Primary Sources

Letter from the Civic Forum to US President George Bush and USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev

Description

On November 21, Civic Forum representatives addressed the throngs of demonstrators on Wenceslas Square for the first time; this public "meeting" would soon became a daily ritual. Afterwards, Forum members wrote this letter to the U.S. and Soviet leaders, speaking as the legitimate representatives of those "hundreds of thousands" on the Square. The letter concerns one of the touchiest subjects in Czechoslovak-Soviet relations, the Warsaw Pact invasion that crushed the Prague Spring movement to reform socialism in 1968. The post-invasion Czechoslovak regime, installed by the Soviets, used the threat of violent intervention to legitimate its rule and prevent reform. Recognizing its enormous symbolic importance in the developing political situation, Civic Forum included the reinterpretation of 1968 in its original demands (see document 493), and reiterated the appeal here. The letter argues that Gorbachev's policy of non-intervention into Eastern Europe paradoxically influenced domestic events in Czechoslovakia, because it left unquestioned the conservatives' justification for keeping power. Gorbachev finally issued a formal Soviet apology for the invasion in early December following the U.S.-Soviet summit in Malta. His declaration coincided with the creation of the first majority non-communist government in forty years, reflecting rather than causing the Czechoslovak hardliners' fall from power.

Source

The Civic Forum to George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, November 21, 1989, trans. Caroline Kovtun, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Letter from the Civic Forum to US President George Bush and USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev

21 November 1989

Dear Sirs!

On 19 November 1989, the Civic Forum, which feels itself responsible to act as the mouthpiece of the Czechoslovak public, was established in Prague. In a demonstration by the Prague populace, attended by hundreds of thousands of people on Wenceslas Square, the Civic Forum gained a consensus of opinion and therefore is turning to you also in the name of these people.

The Soviet government has announced a policy of non-involvement in connection with the democratic movements in Eastern Europe. We must warn you that in the case of Czechoslovakia, this policy in reality means support for the political leadership which was installed in the year 1968 by forceful intervention, and which, during the course of twenty years of rule, has absolutely discredited itself. One of the demands of the mass [demonstration of 21 November is precisely the departure of these politicians from the] political scene.

Dear Sirs, we are of the opinion that the past intervention into Czechoslovak internal events in the year 1968 should be condemned and decried as an unlawful encroachment. The silence surrounding the intervention in August de facto means entanglement into Czechoslovak internal conditions. We [beseech] you to pay attention to this question during your negotiations; it is not only important for Czechoslovakia these days, but also for all of Europe.

The Civic Forum

In Prague on 21 November 1989

How to Cite this Source

The Civic Forum, "Letter from the Civic Forum to US President George Bush and USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev," Making the History of 1989, Item #507, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/507 (accessed October 24 2014, 2:47 pm).

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