czechoslovak officials who were especially bold in supporting reforms, such as Ota Šik (a deputy prime minister), Jiří Pelikán (the head of state television), and even František Kriegel (a member of the KSČ Presidium), envisaged a greatly liberalized version of communism that would fundamentally depart from the standard Soviet model. Šik enunciated this new approach at a student rally in Prague in May 1968:
In pledging to foster a liberal form of socialism that “we have not seen anywhere else,” Šik made clear that he did not regard the Soviet Union as an example worth following. His aim of creating a “socialist democracy” that would “become genuinely attractive for the working people of all capitalist countries” was an obvious acknowledgment that Soviet-style socialism was not “genuinely attractive for working people.”
Soviet leaders, as the new evidence shows, were unnerved by this sort of rhetoric and by the rise of influential political groups outside the KSČ. Officials in Moscow worried that even if Dubček did not intend to push in a radical direction, the outspoken proponents of liberal democratic reform in Czechoslovakia would increasingly eclipse him and steer the country along an “antisocialist” path. Such a development, they feared, would, if left unchecked, create an ominous precedent for the rest of the Soviet Bloc. Although the process of political, economic, and cultural revitalization in Czechoslovakia in 1968 was peaceful throughout, the lack of any violent turmoil did not prevent Soviet leaders from repeatedly drawing analogies to an event they had collectively experienced twelve years earlier—the violent rebellion in Hungary in October–November 1956, which was eventually subdued by the Soviet Army. As early as 15 March 1968, at a meeting of the CPSU Politburo, the head of the Soviet state security committee (KGB), Yuri Andropov, who had served as Soviet ambassador in Budapest during the 1956 revolution, claimed that events in Czechoslovakia “are very reminiscent of what happened in Hungary.”5 The CPSU general secretary, Leonid Brezhnev, who in 1956 had taken part in all the high-level discussions that led to the Soviet invasion of Hungary, concurred with Andropov’s assessment, adding that “our earlier hopes for Dubček have not been borne out.” Brezhnev phoned Dubček during a break in the CPSU Politburo’s deliberations and emphasized his “grave concern” about the situation in Czechoslovakia, especially the “growth of patently antisocialist forces.” The Soviet leader warned Dubček that “the Hungarian events of 1956 might soon be repeated in [Czechoslovakia],” but, to Brezhnev’s disappointment in subsequent weeks, the phone call did not spur Dubček to rein in the Prague Spring.6
When the Soviet Politburo reconvened on 21 March, the assembled leaders expressed dismay that political liberalization in Czechoslovakia was continuing and that orthodox members of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) were in danger of being removed from the scene altogether.7 Likening the situation to the changes that occurred in Hungary just before the 1956 revolution, Brezhnev claimed that events in Czechoslovakia were “moving in an anti-Communist direction” and that many “good and sincere friends of the Soviet Union” had been dismissed. He also noted that the Prague Spring was beginning to spark ferment among Soviet “intellectuals and students as well as in certain regions” of the USSR, notably Ukraine. Brezhnev’s misgivings were echoed by other Politburo members, including Soviet prime minister Aleksei Kosygin, who insisted that the Czechoslovak authorities were “preparing to do what was done in Hungary” in 1956. The Ukrainian party leader, Petro Shelest, also stressed the potential for violence to erupt in Czechoslovakia and to spill over into Ukraine—a development that in his view would determine “not only the fate of socialism in one of the socialist countries, but the fate of the whole socialist camp.” Aleksandr Shelepin and Mikhail Solomentsev spoke in similarly ominous tones about the effect of the Prague Spring on Soviet students and intellectuals. They joined Shelest in urging the Soviet Union to prepare to take “extreme measures,” including “military action.” This proposal was strongly endorsed by Andropov, who argued that “we must adopt concrete military measures” as soon as possible.8
The growing unease in Moscow was reinforced by the much harsher complaints expressed in other East Bloc capitals, especially Warsaw and East Berlin. From the outset, the Polish leader Władysław Gomułka and the East German leader Walter Ulbricht were determined to counter the “growth of inimical, anti-socialist influences” along their borders. The two men feared that events in Czechoslovakia would prove “contagious” and would create political instability in their own countries. As early as mid-January, when a high-level Soviet delegation led by Brezhnev paid an unofficial visit to Poland and East Germany, both Gomułka and Ulbricht expressed disquiet to their Soviet counterparts about recent developments in Czechoslovakia.9 Gomułka reiterated his concerns in a private conversation with Dubček a few weeks later in the Moravian city of Ostrava, warning that “if things go badly with you [in Czechoslovakia], we in Poland, too, will find hostile elements rising against us.”10 In subsequent weeks, Gomułka’s and Ulbricht’s views of the Czechoslovak reform program took on an increasingly alarmist edge; and before long, both of the East European leaders were calling, with ever greater urgency, for intervention by Warsaw Pact troops to halt the Prague Spring.
The concerns expressed by Polish and East German leaders, combined with the disquiet that senior officials in Moscow were beginning to feel, induced the CPSU Politburo to give high priority to the “Czechoslovak question.”11 From mid-March 1968 on, the issue was constantly at the top of the Politburo’s agenda. The transcripts of the Politburo sessions and the records of other high-level CPSU bodies, as well as materials from Brezhnev’s personal papers (lichnyi fond), reveal that the CPSU general secretary consulted and worked closely with his colleagues on all aspects of the crisis, thereby ensuring that responsibility for the outcome would be borne collectively. Unlike in December 1967, when Brezhnev resorted to “personal diplomacy” during a sudden visit to Prague as the pressure for political change in Czechoslovakia was coming to a head, the growing “threat” in Czechoslovakia by the spring of 1968 gave him an incentive to share as much of the burden as possible with the rest of the Politburo and Secretariat. In particular, he ensured that his two top colleagues (and potential rivals), Aleksei Kosygin and Nikolai Podgornyi, were prominently involved in all key decisions and negotiations, linking them in an informal troika (with Brezhnev) that represented—and often acted on behalf of—the full Politburo. Much the same was true of Brezhnev’s reliance on two other senior Politburo members: Mikhail Suslov, who oversaw ideological matters; and Petro Shelest, whose responsibilities in Ukraine did not prevent him from playing a key role during the crisis.
