Primary Sources

Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior Memorandum, "Information Regarding the Development of the Security Situation During the Period of the 17 November Anniversary"

Description

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 student-organized commemoration was actually co-sponsored by the Prague communist youth organization. The fateful police crackdown on demonstrators that Friday night resulted more from errors and miscommunication than the deliberate intent to suppress the students, who until recently had comprised a relatively conservative group. Most key officials even left Prague beforehand for the weekend, only to be called back to work when strike committees started appearing. The government's surprise at the turn of events was apparent in the subdued response of security forces to the eruption of protests: police allowed students, actors and others to organize without any significant interference. Instead, agents gathered extensive information on the emerging movement through the security service's network of informers, a summary of which was presented in this November 20 report by Ministry of the Interior operations chief Vaclav Novotny.

Source

Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior, "Information Regarding the Development of the Security Situation During the Period of the 17 November Anniversary," 20 November 1989, trans. Vance Whitby, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

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Internal and external enemy forces, with the aim of eliciting unrest, emotion, chaos, and mass protests in order to destabilize the internal political situation, have recently been growing in intensity and peaked between 17-19 November in Prague. Most notable has been the misuse of a student gathering on 17 November during the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the burial of Jan Opletal....

In connection with the preparations for the commemoration of Jan Opletal’s death, there has been a notably significant radicalization of some of the university students in Prague....

...

The official program was effectively disrupted by whistling and the chanting of unfriendly slogans ... Organizers, in light of the development of the situation, did not have the opportunity to establish order and secure the proper course of the demonstration.... Afterwards, approximately 5,000 individuals continued in a procession into the center of Prague ... up Narodni trida (St.) to Wenceslas Square. In response, Narodni trida and the neighboring streets were closed by IS (Internal Security) peace-keeping units.

By around 10:00 p.m., approximately 3,000 people had assembled within the confines of Narodni trida, of which only about 1,000 acknowledged the call to disperse and leave the area. Those remaining lingered in the area and began sitting down on the pavement in demonstration fashion and continued to chant unfriendly slogans. Over 15 calls to disperse went unheeded and the participants of the demonstration had over an hour to restore order to the area. After the calls went unheeded, measures were taken to suppress the crowd....

...

Elsewhere around the CSSR there have been no reports of peace disturbances or public disorder.

In the effort to incite emotion, particularly among young people, and to elicit additional protests, information has been distributed by means of internal antagonists and Western communications regarding the death of Martin Šmid, of the Charles’s University Mathematics Faculty, from injuries sustained as a result of a confrontation with peace-keeping units....

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During the evening hours of [November 18], a “public discussion forum” took place in the actors’ club in Prague involving the most important opposition group supporters, representatives of the Cultural Front, and university students....

The goal of this forum was to unify the independent initiatives and compose joint declarations, which are to be presented to the government of the CSSR by 10 representatives on 20 November 1989. The forum was conducted by Vaclav HAVEL who addressed the declaration and put the various alternatives to a vote, and he then read and spoke favorably of the outcome....

Similarly, an unidentified TAPA student emerged to read a declaration from the TAPA students. The declaration amounted to an ultimatum for the removal of the CSSR minister of the interior, the investigation and prosecution of subordinates who were involved in the intervention of 17 November 1989, the abolition of stipulations regarding the leadership role of the Party in the system, and the resignation of the current representatives of the Party and State....

Vaclav HAVEL supported the student declaration by suggesting that the coordinating committee supporting the forum should meet daily in some of the Prague theaters in order to direct and organize the student strikes; theaters, which are to similarly strike, would be open, however, discussion clubs would be held in place of the performances.

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The development of events proves that internal enemies, with foreign support, have crossed-over to a frontal, and from their perspective, decisive attack in the effort to further their own political goals after the pattern exhibited by Poland and Hungary. To this end, it has been decided to actualize and utilize all reasonable means, primarily abusing the youth for pressure tactics. These events, according to the plans of the enemy, together with the expected economic difficulties and foreign pressure for political change, should be the beginning of a quick series of successive events resulting in principle political change in the CSSR.

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How to Cite this Source

Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior, "Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior Memorandum, "Information Regarding the Development of the Security Situation During the Period of the 17 November Anniversary"," Making the History of 1989, Item #504, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/504 (accessed September 17 2014, 3:38 pm).