Browse Items: Czechoslovakia
The Civic Forum's Exposition of its Position in Public Life with a Call for Nonviolence, Tolerance and Dialogue
Uncertainty pervaded the days after the November 17 crackdown as different groups struggled to gain control of events. The rumor that a student was killed during the demonstration exemplified the overall lack of reliable information. This story was fed to Western media but was later proven false; government officials sought to defuse public anger by televising an interview with the….
Prague Embassy cable, November 21 Morning Demonstration At Wenceslas Square: Overheard Conversations
Just a week before the Velvet Revolution began, it was smarter to look for public opinion in a family kitchen rather than on a city sidewalk. People still monitored what they said outside their homes. By November 21, the squares in Prague were becoming open forums. This embassy report described the "word on the streets" overheard by an American official's spouse that day on Wenceslas Square.….
This November 21 U.S. embassy report demonstrates the influence of the independent student strike at the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. The students' power stemmed largely from their ability to organize quickly. On November 18, student leaders in Prague had announced an immediate university strike in addition to the general strike. That Monday, thousands of students refused to attend….
November 17 set in motion a dramatic train of events in Czechoslovakia. But for the first few days their direction remained unclear. This U.S. embassy report on the situation through November 20 highlighted some of the unresolved issues. To begin with, the protests lacked a definite leader. By mid-week Civic Forum would claim that right, but on Monday several candidates were vying for the….
Part of any U.S. ambassador's job involves evaluating the political situation at their post. When Ambassador Shirley Temple Black arrived in Prague in early autumn 1989, most American officials agreed that the conservative Czechoslovak leadership would be in power for a while. Only a few weeks later, Black radically revised this view, presenting her reasons in this November 20 cable. She cited….
Prague Embassy cable, American Woman's Account of November 17 Demonstration and the Death of a Czech Student
The experience of November 17 is difficult to recapture in all its intensity and chaos. But this testimony from an American eyewitness evokes the atmosphere. Although the story comes second-hand through this November 20 U.S. embassy cable, we can still sense the trauma of that night in the description of fleeing demonstrators forced through a police "gauntlet". November 17 was the first….
Prague Embassy cable, Czechoslovak Independents Establish New Organization and List Agenda of Demands
The established opposition reacted slowly to November 17; while students and actors began mobilizing on Saturday, it was Sunday before opposition leaders met to determine their next steps. That afternoon, independent activists created Civic Forum and drew up a list of four initial demands (see document 493). This U.S. embassy cable reported on the press conference announcing Civic Forum's….
In communist state, a newspaper article sometimes told the reader more than just what happened yesterday. Because the party maintained strict control over what could be printed or broadcast, the way the news was reported could signal political changes as well. One such instance appears in this November 20 cable from the American Embassy in Prague, which compared local coverage of the November….
The U.S. Ambassador in Prague cabled regular reports to the State Department during the Velvet Revolution. As historical sources, these cables provide rich day-to-day accounts from an informed outsider's perspective, but with certain biases: the ambassador contextualized events within the "big picture" of U. S. foreign policy and depended on embassy resources for information. Ambassador Shirley….
In this November 20 cable to the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Prague reported its formal protest of the assault on American journalists during the November 17 demonstration. Western media coverage of independent and anti-state activity had increased during 1989. By autumn, foreign media correspondents were expected at demonstrations. Dozens of international journalists covered the….
For many years, opposition in Czechoslovakia was represented mainly by Charter 77, a group advocating human rights and peaceful, evolutionary change. By autumn 1989, the opposition community had grown and diversified so much that discussions were underway to unite the different groups into a common organization. This finally happened two days after the fateful November 17 demonstration, when….
Teleprint from CC CPCz to First Secretary CC CPS and Secretaries of Regional and District Committees
The Velvet Revolution was named for the remarkably non-violent end to communism in Czechoslovakia. Yet as Milos Jakes and his conservative government scrambled to respond to the aftermath of November 17, they were considering all options. In this November 19 directive to local party committee leaders, Jakes demonstrated his belief that the communists could maintain power with force if….
This official cable sets forth the reaction of the U.S. Embassy in Czechoslovakia to the events of November 17, 1989. Prague university students obtained official permission to commemorate this anniversary of the 1939 Nazi assault on Czech students, but they were forbidden to enter Wenceslas Square, the traditional site of anti-state protest. On that chilly evening, when peaceful demonstrators….
Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior Memorandum, The Security Situation in the CSSR in the Period Before 28 October
October 28 holds a special place on the Czechoslovak political calendar because on that day the First Czechoslovak Republic was established in 1918. This liberal bourgeois state, symbolized by its founding father and President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, was a powerful counter-example to socialist Czechoslovakia and a magnet for anti-communist protest. This 1989 report from the Ministry of the….
In October 1989, the situation was growing dire for the Czechoslovak communists. Increasing unrest and change in other Eastern Bloc countries was quickly isolating conservatives and emboldening the domestic opposition. In the analysis presented here, Federal Minister of the Interior Frantisek Kincl details a number of domestic security threats. The first was the opposition's increased level of….
In December 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev delivered what he called a “watershed” address at the United Nations, announcing that he planned unilaterally to reduce Soviet military forces by 500,000, cut conventional armaments massively, and withdraw substantial numbers of armaments and troops from Eastern European countries. Even with the proposed cutbacks, Soviet conventional forces….
This Secret Police (StB) memorandum from 21 August details the plans of independent and opposition groups to commemorate the politically-sensitive anniversary of the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion, and the police's "extraordinary security measures" to prevent the commemorations from taking place. The memorandum presents a striking picture of the scale and diversity of the repressive measures….
As a result of the intensifying public demonstrations in the first half of 1989, the Czechoslovak Communist Party increased its surveillance and suppression of independent and opposition groups, particularly in anticipation of politically-charged anniversaries. This Secret Police (StB) memorandum details preparations by various groups to commemorate the August 21st anniversary of the 1968….
Czechoslovak Defense Minister Milan Vaclavik wrote this report on the "Vltava-89" military training exercise conducted by Warsaw Pact forces in May 1989. The Warsaw Pact was the Eastern Bloc regional security organization founded in 1955 as a challenger to the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The NATO-Warsaw Pact rivalry symbolized the heights of aggression between the United….
International relations specialist and key Gorbachev advisor Vadim Zagladin made this report to the Soviet Politburo in early April 1989. In it, Zagladin recounts his conversation with Jan Pudlak, a high-ranking Czechoslovak official, about the situation in Pudlak's country. Zagladin's main impressions from the discussion include the inflexibility of the ruling elite, their inability to….