At the same time, Brezhnev was careful not to get bogged down by lowerlevel bureaucratic maneuvering. Throughout the crisis the CPSU Politburo, led by Brezhnev, exercised tight control over Soviet policy. The Politburo eventually set up a high-level “commission on the Czechoslovak question,” consisting of Podgornyi, Suslov, Arvı-ds Pel’she, Aleksandr Shelepin, Kirill Mazurov, Konstantin Rusakov, Yuri Andropov, Andrei Gromyko, and Aleksei Epishev. The commission kept a daily watch on events in Czechoslovakia, functioning as an organ of the Politburo that was directly accountable to Brezhnev. (Six of the nine members of the commission, including Podgornyi and Suslov, were full or candidate members of the Politburo, and the three other commission members had been taking an active part in the Politburo’s deliberations on Czechoslovakia.)12 The commission’s updated findings and recommendations were regularly brought before the full Politburo for consideration. Brezhnev himself carefully guided the Politburo’s proceedings and took direct responsibility for bilateral contacts with Dubček.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1968, analogies with the violence in Hungary in 1956 remained salient in the Soviet Politburo’s deliberations about the Prague Spring, despite the lack of any violent unrest in Czechoslovakia. When Dubček and other reform-minded Czechoslovak officials spoke with Soviet leaders, they tried to convince them that the situation was not at all like Hungary twelve years earlier:
These assurances, in the absence of concrete steps demanded by the Soviet authorities, failed to mollify leaders in Moscow. Although Soviet officials acknowledged that no violent upheavals were occurring in Czechoslovakia (“at least not yet”), they argued that this was purely because “the American and West German imperialists” had “shifted tactics” and were “resorting to a new, step-by-step approach.” The extensive evidence now available in Western and former East Bloc archives makes clear that, contrary to these allegations of “imperialist” involvement, Western governments were in fact not masterminding or even doing much to help out the Prague Spring. The reform program in Czechoslovakia was devised from within.
For Soviet leaders, however, the allegations served a clear purpose. By repeatedly accusing the U.S. and West German governments of conspiring with “reactionary” forces in Czechoslovakia, they sought to discredit the Prague Spring. They argued that Western governments had been chastened by the experience in 1956 (when Soviet troops forcefully quelled the Hungarian Revolution) and were therefore now adopting a subtler approach. At a closed party gathering in April 1968 the Soviet Politburo member Petro Shelest explained this alleged shift in Western tactics:
Shelest claimed that he was still hoping that “the healthy forces in the KSČ will be able to regain control of the situation and guide the country back onto the socialist path.” But he added that “in the event of danger,” the CPSU Politburo “will use all of our capabilities,” including military forces, “to thwart the intrigues of our enemies who want to rip fraternal Czechoslovakia out of the commonwealth of socialist countries.”15
Shelest’s argument signaled a far-reaching change of policy that was later reflected in the Brezhnev Doctrine. The implication of his comments was that even if violence did not ever break out in Czechoslovakia, the peaceful “seizure of power” by “hostile forces” (supposedly “in collusion with Western imperialists”) could eventually pose the same sort of “mortal danger” that arose in Hungary in 1956, necessitating the same type of Soviet response. This line of reasoning was publicly codified in an article in the main CPSU newspaper, Pravda, in July 1968, a few days before Soviet leaders met in Warsaw with the leaders of East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, and Hungary to decide what to do about Czechoslovakia. The article, titled “Attack against the Foundations of Socialism in Czechoslovakia,” asserted that “the tactics of those who would like to undermine the foundations of socialism in Czechoslovakia are even more cunning and insidious” than the “frenzied attacks launched by counterrevolutionary elements in Hungary in 1956.”16 Because the “champions of counterrevolution” in Czechoslovakia and their Western backers were aware that open revolt would provoke a Soviet military response, they were “carrying out a stealthy counterrevolution” that would peacefully “subvert the gains of socialism.”
The significance of this new Soviet rhetoric was not fully understood in Prague until it was too late. Although Dubček was well aware that internal reforms in Czechoslovakia had sparked consternation in Moscow, he assumed that he could offset this hostility by constantly reassuring Soviet leaders about the firmness of Czechoslovakia’s commitment to the Warsaw Pact and the “socialist commonwealth.”17 Looking back to the events of 1956 in Hungary, Dubček and other senior KSČ officials concluded that by upholding Czechoslovakia’s membership in the Warsaw Pact and maintaining broad control over the reform process, they could carry out sweeping domestic changes without provoking Soviet military intervention.18 This conclusion, as we now know, was erroneous even about the earlier case of Hungary. The CPSU Presidium’s decision at the end of October 1956 to quell the revolution in Hungary through a full-scale invasion predated Hungary’s announced intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact.19 Whether valid or not, however, the “lesson” that Czechoslovak officials drew from the 1956 crisis—that internal reform would be tolerated so long as membership in the Warsaw Pact was not questioned—induced them to make frequent references to Czechoslovakia’s “unbreakable friendship and alliance” with the USSR.20 As domestic liberalization gathered pace, Dubček was particularly careful to issue repeated expressions of solidarity with Moscow and to pledge that Soviet interests would be safeguarded under all circumstances.
Although Dubček was undoubtedly sincere in his professions of loyalty to the Soviet Union, his statements failed to defuse the crisis. Not only did Soviet leaders worry that the Prague Spring would eventually undermine Czechoslovakia’s commitment to the Warsaw Pact, but they also believed that the internal changes in Czechoslovakia were themselves a threat to the “unity and cohesion of the Communist movement.” In the spring and summer of 1968, the Soviet Politburo consistently emphasized three main demands—that the KSČ reintroduce strict censorship over the Czechoslovak mass media; that Dubček remove the most outspoken officials, including Jiří Pelikán and General Václav Prchlík; and that the Czechoslovak authorities promptly disband and outlaw the unofficial political “clubs.” Soviet leaders brought up these points whenever they met or spoke by phone with their Czechoslovak counterparts, and they voiced similar demands in multilateral forums. Dubček could have been under no illusions about what the Soviet Union wanted, but he consistently tried to defer or avoid any concrete steps to fulfill the demands.
