Report of Vadim Zagladin on his conversation with Chairman of the Czechoslovak
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 implement reforms, and their inadequate response to the growing discontent in society. Interestingly, Zagladin makes several references to the 1968 Prague Spring, Czechoslovakia's own attempt at reform socialism that was cut off by a Soviet-led invasion. He had visited Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and had been influenced by both the reform movement and the subsequent invasion, along with other future Soviet reformers, including Gorbachev. The 1968 events became one of the defining issues in Czechoslovak-Soviet relations. The post-1968 Czechoslovak regime based its legitimacy on the Soviet suppression, and conservatives used it as a justification for blocking reforms in the 1980s. Zagladin's call to reassess 1968 implies a shift in Soviet in support from conservatives to reformers and underscores the impact that Gorbachev's policies were having in the internal politics of the Soviet bloc countries.
Vadim Zagladin, conversation with Jan Pudlak, 1 April 1989, trans. Vladislav Zubok, Archive of Gorbachev Foundation, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
[Pudlak] now also is director of the Institute of International Policy at the Foreign Ministry of the CSSR. I have known him for a long time.
[According to Pudlak Czechoslovakia] is in a "deep moral and political crisis." This crisis can be compared with the one that had preceded 1968. ... On the mass level, in all groups of the society, but first of all in the working class, among intellectuals and in the youth, there is a time-bomb of discontent.
Gradually a broad opposition is being formed. But it is a diverse phenomenon. It would be not all that bad, if there were only hostile groups like "Charter-77" or "Renewal." But along with them there is a considerable (up to half a million) group of former party members who, without joining the opposition...voice their active dissatisfaction, both with their own position and the situation in the country. Simultaneously the mood of discontent has spread among a great number of party members, members of the Communist Youth. And non-party members are not calm as well...The youth is comparing the activities of the authorities to the actions of "fascists."
[Vaclav] Havel's arrest [and], his imprisonment has converted this mediocre writer into a martyr, and for the discontented people he has become a national hero. This is a priceless gift for the West. In all truth, he could have been gagged up [spravitsia] with softer, political means...The leadership failed to demonstrate the skill "to think several moves ahead." Today it is most important to operate by political means, to "cage" discontent into discussions...
[It is necessary to reassess 1968 and the role of Alexander Dubcek.] However, it is difficult so far to do, one part of the leadership was totally involved in those events, another fears by inertia a repetition of 1968 (although if the party became a true political leader of perestroika, this would not happen). Cautiously, gradually we must approach it...