Primary Sources

Prague Embassy cable, Demonstrations Continue Over Weekend in Prague

Description

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 Temple Black started out as a famous child actor, turning to diplomacy after her acting career waned. She arrived at the Prague embassy only three months before the Velvet Revolution. Although she began her tenure in one of the region's most unyielding regimes, Black soon found herself in a maelstrom of changing political realities. Nevertheless, her reports perceptively analyzed the changing circumstances during the first uncertain days after November 17. Black benefited from the embassy's information network, which presented a picture of events contrasting with the official version. For example, in the cable below, she reports on the rumored death of student Martin Smid. Black describes the independent investigations into the supposed death after the government repudiated the rumor. Despite evidence supporting official claims, information about public unrest from unofficial sources led her to doubt whether the truth about the rumor really mattered. Instead, she suggested the protests would escalate and the regime's position would deteriorate, which in fact happened.

Source

Prague Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "Demonstrations Continue Over Weekend in Prague," 20 November 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

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2. SUMMARY. DEMONSTRATIONS IN PRAGUE CONTINUED ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, BUT UNLIKE FRIDAY'S STUDENT DEMONSTRATION WERE NOT MARRED BY VIOLENCE. BESIDES DEMONSTRATIONS, THE CZECHOSLOVAK PUBLIC HAS REACTED TO THE BRUTAL SUPPRESSION OF FRIDAY'S DEMONSTRATION AND THE REPORT (PERHAPS INACCURATE) OF THE DEATH OF A STUDENT AT THE HANDS OF RIOT POLICE WITH CALLS FOR STUDENT AND GENERAL STRIKES. CZECHOSLOVAK AUTHORITIES HAVE DENIED THE REPORT OF A STUDENT DEATH, HAVE ACCUSED THE VOA OF TRANSMITTING A FALSE REPORT, AND ARRESTED PETR UHL, WHO FIRST MADE THE REPORT. THE REGIME HAS CLEARLY BEEN SHAKEN BY THE WEEKEND'S EVENTS, AND HAS ASKED FOR THE NATION TO BE CALM. THE LIKELY REACTION BY THE PUBLIC WILL BE CONTINUING DEMONSTRATIONS WHICH WILL ADD TO THE PRESSURES ALREADY FACED BY THE JAKES LEADERSHIP. END SUMMARY.

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7.... IT NOW APPEARS THAT, IF A STUDENT WAS KILLED, HE WAS NOT NAMED MARTIN SMID. EMBOFFS TALKED WITH THE MOTHER OF MARTIN SMID AND SHE TOLD US THAT HER SON HAD NOT BEEN KILLED OR EVEN INJURED. CZECHOSLOVAK TELEVISION ON SUNDAY DENIED REPORTS OF SMID'S DEATH, AND LOUDSPEAKERS ON WENCESLAS SQUARE ON SUNDAY PRESENTED A TAPE THAT DENIED SMID'S DEATH AND SPECIFICALLY BLAMED VOA (BUT NOT BBC OR REUTERS) FOR HAVING MALICIOUSLY PRESENTED THE REPORT.

8. FOR HIS ACTION OF PASSING ALONG INFORMATION TO WESTERN JOURNALISTS ON THE REPORTS OF SMID’S DEATH, PETR UHL ... HAS BEEN ARRESTED BY AUTHORITIES AND CHARGED WITH "DAMAGING THE INTERESTS OF THE REPUBLIC ABROAD." HIS WIFE ANNA SABATOVA WAS ALSO DETAINED AS SHE ATTEMPTED TO GO TO AN INDEPENDENT PRESS CONFERENCE ... SUCH A PRESS CONFERENCE WAS REPORTEDLY CALLED TO PRESENT WITNESSES WHO COULD TESTIFY ABOUT THE ALLEGED DEATH OF A STUDENT ... THE PRESS CONFERENCE DID NOT OCCUR. IT THUS REMAINS A MYSTERY AT THIS TIME WHETHER A STUDENT WAS IN FACT KILLED.

9. OFFICIAL CZECHOSLOVAK PRESS SOURCES INDICATE ABOUT 100 PERSONS WERE DETAINED ON FRIDAY, BUT EMBOFFS SAW TWO BUSLOADS OF DETAINEES DRIVEN AWAY AFTER FRIDAYS DEMONSTRATION AND BELIEVE THE OFFICIAL FIGURE IS LOW....

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10. THE WEEKEND'S EVENTS HAVE CLEARLY SHAKEN AUTHORITIES. FRANTISEK PITRA, PREMIER OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC, APPEARED ON TELEVISION ON SUNDAY AND ASKED THAT THE NATION REMAIN CALM. THE RESPONSE WILL MOST LIKELY BE MORE AND PERHAPS EVEN LARGER DEMONSTRATIONS. SOME OBSERVERS PREDICT THAT A DEMONSTRATION SCHEDULED FOR 4:OO P.M. TODAY ON WENCESLAS SQUARE WILL BE EVEN LARGER THAN THAT OF LAST FRIDAY. CONTINUING DEMONSTRATIONS WILL ONLY ADD TO THE PRESSURES ALREADY FACED BY THE JAKES' LEADERSHIP, AND MAY ACCELERATE HIS PASSING FROM THE CZECHOSLOVAK POLITICAL SCENE.

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How to Cite this Source

Prague Embassy, "Prague Embassy cable, Demonstrations Continue Over Weekend in Prague," Making the History of 1989, Item #495, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/495 (accessed October 30 2014, 9:00 am).

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