In the absence of a major turnaround in Czechoslovakia, analogies with the Hungarian Revolution, no matter how dubious, persisted in the Soviet Politburo’s deliberations. Even so, the lack of any violence in Czechoslovakia in 1968 meant that Brezhnev and his colleagues had more time to resolve the situation than was available to Soviet leaders in either 1953 (when an uprising broke out in East Germany) or 1956 (when violent protests erupted in Hungary). The violence that accompanied those earlier crises necessitated prompter action. In 1968, by contrast, the Soviet Politburo deliberated for several months before reaching a consensus about the best way to end the crisis. Shelest noted in his diary that as late as the summer of 1968, the differing approaches of Brezhnev, Kosygin, Podgornyi, Suslov, and other senior officials “kept the Politburo from being firmly united about how to deal with the question of Czechoslovakia.”21 The declassified transcripts of the Soviet Politburo’s discussions and of other high-level meetings amply corroborate Shelest’s point. The transcripts show that some Politburo members, such as Andropov, Podgornyi, and Shelest, were consistent proponents of military intervention, whereas other members, particularly Suslov, were far more circumspect. The transcripts also indicate that several figures, including Kosygin, Aleksandr Shelepin, and Pyotr Demichev, fluctuated during the crisis, at times favoring “extreme measures” (that is, military action) and at other times leaning toward a political solution.
Nevertheless, even when the members of the Soviet Politburo disagreed with one another, their disagreements were mainly over tactics rather than strategic considerations or fundamental goals. All of the Politburo members agreed that the reform process in Czechoslovakia was endangering the “gains of socialism” and the “common interests of world socialism,” just as the Hungarian Revolution had in 1956. By the late spring of 1968, most of the Politburo members sensed that drastic Soviet action would be necessary to curtail the Prague Spring. Although some still hoped that Dubček himself would be willing to crack down, many had begun to suspect that it was no longer possible to count on a purely “internal” solution.
One of those who did still hold out at least some hope of achieving an internal solution was Brezhnev. In July and early August 1968, he and other Soviet officials repeatedly urged Dubček to clamp down on “antisocialist” groups, restore censorship of the mass media, and remove the KSČ officials who ardently supported “socialism with a human face.” The Soviet Union’s relentless pressure on the Czechoslovak authorities was reinforced by Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, and antireformist members of the KSČ Presidium. Brezhnev used a variety of bilateral channels to exhort Czechoslovak officials to combat “antisocialist” and “counterrevolutionary” elements, and he even approached a few of Dubček’s reformist colleagues surreptitiously in the hope of finding a suitable replacement who would be willing to crack down.22 The Soviet government also convened multilateral Warsaw Pact conclaves to generate further pressure on Dubček. Highly publicized meetings in Warsaw in mid-July and in Bratislava at the beginning of August featured harsh criticism and threats of joint action to “defend the gains of socialism” in Czechoslovakia.23
None of these efforts, however, proved successful in derailing the Prague Spring. As Brezhnev and other leaders increasingly realized that an internal crackdown was not going to materialize, the high-level debate in Moscow moved toward consensus. The Soviet Politburo tentatively decided at its meetings on 22 and 26/27 July to proceed with a full-scale invasion sometime in mid-to late August if the situation in Czechoslovakia did not fundamentally change. When the Soviet Politburo reconvened in an expanded session on 6 August to review the latest developments, no one any longer really expected that military action could be averted. Although a few participants voiced reservations about the potential costs of an invasion—especially if, as Defense Minister Andrei Grechko warned, the incoming troops encountered armed resistance—the Politburo reached a consensus on 6 August to proceed with military intervention in Czechoslovakia unless Dubček took immediate, drastic steps to comply with Soviet demands.24 This consensus did not yet signify an irrevocable decision to invade, but it did mean that Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders had essentially abandoned hope that “anything more can be expected” of Dubček.
As the time for military action approached, Brezhnev made one final attempt to pressure Dubček to reverse course. The strain of the crisis was beginning to take a serious toll on Brezhnev’s health, but he was still determined to exhaust all other options before resorting to military action.25 Although he confided to his aides that he was deeply worried about “losing Czechoslovakia” and “being removed from [his] post as General Secretary,” he also was concerned that an invasion would exact high political costs of its own.26 He and other Soviet leaders were in the Crimea during the second week of August, but he kept in close touch with Dubček by phone throughout that time. Brezhnev also maintained contact with Dubček via the Soviet ambassador, Stepan Chervonenko. In a phone conversation with Dubček on 9 August, Brezhnev tried to compel the KSČ leader to act. Brezhnev emphasized how “dire” the situation had become, and he urged Dubček to live up to “the conditions we jointly approved and agreed on [at the beginning of August after holding bilateral negotiations] in Čierna nad Tisou.”27 In a follow-up telephone conversation four days later, Brezhnev was far more aggressive and belligerent, accusing Dubček of “outright deceit” and of “blatantly sabotaging the agreements reached at Čierna and Bratislava.”28 The Soviet leader warned that in the “entirely new situation that has emerged” the USSR “would be obliged to consider adopting new, independent measures that will defend both the KSČ and the cause of socialism in Czechoslovakia.”
Soon after the phone conversation on the 13th, Brezhnev sent an urgent cable to Chervonenko ordering him to meet with Dubček as soon as possible to reemphasize the “extraordinary gravity” of the situation and the need for immediate action.29 Chervonenko did so that same evening, but his efforts, too, were of no avail. The failure of these different contacts seems to have been what finally spurred Brezhnev to conclude that “nothing more can be expected from the current KSČ CC Presidium” and that a military solution could no longer be deferred.30 From then on, the dynamic of the whole situation changed. Brezhnev, during his break in the Crimea, had been conferring with other senior members of the CPSU Politburo and Secretariat, most of whom were vacationing nearby.31 Ad-hoc sessions of the Politburo were convened on 13, 14, and 15 August to discuss appropriate responses. Brezhnev and his colleagues acknowledged that a military solution “would be fraught with complications,” but they all agreed that any delay in acting “would lead to civil war in Czechoslovakia and the loss of it as a socialist country.”32
On 17 August, with all the top leaders back in Moscow, the Soviet Politburo convened and voted unanimously to “provide assistance and support to the Communist Party and people of Czechoslovakia through the use of [the Soviet] armed forces.”33 No one on the Politburo expressed doubt about the decision. The following day, at a hastily convened meeting in Moscow, Brezhnev informed the leaders of East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, and Hungary about the decision.34 Similar briefings were held in Moscow on 19 August for the members of the CPSU Central Committee, for the heads of union-republic, regional, and municipal party organizations, and for senior government officials. After the briefings on the 19th, the CPSU Politburo convened for several hours to review the military and political aspects of the upcoming operation.35 Detailed presentations by Defense Minister Grechko and the chief of the Soviet General Staff, Marshal Matvei Zakharov, provided grounds for optimism about the military side of the invasion, but the political preparations received less scrutiny. Although most of the Politburo members expressed confidence that the “healthy forces” in Czechoslovakia (a group of KSČ hardliners who secretly conspired with the Soviet Union before the invasion) would carry out their plan to seize power, a few Politburo members seemed more skeptical about “what will happen after our troops enter Czechoslovakia.”36
Over the next day, Soviet officials and military commanders kept in close touch with their East European counterparts. Unlike in 1956, when Soviet troops intervened in Hungary unilaterally (after turning down offers of help from Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria), Brezhnev was determined to give the invasion in 1968 a multilateral appearance. Combat soldiers from Poland, Bulgaria, and Hungary and a liaison unit from East Germany took part in the invasion, which began at 11:00 p.m. (Moscow time) on 20 August.
