Primary Sources

Prague Embassy cable, Demonstrations in Prague and Other Czechoslovak Cities November 20

Description

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 position, including reform communist Vasil Mohorita, the first high-ranking party member to publicly support the protests. For the moment, Mohorita's defection was exceptional. On Monday the party rallied its members to the offensive. However, it was unclear how far it would (or could) go to stop the popular protests. The statement that the Communist leadership did not want confrontation but "could not agree to the violation of the Constitution" indicated that the option of violence remained open; whether that option remained realistic was another matter. Soviet Press Director Gennady Gerasimov's comments confirmed the Soviets would not help suppress a popular uprising and Czechoslovak forces might refuse to attack their fellow citizens. Still, the party thought it had a few cards left to play. Although unrest was spreading, the opposition had not yet consolidated support in smaller towns and villages. If the party maintained a strong position there, it could isolate Prague and quell the uprising. Once again, these documents reflect the choatic and confused nature of the changes rolling across Eastern Europe in 1989.

Source

Prague Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "Demonstration in Prague and Other Czechoslovak Cities November 20," 20 November 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

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2. (U) THE DEMONSTRATION DURING THE LATE AFTERNOON AND EVENING YESTERDAY, NOVEMBER 20, WAS THE LARGEST YET.... POLICE MADE NO EFFORT TO INTERFERE WITH THE CROWD AS LONG AS IT STAYED WITHIN THE "GOLDEN CROSS" AREA OF WENCESLAS SQUARE AND NATIONAL AVENUE....

3. (U) THE DEMONSTRATION APPEARED TO BE UNORGANIZED AND LEADERLESS, AND WHILE THERE HAS BEEN NO CALL FOR A GATHERING TODAY ONE IS GENERALLY EXPECTED. OTHER DEMONSTRATIONS OCCURRED THE SAME DAY OUTSIDE PRAGUE....

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4. (C) THE ONLY REGIME FIGURE TO ADDRESS THE DEMONSTRATORS DIRECTLY IN WENCESLAS SQUARE WAS VASIL MOHORITA, CHAIRMAN OF THE SOCIALIST UNION OF YOUTH (SSM). HE MADE SEVERAL POINTS THAT HAD BEEN INCLUDED IN HIS ORGANIZATION'S STATEMENT PUBLISHED IN "MLADA FRONTA" THE DAY BEFORE ... IN WHICH HE SUPPORTED THE STUDENTS ... (COMMENT: WE REMAIN SUSPICIOUS THAT MOHORITA'S COMMENTS ARE MORE AN EFFORT TO COOPT THE STUDENTS THAN TO SUPPORT THEIR DEMANDS. END COMMENT.)

5. (U) THE CPCZ PRESIDIUM HELD A SPECIAL SESSION DURING THE AFTERNOON OF NOVEMBER 20 TO TRY TO DEAL WITH THE SITUATION AND WITH "EXPRESSIONS OF INTENSE CONCERN" BY VARIOUS PARTY AND NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS. IT REJECTED STUDENT APPEALS FOR A GENERAL STRIKE NOVEMBER 27 AND CALLED ON STUDENTS TO RETURN TO CLASS AND ARTISTS TO RETURN TO WORK. IT ALSO REPORTEDLY DISCUSSED PRACTICAL STEPS FOR RESTORING ORDER AND SUPPORTED A JOINT STATEMENT RELEASED BY THE FEDERAL, CZECH AND SLOVAK GOVERNMENTS.

6. (C) THIS STATEMENT, ENTITLED "DIALOGUE YES, CONFRONTATION NO," INSISTED THAT THE GOVERNMENT HAD BEEN STRIVING FOR SOCIAL RESTRUCTURING AND DEMOCRACY AS WELL AS IMPROVING LIVING STANDARDS ... WHILE THE GOVERNMENT "DID NOT WANT TO GO VIA A PATH OF CONFRONTATION WHICH THE ANTISOCIALIST ELEMENTS ARE TRYING TO FORCE ON US," IT COULD NOT AGREE TO THE VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION AND THE LAWS OF THE LAND ... THUS ALL THREE GOVERNMENTS SUPPORTED THE MEASURES WHICH HAD BEEN TAKEN TO KEEP ORDER. (COMMENT: PRESUMABLY A REFERENCE TO SUPPRESSION OF THE NOVEMBER 17 DEMONSTRATIONS AND A WARNING THAT SUCH ACTION COULD COME AGAIN IF NEEDED. END COMMENT.)

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8. (U) IN A REACTION FROM THE SOVIET UNION, SOVIET PRESS SPOKESMAN GERASIMOV WAS SHOWN ON CZECHOSLOVAK TELEVISION SAYING THAT THE DEMONSTRATIONS WERE AN INTERNAL MATTER FOR CZECHOSLOVAKIA, BUT THAT THEY REPRESENTED A PART OF THE CURRENT PROCESS OF DEMOCRATIZATION IN EASTERN EUROPE....

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9. (U) "RUDE PRAVO" IS STICKING TO A LINE CRITICAL OF THE DEMONSTRATORS ...

10. (U) THE SOCIALIST PARTY PAPER "SVOBODNE SLOVO," HOWEVER REMAINED GENERALLY SYMPATHETIC TO THE DEMONSTRATIONS ... IT ALSO REPORTED THAT 400 JOURNALISTS HAD MET NOVEMBER 20 ... THE JOURNALISTS SUPPORTED THE NEWLY ESTABLISHED INDEPENDENT CIVIC FORUM ... AND CALLED UPON THE LEADERSHIP OF THE CZECH JOURNALISTS' UNION TO DO THE SAME OR RESIGN. THEY ALSO CREATED AN OFFICIAL GROUP OF INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS.

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How to Cite this Source

Prague Embassy, "Prague Embassy cable, Demonstrations in Prague and Other Czechoslovak Cities November 20," Making the History of 1989, Item #500, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/500 (accessed October 22 2014, 8:16 am).

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