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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 11: Notes of CC CPSU Politburo Session. Report on Mikhail Gorbachev’s Visit to Czechoslovakia, April 16, 1987

Traduction de Anna Melyakova

Texte intégral

1Here Chernyaev captures Gorbachev’s report to the Soviet Politburo about his recent trip to Czechoslovakia and the popular adulation he encountered there. The Soviet leader compares the Czechoslovaks’ newly-positive attitude toward the USSR to that of May 1945, after the defeat of the Nazis. But the downside of Gorbachev’s popularity is the sharp contrast with attitudes toward the current Czechoslovak communist leadership: “[T]here was always awkwardness when we appeared before the public. The people chanted ‘Gorbachev, Gorbachev.’ Husák was next to me but it was as if he wasn’t there.”

2During the trip, Gorbachev had declined to change the Soviet interpretation of the events of 1968 (that the Prague Spring was a counterrevolution that had to be stopped with Soviet force), which both internal and external critics saw as a major missed opportunity. For example, a January 5, 1990, assessment by the Soviet CC International Department described the failure to admit the 1968 mistake as having led “to a most serious disenchantment of the population of that country who expected that this visit would bring about changes” (see Document No. 117). But a leading figure of the Prague Spring, Zdenĕk Mlynář, who had been Gorbachev’s law school classmate, wrote in 1987 that Gorbachev had little choice but to support the dependent Czechoslovak leaders on 1968; to do otherwise would have demolished their credibility and aligned Gorbachev with the opposition. Characteristically, Gorbachev left it up to the Czechoslovak communists to decide whether and how to rehabilitate the Prague Spring participants.

3Chernyaev’s notes include Gorbachev’s remark that his Prague oration was the first public speech in which he put forward the concept of the “common European home;” but in his speech to the British parliament (published in Pravda on December 19, 1984), Gorbachev proposed making Europe a “common home” rather than “a theater of military operations.”


4The main outcome is the turning point in the people’s attitude toward the USSR. The atmosphere reminds one of May 1945. Especially the young people—their behavior makes a very powerful impression. It would have been impossible to organize this enthusiasm. There was breath-taking fraternization with us. But there is also another side to this phenomenon—the people’s attitude toward their leadership. The issue is not with Gorbachev, whom they welcomed. Here I saw an evaluation of our work, the attitude toward our perestroika.

5They called out to me: stay here, at least for a year! In essence this is a criticism of the present Czechoslovak leadership. And this is very serious. We are seeing a similar [phenomenon] in the GDR. Here as well, people are ahead of the political views and the level of the leadership. This is dangerous. The leaders feel that they are falling behind and are losing the people’s confidence, especially since their political opposition is hanging onto our perestroika.

6In Prague they compare perestroika with their 1968. They had the right idea then, but the figure—Dubček—was wrong. This was used by outsiders.

7The leadership may feel that they are losing. And this puts a certain responsibility on us. We cannot allow doubts and uncertainty about our perestroika to arise in the leadership circles. But they themselves have to form an efficient governing body. We have to influence our friends’ public opinion in all directions within the framework of our morals, our attitude toward the past and the present. Then we will get real support from the people there.

8We are embarrassed. Wherever you go in the West there is a whole gallery of statesmen from the distant and the recent past. But we have nobody. We lived and worked for 20-30 years, but who was in the leadership—nobody knows.

9Criteria? The criteria must be academic, Marxist, Leninist. We must tell the truth. And this truth elevates our history. We have already felt a growing responsibility before our friends.

10Everywhere we hear thoughts and hopes turned toward us. We need to deepen our understanding of our role in the world right now. Many aspects here have not been thought through.

11In Czechoslovakia I said candidly that we will not conduct our perestroika at their expense. But you, too, do you expect to live at our expense? If you are for integration, let us do it honestly, let us get through this process as well. There is a difference in prices, in wages. We will adjust. In the economy, Czechoslovakia can be our most reliable partner of all the socialist countries. It enjoys a considerable level of technology, and it is prepared to collaborate with us.

12I told them that right now we are moving from formulating the concept of perestroika to practicing it. If there is something that works for you, take it. The only thing we are counting on is solidarity. In the international arena we will firmly hold to equality, even though we are big and you are small.

13[About] the attitude toward 1968. How do we regard this event? Half a million were “crossed off” their party rolls. That was a third of the party. What should we do with them? With Dubček everything is clear—a betrayal of socialism. But what to do with ordinary communists? I told them that it is their decision what to do with these people. I let it be understood that we have no intention of reconsidering our position on 1968. But I also emphasized that we cannot stop.

14There was always awkwardness when we appeared before the public. The people chanted “Gorbachev, Gorbachev.” Husák was next to me, but it was as if he wasn’t there. I kept trying to push him forward, and always used the phrase “Comrade Husák and I …” But the people did not respond to it.

15As far as my speech there, in which I first put forward the idea of a common European home, the West noticed it even though they are trying to keep it quiet.

16[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Fond 2, Opis 2. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Anna Melyakova.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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