The Soviet High Command went to great lengths to make sure that the incoming forces would not encounter any armed resistance. When the first Soviet troops crossed the border, Marshal Grechko phoned the Czechoslovak national defense minister, General Martin Dzúr, and warned him that if Czechoslovak soldiers fired “even a single shot” in resistance, the Soviet Army would “crush the resistance mercilessly” and Dzúr himself would “be strung up from a telephone pole and shot.”37 Dzúr heeded the warning by ordering all Czechoslovak troops to remain in their barracks indefinitely, to avoid the use of weapons for any purpose, and to offer “all necessary assistance to the Soviet forces.”38 A similar directive was issued by the Czechoslovak president and commander in chief Ludvík Svoboda after he was informed of the invasion—in more cordial terms—by Ambassador Chervonenko shortly before midnight.39 Neither Dzúr nor Svoboda welcomed the invasion, but both of them believed that armed resistance would merely result in widespread, futile bloodshed. The KSČ Presidium and the Czechoslovak government also promptly instructed the army and security forces not to put up active opposition; and the Soviet commander of the invasion, General Ivan Pavlovskii, issued a prepared statement in the name of the Soviet High Command urging Czechoslovak soldiers to remain in their barracks.40 As a result of all these appeals, the Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops faced no armed resistance at all.
Soviet airborne forces and KGB special operations personnel spearheaded the invasion, and they were followed within a few hours by nearly 170,000 regular Soviet troops. (In subsequent days, nearly 300,000 more Soviet soldiers moved into Czechoslovakia, bringing the total to around 450,000-500,000.) Within hours, the Soviet-led units seized control of Czechoslovakia’s transportation and communications networks and surrounded all the main Communist Party and government buildings in Prague and other cities. Soviet troops then began methodically occupying key sites (including military bases and airfields) and setting up new communications and broadcasting facilities. In the early morning hours of 21 August, Soviet commandos from the elite Taman division, accompanied by KGB officers and Czechoslovak State Security forces, entered the KSČ Central Committee headquarters and arrested Dubček and the other KSČ Presidium members who had supported the Prague Spring (except for Prime Minister Oldřich Černík, who had been arrested earlier at his office in the Government Ministers’ building).41 Soon after Dubček and the other KSČ officials were spirited away, the whole of Czechoslovakia fell under Soviet military control.
Decisive as the military results may have been, they seemed rather hollow when the invasion failed to achieve its immediate political aims.42 The Soviet Union’s chief political objective on 20/21 August was to facilitate a rapid transition to a pro-Moscow “revolutionary government,” as had been done in Hungary in November 1956 when Soviet troops installed a “workers’ and peasants’ government” under Janoš Kádár. In Czechoslovakia, however, a pro-Moscow government failed to materialize immediately after the invasion. The “healthy forces” in Czechoslovakia were unable to gain majority support on the KSČ Presidium. The resulting confusion was well described in an emergency cable to Moscow from Kirill Mazurov, a Soviet Politburo member who had been sent to Czechoslovakia to oversee the political side of the invasion. Mazurov reported that the KSČ hardliners had “gone a bit haywire” and had “lost their nerve when Soviet military units were slightly late in arriving” at the KSČ Central Committee headquarters.43 Upon learning that troops had crossed into Czechoslovakia, the KSČ Presidium had voted seven to four to adopt a statement condemning the invasion, and this statement was broadcast repeatedly on radio and television over the next several hours and was published in full on the front page of a special edition of the main KSČ newspaper, Rudé právo, on 21 August.44 These developments, according to Mazurov, caused even greater disarray and panic among the “healthy forces,” who were “unable to recover from the shock.”45
Despite this setback, Soviet leaders were reluctant to abandon their initial plan, apparently because they had neglected to devise any fallback options. It is surprising, even in retrospect, that they would have committed themselves so heavily to such a dubious strategy without having devised a viable alternative. No doubt, this was partly the fault of Soviet embassy officials in Prague and Soviet KGB sources who had assured the CPSU Politburo that the “healthy forces on the KSČ Presidium have finally consolidated themselves and closed their ranks so that they are now a majority.”46 The members of the CPSU Politburo genuinely expected that the invasion would earn widespread official and popular support (or at least acquiescence) once the “right-wing opportunists” in the KSČ were removed and the initial shock of the invasion wore off. Although martial law was to be imposed in certain parts of Czechoslovakia on 21 August, it was intended as a temporary and selective measure that could be lifted as soon as a “revolutionary government” was in place and the “antisocialist” and “counterrevolutionary” forces had been neutralized.47 The lack of any attempt by the invading troops to take over the functions of the Czechoslovak government or parliament, the very limited scale of the initial Soviet propaganda effort inside Czechoslovakia, and the meager quantity of provisions brought in by the Soviet and East European forces (because they assumed that they would be promptly resupplied by a friendly Czechoslovak government) all confirm that Soviet leaders were expecting a swift transition to a proMoscow regime.48
Only after repeated efforts to set up a post-invasion government had collapsed and the invasion had met with overwhelming opposition in Czechoslovakia—both publicly and officially—did Soviet leaders get an inkling of how unfavorable the conditions in Czechoslovakia were.49 An internal Soviet Politburo report shortly after the invasion conceded that “75 to 90 percent of the [Czechoslovak] population… regard the entry of Soviet troops as an act of occupation.”50 Reports from Soviet diplomats indicated that even most KSČ members viewed the invasion in “highly negative” terms.51 Brezhnev and his colleagues acknowledged this point but were loath to admit that they had fundamentally misjudged the situation and had failed to take adequate precautions. Instead, they ascribed the fiasco solely to the “cowardly behavior” of the “healthy forces” in Czechoslovakia and the “lack of active propaganda work” by Soviet units.52
Faced with massive popular and official resistance in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Politburo decided to open negotiations on 23 August with Dubček and other KSČ officials who had been arrested on the morning of the 21st. After four days of talks, the two sides agreed to sign the Moscow Protocol, which forced the reversal of several elements of the Prague Spring but also ensured the reinstatement of most of the leading reformers, including Dubček. The decision to bring back key Czechoslovak officials did not go over well with some Soviet Politburo members and with hard-line leaders in Eastern Europe. At a Warsaw Pact conclave on 24 August, Gomułka insisted that Soviet and East European troops should be “ordered to combat the counterrevolution” and take “whatever steps are necessary” to “prevent rightists and counterrevolutionaries from regaining power.”53 In his view, “the situation in Hungary [in 1956] was better than in Czechoslovakia today.” Gomułka’s complaints were echoed by Ulbricht, who declared that “if Dubček and Černík are going to be back in the leadership, what was the point of sending our troops there in the first place?”54 Ulbricht warned that the KSČ reformers had “deceived us at Čierna and Bratislava” and “will deceive us again.” Both he and Gomułka joined the Bulgarian leader, Todor Zhivkov, in calling for the imposition of a “military dictatorship” in Czechoslovakia. Their views were endorsed by Andropov, Shelest, Podgornyi, and a few other Soviet officials during a meeting of the CPSU Politburo the following day.55 Alluding to what was done in Hungary after Soviet troops invaded in 1956, Andropov proposed that a “revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ government” be installed in Czechoslovakia to carry out mass arrests and repression. His suggestion was backed by another candidate Politburo member and CPSU secretary, Dmitrii Ustinov, who emphasized that “we must give a free hand to our troops.”
