Primary Sources

Prague Embassy cable, Popular and Soviet Pressure for Reform Converge on the Jakes Leadership

Description

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 two forces in particular causing significant changes in the conservatives' position. The first was popular pressure from below, which had substantially broadened with the protests against police brutality on November 17. The government's response had so far been hesitant and ineffectual. The second was a move by the Soviets to revise their relations with Czechoslovakia. The "1968 question" referred to that year's Warsaw Pact invasion crushing the Prague Spring reform socialist movement. Afterwards, the Soviet-installed Czechoslovak regime used the threat of violent intervention to suppress all reforms. By questioning this historical precedent, the Soviets were knocking out an important pillar of the conservatives' political support. And with other regional hardliners succumbing to change – witness East Germany – the Czechoslovak Communist leadership found themselves increasingly alone and vulnerable.

Source

Prague Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "Popular and Soviet Pressure for Reform Converge on the Jakes Leadership," 20 November 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

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3. THE EVENTS OF THE NOVEMBER 17-19 WEEKEND IN PRAGUE HAVE SHIFTED THE POLITICAL GROUND HERE. THEY MADE THE JAKES LEADERSHIP (AND JAKES PERSONALLY) LOOK MUCH MORE VULNERABLE THAN IT DID EVEN A WEEK AGO. MASS DEMONSTRATIONS, BY STUDENTS, FIRST ON FRIDAY NIGHT (REF A) AND THEN SUBSEQUENTLY (SEPTEL) TO PROTEST THIS FIRST DEMONSTRATION'S BRUTAL SUPPRESSION, HAVE PROVIDED A SO FAR MISSING ELEMENT IN THE POLITICAL EQUATION HERE: WIDE SPREAD POPULAR UNREST, WITH STUDENTS AND OTHERS CALLING FOR CONTINUED PROTEST AND A GENERAL STRIKE ON NOVEMBER 27 AND SCATTERED, BUT UNCONFIRMED, REPORTS OF INDUSTRIAL AND SCHOOL STOPPAGES.

4. DURING THE WEEKEND CPCZ LEADER JAKES WAS PARTICULARLY TARGETED BY DEMONSTRATORS WHO FREQUENTLY CHANTED "JAKES OUT" OR "JAKES INTO THE WASTEBASKET." THE INTENSITY AND SINGLE-MINDEDNESS OF THESE DEMANDS SHOULD BE PSYCHOLOGICALLY DAMAGING TO A LEADER ALREADY RUMORED TO HAVE WANTED TO RESIGN IN A CRISES OF SELF-CONFIDENCE AFTER DEVELOPMENTS IN THE GDR. THE POLICE RESTRAINT DISPLAYED ON NOVEMBER 18 AND 19 AGAINST DEMONSTRATIONS MAY ENCOURAGE EVEN LARGER POPULAR TURNOUTS TODAY ...

5. IF THESE DEVELOPMENTS WERE NOT ENOUGH, THE SOVIETS HAVE COINCIDENTALLY CHOSEN THIS MOMENT TO STEP UP THEIR PRESSURE ON THE CPCZ LEADERSHIP. CPCZ IDEOLOGY CHIEF JAN FOJTIK RETURNED FROM MOSCOW THE EVENING OF NOVEMBER 17 (REF B) JUST AS PRAGUE WAS EXPERIENCING ITS LARGEST DEMONSTRATION IN 20 YEARS....

6. THE REPORT OF FOJTIK'S TRIP IN "RUDE PRAVO' CARRIED WHAT APPEARED AN APPARENTLY AGREED FORMULATION OF FOJTIK'S DISCUSSION ON THE QUESTION OF 1968. BOTH SIDES, IT READ, HAD CONCERNED THEMSELVES WITH HISTORICAL QUESTIONS, INCLUDING THE YEAR 1968, AND REACHED "A COMPLETE IDENTITY OF POSITIONS AND THE CONCLUSION THAT WITHOUT A THOROUGHGOING ANALYSIS OF THE PAST, THEY CANNOT CHART A CLEAR PLAN AND GOAL FOR THE FUTURE.'' WHILE SUBJECT TO INTERPRETATION, THAT SOVIET MEANING IS ALMOST CERTAINLY THAT THE CZECHSLOVAKS SHOULD QUIT USING 1968 AS AN EXCUSE FOR NOT MOVING AHEAD. BEHIND IT MAY BE A THREAT THAT A FAILURE TO DO SO COULD LEAD THE SOVIETS TO RE-ASSESS THEIR OFFICIAL EVALUATION OF THE 1968 INVASION.

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8. THE LEADERSHIP IS TRYING TO DEFUSE THE POPULAR PRESSURE BEHIND THIS WEEKEND'S AND CONTINUING DEMONSTRATIONS BY FOCUSING PUBLIC ATTENTION ON THE ALLEGEDLY FRAUDULENT REPORT OF A STUDENT'S DEATH.... IN AN INDICATION OF THE REGIME'S LOW LEVEL OF CREDIBILITY THE RUMOR OF A STUDENT'S DEATH CONTINUES DESPITE STATEMENTS BY THE PRIME MINISTER AND OTHER GOVERNMENT MINISTERS THAT NO MARTIN SMID HAS DIED ...

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How to Cite this Source

Prague Embassy, "Prague Embassy cable, Popular and Soviet Pressure for Reform Converge on the Jakes Leadership," Making the History of 1989, Item #499, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/499 (accessed April 19 2014, 8:29 am).

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