Sofia Embassy cable, Bulgarian CP Politburo Member Lukanov Delivers 'Signal' on Bulgarian Developments and U.S.-Bulgarian Relations
The resignation of long-time communist leader Todor Zhivkov in November 1989 left the future of Bulgarian politics uncertain. The disgruntled communist elites who had usurped the aging leader would now attempt to reform the system without undermining the party. A few days after the coup one of the instigators, Andrej Lukanov, tried to convince the U.S. ambassador in Sofia that this plan was….
Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior Memorandum, "Information Regarding the Development of the Security Situation During the Period of the 17 November Anniversary"
Despite the growing pressure for change in the autumn of 1989, Czechoslovak officials did not automatically view the November 17 commemoration as a major security risk. Unlike the other politically-charged anniversaries that had increasingly become beacons for protest, this date did not ideologically threaten communism. In fact, it had been officially recognized since World War II and in 1989,….
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….
Between February and April 1989 in Poland, Communist Party leaders and Solidarity activists engaged in negotiations during the historic roundtable talks. Several days after these talks commenced, Andrzej Slowik, a Solidarity activist in the city of Łódż who was not asked to participate in the talks, wrote this letter to Wladyslaw Findeisen, the roundtable chair for Solidarity. In this….
Minutes No. 64 from an Expanded Meeting of the PZPR CC [Central Committee of the Communist Party] Secretariat, June 5, 1989
The following are excerpts from a meeting of the leadership of Poland’s communist party held the day after the June 4, 1989 elections, when the magnitude of the party’s electoral defeat was just becoming clear. Particularly embarrassing was the fate of the 35 candidates on the so-called “national list,” well-known dignitaries who were running unopposed. Almost all were simply crossed….
President George H.W. Bush and Solidarity Leader Lech Walesa in Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Following a Luncheon in Gdansk, 11 July 1989
The transition to a Solidarity-led government in Poland was closely associated with the introduction of market-oriented economic reforms. Many Poles hoped that this might lead to a dramatic improvement in the country’s economy, not only through the stimulation of domestic growth but also through the attraction of investment and outright financial aid from the West. In this brief exchange with….
Professor Dr. Heinz Kamnitzer was the head of the East German writers group, PEN. In response to the counter-demonstration at the 1988 Liebknecht-Luxemburg parade, Kamnitzer wrote this op-ed essay, entitled “Remembering the Dead” as a way of distancing the East German Communist Party (SED) from the actions of the demonstrators. In this newspaper article, Kamnitzer accuses the demonstrators….
Freya Klier was a leading theatrical director in East Germany. She and her husband, Stephan Krawczyk, were outspoken critics of the East German regime and were among the leading organizers of the counter-demonstration during the annual Liebknecht-Luxemburg parade in January 1988. This is an excerpt from Klier's diary in which she records the events of that day.
To view the associated….