These calls for a much more vigorous (and presumably bloodier) military crackdown were rejected by Brezhnev, Kosygin, and other officials. Although Brezhnev was prepared, in extremis, to impose direct military rule in Czechoslovakia for as long as necessary, he and most of his colleagues clearly were hoping to come up with a more palatable solution first. The task of finding such a solution was seriously complicated by the collapse of Moscow’s initial political aims, but a sustained period of repression and “normalization” gradually negated the defiant mood of the Czechoslovak population and consolidated the military and political gains of the invasion.56 In April 1969, Dubček was removed from office for good.
The implications of the 1968 crisis for Soviet responses to nonviolent political change in East-Central Europe were codified in the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine (a term coined in the West in September 1968 after the Soviet Union published a number of authoritative statements justifying the invasion of Czechoslovakia). The Brezhnev Doctrine laid out strict “rules of the game” for the Communist Bloc by linking the fate of each socialist country with the fate of all others, by stipulating that every socialist country must abide by the norms of Marxism-Leninism as interpreted in Moscow, and by rejecting “abstract sovereignty” in favor of the “laws of class struggle.” Under the Brezhnev Doctrine, the Soviet Union had both a right and a “sacred duty” to preserve the “socialist gains” of all Warsaw Pact countries.57 The Soviet Politburo therefore would be obliged to use military force not only to respond to violent outbursts—as in the case of Hungary in 1956—but also to preempt “impermissible deviations from socialism,” even if these were carried out through entirely peaceful means. Although a preemptive military option had always existed for the Soviet Union, the Brezhnev Doctrine made it explicit by proclaiming that the Warsaw Pact states would never again risk “waiting until Communists are being shot and hanged,” as in the autumn of 1956, before sending Soviet and allied troops to “help the champions of socialism.”58
The Brezhnev Doctrine thus reflected the Soviet Union’s profound hostility to any meaningful change in the political complexion of EastCentral Europe, regardless of whether such change was achieved through nonviolent civil resistance or violent rebellion. But this engrained attitude did not necessarily mean that Soviet troops would intervene promptly or indiscriminately during future crises in the Soviet Bloc, any more than they had in 1968. Brezhnev went to great lengths in 1968 to pursue an internal solution in Czechoslovakia that would preclude the need for a full-scale invasion. He and other Soviet officials tried for months to pressure Dubček to crack down, and it was only when their repeated efforts failed and when the dates of party congresses in Czechoslovakia were looming (congresses that would have resulted in sweeping replacements of KSČ hardliners) that the Soviet Politburo finally approved the dispatch of Soviet troops. This pattern of trying every option to find an internal solution before resorting to military force was repeated during all subsequent crises in East-Central Europe under Brezhnev.
In retrospect, given what the latest evidence reveals about the Soviet Union’s objectives at the time, we can safely conclude that no real opportunity existed in 1968 for truly radical change in Czechoslovakia. Significant reforms would of course have been possible, as had been occurring in Hungary since 1962. But the much more far-reaching transformation envisaged by the boldest reformers in Czechoslovakia was unacceptable to the leaders in Moscow. Because Brezhnev and his Soviet colleagues had sufficient power to determine the political fate of Czechoslovakia, their preferences ultimately prevailed in 1968. Fundamental change in Czechoslovakia and in other Central and East European countries required a fundamental change in Soviet policy, and this did not occur until the end of the 1980s. Only then were the ideals and central elements of the Prague Spring, especially its democratic thrust, allowed to bear full fruit.
Nonetheless, even if radical change could not have taken lasting hold in Central and Eastern Europe under the circumstances that existed in Moscow in 1968, this does not diminish the drama and audacity of the Prague Spring. Soviet leaders rightly sensed that the far-reaching reforms in Czechoslovakia would have a fissiparous effect within the Communist Bloc. To be sure, it is impossible to know whether the reform program in Czechoslovakia would eventually have produced a genuinely democratic polity. Even if the external environment had been more benign, the internal obstacles to radical change were formidable. The well-known Czech writer Antonín Liehm, who was a leading reformer in 1968, recently acknowledged that “skepticism and disillusion” might eventually have ensued in Czechoslovakia, even without the external pressure.59 But Liehm also aptly noted that the boldest of the reformers were “sincere” in wanting to “abandon militarized socialism” and to “push for real political freedom.”
In that respect, it is unfair and misleading for Czech officials nowadays to dismiss the Prague Spring as merely an insignificant exercise in “warmedover communism”—the sort of dismissal voiced often by Václav Klaus and some other Czech politicians who themselves kept their heads down in 1968. (Klaus was a twenty-seven-year-old economist in 1968 and took no part in the reform efforts.) Klaus has been wont to condemn the leaders of the Prague Spring for having “believed in socialism with a human face” rather than genuine democracy, but this sort of criticism is largely ahistorical.60 Given the constraints posed by the Soviet Union’s hegemonic position in the Warsaw Pact, “socialism with a human face” (socialismus s lidskou tváří) was a remarkably bold goal for an East European country to seek. The slogan itself—“socialism with a human face”—not only heralded the sweeping changes that Czechs and Slovaks were hoping to achieve, but also implied that socialism elsewhere in the Soviet Bloc lacked a “human face.” Oldřich Černík, the Czechoslovak prime minister in 1968, later recalled that Brezhnev angrily confronted Dubček over precisely this issue in May 1968: “In one of the Kremlin corridors [Brezhnev] kept asking Alexander Dubček: ‘What’s with this human face? What kind of faces do you think we have in Moscow?’ Dubček sought to mollify him by answering that this, you know, is just some catchy phrase that the people like.”61
Even though the slogan meant different things to different people in Czechoslovakia, opinion polls taken in 1968 revealed that a large majority of Czechs and Slovaks were supportive of Western-style democracy.62 Soviet troops put a forceful end to those aspirations, but the goal never really disappeared. Thus, looking back, we can view the spirited attempts at reform in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the tragic way in which they ended, as adumbrating the eventual downfall of the Communist Bloc and of the USSR itself.
1. U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, DIA Intelligence Supplement: Soviet Electronic Countermeasures during Invasion of Czechoslovakia, DIAIS UP-275-68 (Secret—No Foreign Dissemination), 1 October 1968, declassified October 2002, in Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, National Security File, Europe and USSR, Czechoslovkia, Czechoslovakia Memos, Vol. IV: 9/68–1/69.
2. H. Gordon Skilling, Czechoslovakia’s Interrupted Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976).
3. Karen Dawisha, The Kremlin and the Prague Spring (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).
4. “Cesty ke svobodě,” Rudé právo (Prague), 13 May 1968, p. 1.
5. “Rabochaya zapis’ zasedaniya Politbyuro TsK KPSS ot 15 marta 1968 g.,” verbatim transcript (top secret), 15 March 1968, in Arkhiv Prezidenta Rossiiskoi Federatsii (APRF), Fond (F.) 3, Opis’ (Op.) 45, Delo (D.) 99, Listy (Ll.) 123–24.
6. “Rabochaya zapis’ zasedaniya Politbyuro TsK KPSS ot 15 marta 1968 g.,” L. 127.
7. “Rabochaya zapis’ zasedaniya Politbyuro TsK KPSS ot 21 marta 1968 g.,” verbatim transcript (top secret), 21 March 1968, in APRF, F. 3, Op. 45, D. 99, Ll. 147–58.
8. “Rabochaya zapis’ zasedaniya Politbyuro TsK KPSS ot 21 marta 1968 g.,” Ll. 148, 151–53, 156.
9. See the materials pertaining to these discussions in Archiwum Akt Nowych (AAN), Warsaw, Archiwum Komitetu Centralnego Polskiej Zjednoczonej Partii Rabotniczej (Arch. KC PZPR), Paczka (P.) 32, Tom (T.) 114.
10. “Protokół z rozmowy Pierwszego Sekretarza KC PZPR tow. Władysława Gomułki z Pierwszym Sekretarzem KC KPCz tow. Aleksandrem Dubczekem,” 7 February 1968 (Secret), in AAN, Arch. KC PZPR, P. 193, T. 24, Dok. 3.
11. A. M. Aleksandrov-Agentov, Ot Kollontai do Gorbacheva: Vospominaniya diplomata, sovetnika A. A. Gromyko, pomoshchnika L. I. Brezhneva, Yu. V. Andropova, K. U. Chernenko i M. S. Gorbacheva (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 1994), 147–49.
12. “Rabochaya zapis’ zasedaniya Politbyuro TsK KPSS ot 23 maya 1968,” verbatim transcript (top secret), 23 May 1968, in APRF, F. 3, Op. 45, L. 262.
13. Cited in “TsK KPSS,” memorandum no. 1/22 (top secret) from P. Shelest to the CPSU Politburo, 21 March 1968, in Tsentral’nyi Derzhavnyi Arkhiv Hromads’kykh Ob’ednan’ Ukrainy (TsDAHOU), Kyiv, F. 1, Op. 25, Sprava (Spr.) 27, Ll. 18–23. See also Emil Šip, “Prvomájové referendum,” Rudé právo (Prague), 3 May 1968, p. 2.
14. “Doklad P. E. Shelesta ‘Ob itogakh aprel’skogo plenuma TsK KPSS,’” speech text (top secret), 25 April 1968, in TsDAHOU, F. 1, Op. 25, Spr. 97, Ll. 8–9.
15. “Doklad P. E. Shelesta ‘Ob itogakh aprel’skogo plenuma TsK KPSS,’” L. 11.
16. I. Aleksandrov, “Ataka protiv sotsialisticheskikh ustoev Chekhoslovakii,” Pravda (Moscow), 11 July 1968, p. 4.
17. See the retrospective comments of Jiří Hájek, who served as Czechoslovak foreign minister in 1968, in Dix ans après: Prague 1968–1978 (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1978), 110–15, 163–64, 172–79.
18. See Dubček’s comments on this matter in Hope Dies Last: The Autobiography of Alexander Dubček, trans. by Jiří Hochman (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 178–79.
19. Mark Kramer, “The Soviet Union and the 1956 Crises in Hungary and Poland: Reassessments and New Findings,” Journal of Contemporary History 33, no. 2 (April 1998): 163–214.
20. See, for example, “Projev soudruha Alexandra Dubčeka,” Rudé právo (Prague), 25 April 1968, pp. 1–2.
21. “Dnevniki P. E. Shelesta,” in Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Sotsial’noPoliticheskoi Istorii (RGASPI), F. 666, Tetrad’ (Te.) 6, L. 27.
22. See the interview with Josef Smrkovský in “Nedokončený rozhovor: Mluví Josef Smrkovský,” Listy: Časopis československé socialistické opozice (Rome) 4, no. 2 (March 1975): 17; and the interview with Oldřich Černík in “Bumerang ‘Prazhskoi vesnoi,’” Izvestiya (Moscow), 21 August 1990, p. 5. Both Smrkovský and Černík were members of the KSČ Presidium in 1968. Smrkovský was also president of the National Assembly and a leading architect of the Prague Spring; Černík was the Czechoslovak prime minister. Shelest describes an incident in his diary (“Dnevniki P. E. Shelesta,” in RGASPI, F. 666, Te. 4, L. 80) that suggests the overtures may have found a receptive audience in Smrkovský, but no further corroboration of this incident has emerged.
23. For a verbatim transcript of the meeting in Warsaw, see “Protokół ze spotkania przywódców partii i rządów krajów socjalistycznych—Bulgarii, NRD, Polski, Węgier i ZSRR—w Warszawie, 14–15 lipca 1968 r.,” Copy No. 5 (Top Secret), 14–15 July 1968, in AAN, Arch. KC PZPR, P. 193, T. 24, Dok. 4. See also the lengthy interview with the Hungarian leader János Kádár, who took part in these meetings, in “Yanosh Kádár o ‘prazhskoi vesne,’” Kommunist (Moscow), no. 7 (May 1990): 96–103.
24. “Rabochaya zapis’ zasedaniya Politbyuro TsK KPSS ot 6 avgusta 1968 g.,” verbatim transcript (top secret), 6 August 1968, in APRF, F. 3, Op. 45, D. 99, L. 462.
25. A firsthand account of Brezhnev’s medical problems during the crisis can be found in the memoir by Brezhnev’s physician, Evgenii Chazov, Zdorov’e i vlast’: Vospominaniya “kremlevskogo vracha” (Moscow: Novosti, 1992), 74–76.
26. Quoted in an interview with Brezhnev’s closest aides in Leonid Shinkarev, “Avgustovskoe bezumie: K 25-letiyu vvoda voisk v Chekhoslovakiyu,” Izvestiya (Moscow), 21 August 1993, p. 10.
27. “Telefonický rozhovor L. Brežněva s A. Dubčekem, 9.8.1968,” verbatim transcript (top secret), 9 August 1968, in Ústav pro soudobé dějiny, Sbírka Komise vlády ČSFR pro analyzu udalostí let 1967–1970 (ÚSD-SK), Z/S 8.
28. “Rozgovor tovarishcha L. I. Brezhneva s tovarishchom A. S. Dubchekom,” verbatim transcript (top secret), 13 August 1968, in APRF, F. 3, Op. 91, D. 120, Ll. 1–18.
29. “Vypiska iz protokola No. 94 zasedaniya Politbyuro TsK KPSS 13 avgusta 1968 g.,” No. P94/101 (Top Secret), 13 August 1968, in APRF, Prot. No. 38.
30. Cited in Tibor Huszár, 1968: Prága, Budapest, Moszkva. Kádár János és a csehszlovákiai intervenció (Budapest: Szabad Tér, 1998), 180. For a translation into Czech, see “Vystoupení J. Kádára na zasedání ÚV MSDS a rady ministrů 23.8.1968 k mad’arsko-sovětskému jednání v Jaltě, 12.–15.8.1968,” in ÚSD-SK, Z/M 19.
31. Declassified documents reveal that Brezhnev met several times in the Crimea with Aleksei Kosygin, Nikolai Podgornyi, Petro Shelest, Mikhail Suslov, Aleksandr Shelepin, Arvı-ds Pel’she, Kirill Mazurov, Gennadii Voronov, Viktor Grishin, Dinmukhamed Kunaev, Pyotr Masherov, Sharaf Radishov, Vladimir Shcherbitskii, and Konstantin Katushev.
32. For a valuable, firsthand account, see “Dnevniki P. E. Shelesta,” in RGASPI, F. 666, Te. 6, Ll. 190–91, 193. Evidently, no full transcript of the ad-hoc sessions was compiled.
33. “K voprosu o polozhenii v Chekhoslovakii: Vypiska iz protokola No. 95 zasedaniya Politbyuro TsK ot 17 avgusta 1968 g.,” Resolution No. P95/1 (top secret), 17 August 1968, in APRF, Prot. No. 38.
34. “Stenogramma Soveshchaniya predstavitelei kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii i pravitel’stv NRB, VNR, GDR, PNR i SSSR po voprosu o polozhenii v Chekhoslovakii,” verbatim transcript (top secret), 18 August 1968, in Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Noveishei Istorii (RGANI), F. 89, Op. 38, D. 57, Ll. 1–22.
35. “Rabochaya zapis’ zasedaniya Politbyuro TsK KPSS ot 19 avgusta 1968 g.,” 19 August 1968 (top secret), in APRF, F. 3, Op. 45, D. 99, Ll. 474–82.
36. Comments recorded in “Dnevniki P. E. Shelesta,” in RGASPI, F. 666, Te., 7, L. 213.
37. Cited in “Dnevniki P. E. Shelesta,” Ll. 213–14. See also the interview with Shelest in Leonid Shinkarev, “Avgustovskoe bezumie: K 25-letiyu vvoda voisk v Chekhoslovakiyu,” Izvestiya (Moscow), 21 August 1993, p. 10, and the recollections of Pavlovskii, “Eto bylo v Prage,” 5.
38. “Obdobie od 21.srpna do konca roku 1968,” from a report by Czechoslovak national defense minister General Martin Dzúr, 9 June 1970, in Národní Archiv České Republiky (NAČR), Archiv Ústředního výboru Komunistické strany Československa (Arch. ÚV KSČ), 4. oddělení (Spr. G. Husák).
39. See the “extremely urgent” (vne ocheredi) cable from Chervonenko to the CPSU Politburo, 21 August 1968, in ÚSD-SK, Z/S-MID, Nos. 37 and 39.
40. “Prohlášení předsednictva ÚV KSČ z 21.8.1968,” Rudé právo (Prague), 21 August 1968 (2nd ed.), p. 1. For Pavlovskii’s statement, see “Obrashchenie Chekhoslovatskoi narodnoi armii,” in Arkhiv Vneshnei Politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii (AVPRF), F. 059, Op. 58, Papka (P.) 127, D. 586, Ll. 33–35.
41. For firsthand accounts, see “Nedokončený rozhovor,” 16–18; Zdeněk Mlynář, Nachtfrost: Erfahrungen auf dem Weg vom realen zum menschlichen Sozialismus (Köln: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1978), 181–87; František August and David Rees, Red Star over Prague (London: Sherwood, 1984), 134–42; Dubček, Hope Dies Last, 182–84; and Historický ústav ČSAV, Sedm pražských dnu˚, 21.–27. srpen 1968: Dokumentace (Prague: ČSAV, 1968), 53–58. On Černík’s arrest, see the firsthand account by Otomar Boček, chairman of the Supreme Court, delivered to the 14th Congress in Vysočaný, in Jiří Pelikán, ed., Tanky protí sjezdu: Protokol a dokumenty XIV. sjezdu KSČ (Vienna: Europa-Verlag, 1970), 66–68.
42. The military operation itself, it should be noted, was not wholly flawless. See Leo Heiman, “Soviet Invasion Weaknesses,” Military Review 49, no. 8 (August 1969): 38–45. However, the same is true of almost any large-scale use of military force against a foreign country. Unexpected glitches are bound to arise.
43. “Shifrtelegramma,” 21 August 1968 (top secret), in AVPRF, F. 059, Op. 58, P. 124, D. 574, Ll. 184–86. For Mazurov’s retrospective account of his role in the invasion, see Pavlovskii, “Eto bylo v Prage,” 5.
44. “Prohlášení předsednictva ÚV KSČ z 21.8.1968,” 1.
45. “Shifrtelegramma,” 21 August 1968 (top secret), in AVPRF, F. 059, Op. 58, P. 124, D. 574, Ll. 184–86.
46. “Shifrtelegramma,” 7 August 1968 (top secret), from S. V. Chervonenko, Soviet ambassador in Czechoslovakia, to the CPSU Politburo, in AVPRF, F. 059, Op. 58, P. 124, D. 573, Ll. 183–85. For further relevant citations from the ex-Soviet archives, see Kramer, “The Prague Spring and the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia,” 6–8, 13, 54. See also Zdeněk Mlýnář, Československý pokus o reformu, 1968: Analyza jeho teorie a praxe (Köln: Index, 1975), 232–33.
47. “Rozkaz správcu posádky čislo 1, Trenčín, 21. avgusta 1968: Správca posádky Sovietskej armády podplukovník ŠMATKO,” in ÚSD-SK, A, from I. Šimovček. See also Historický ústav ČSAV, Sedm pražských dnu˚: Dokumentace (Prague: Historický ústav ČSAV, 1968), 123, 278–81, and 324–25.
48. See “TsK KPSS,” Memorandum No. 24996 (top secret), 6 September 1968, from Aleksandr Yakovlev, deputy head of the CPSU Propaganda Department, and Enver Mamedov, deputy head of Soviet television and radio, to the CPSU Politburo, in RGANI, F. 5, Op. 60, D. 19, Ll. 200–206; and “Nekotorye zamechaniya po voprosu podgotovki voenno-politicheskoi aktsii 21 avgusta 1968 g.,” Politburo Commission report (special dossier/strictly secret), 16 November 1968, in RGANI, F. 5 “OP,” Op. 6, D. 776, Ll. 128–44.
49. “Shifrtelegramma,” 21 August 1968 (top secret), from Kirill Mazurov to the CPSU Politburo, in AVPRF, F. 059, Op. 58, P. 124, D. 574, Ll. 184–86.
50. “Nekotorye zamechaniya po voprosu podgotovki voenno-politicheskoi aktsii 21 avgusta 1968 g.,” L. 137.
51. “Informatsiya o druzheskikh svyazyakh oblastei i gorodov Ukrainskoi SSR s oblastyami, voevodstvami, okrugami, uezdami i gorodami sotsialisticheskikh stran v 1968 godu,” 20 December 1968 (secret), in RGANI, F. 5, Op. 60, D. 2, Ll. 46, 64–65.
52. The first quotation is from the Soviet participants in a high-level “Warsaw Five” meeting shortly after the invasion, “Záznam ze schůzek Varšavské pětky v Moskvě ve dnech 24.–27.8.1968,” verbatim transcript (top secret), 24–27 August 1968, in ÚSD-SK, Z/M 21; and the second quotation is from “Nekotorye zamechaniya po voprosu podgotovki voenno-politicheskoi aktsii 21 avgusta 1968 g.,” L. 129. This was also the view put forth by the four East European leaders of the “Warsaw Five.” See, for example, Gomulka’s secret speech on 29 August 1968 to the PZPR Central Committee, reproduced in “Gomułka o inwazji na Czechosłowacje w sierpniu ’68: Mysmy ich zaskoczyłi akcja wojskowa,” Polityka (Warsaw), No. 35 (29 August 1992): 13.
53. “Záznam ze schůzek Varšavské pětky v Moskvě ve dnech 24.–27.8.1968,” L. 3.
54. “Záznam ze schůzek Varšavské pětky v Moskvě ve dnech 24.–27.8.1968,” L. 5.
55. “Rabochaya zapis’ zasedaniya Politbyuro TsK KPSS ot 25 avgusta 1968 g.,” verbatim transcript (top secret), 25 August 1968, in APRF, F. 3, Op. 45, D. 99, Ll. 484–91.
56. For an assessment of the postinvasion period based on declassified archival materials from former Czechoslovak archives, see Kieran Williams, The Prague Spring and Its Aftermath: Czechoslovak Politics, 1968–1970 (New York: Cambridge Univeristy Press, 1997), 39–59, 144–253.
57. “Rech’ tovarishcha L. I. Brezhneva,” Pravda (Moscow), 13 November 1968, p. 2.
58. S. Kovalev, “O ‘mirnoi’ i nemirnoi kontrrevolyutsii,” Pravda (Moscow), 11 September 1968, p. 4.
59. “Proti zapomnění a manipulaci: O co šlo v roce 1968,” Lidové novin y (Prague), 12 March 2008, p. 3.
60. “‘Fast alle glaubten an diesen Traum’: Der tschechische Staatspräsident Václav Klaus im Standard-Interview über die Niederschlagang des Prager Frühlings,” Der Standard (Vienna), 27 March 1968, pp. 1, 5.
61. Interview with Černík, transcribed in “Bumerang ‘prazhskoi vesny,’” Izvestiya (Moscow), 21 August 1990, p. 7.
62. Lubomír Brokl et al., Postoje československých občanůk demokracii v roce 1968, Working Paper No. 99:8 (Prague: Sociologický ústav Akademie věd České republiky, 1999).