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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 23: Record of the Main Content of a Telephone Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Janós Kádár, May 19, 1988

Traduction de Anna Melyakova

Texte intégral

1This transcript offers a fascinating view into Moscow’s relations with the fraternal allies during the Gorbachev era. Three days before the Hungarian party conference at which long-time communist leader Janós Kádár is to be replaced by the reform-minded premier, Karóly Grósz, Kádár checks in with the Kremlin: “I deemed it my duty to make sure you did not find out about our changes through the newspapers.” According to this transcript, the Hungarians first relay word through KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, then Kádár speaks with Gorbachev directly, who says “I welcome your decision.” Gorbachev’s role in the telephone call, again, is not to dictate but to reinforce, offer reassurance, and leave the responsibility with the Hungarians; but “welcome” is very much the appropriate word. Kádár works on face-saving measures, presenting the changes as largely his own idea. Most striking in retrospect is the illusion both men held that leadership changes and a little perestroika would allow the party (both in Budapest and in Moscow) to “consolidate” its position and stay out in front of popular demands for reform.


2Gorbachev: Hello, Comrade Kádár! I received the information you sent me. As I understand it, you are coming to the party conference with a conception that has been thought through and that takes into account the situation in Hungary and in the party.

3Kádár: That’s right. This conception was discussed at the Politburo and my colleagues agreed with it completely.

4Gorbachev: It is very important that Comrade Kádár will be keeping his position in the party and that he will stay and direct all the changes during this transition stage. That is how I understood the information relayed to me through Comrade Kryuchkov. I welcome your decision.

5Kádár: Yes, that is so. At first we thought about greater changes, but my colleagues at the Politburo convinced me that it would be in the interests of the party to arrange everything as it is right now.

6Gorbachev: I understand that you had to make a very difficult decision. The process must not have been easy. This is evidence of the political wisdom of Hungary’s leader and of my friend, Janós Kádár. The most important thing is that the interests of the country and the party were taken into account. I will be frank—I did not expect any other outcome. I was sure that the decision would be made when it was ripe and necessary.

7Kádár: I thought about it for a long time.

8Gorbachev: Of course, our work together has not come to an end; we are going to keep our political and personal connections. That is what I would really like to do. I would be glad to meet with you and exchange opinions on any issue.

9Kádár: Thank you. I am touched by your words.

10Gorbachev: Your situation and ours are not simple. But the most important thing is that we see a way out of these situations. Particular responsibility lies with our parties.

11I would like to repeat once again, Comrade Kádár, that we will continue to work together. I am ready to help Hungary on specific issues as much as I can. For our part, we are counting on the solidarity of our Hungarian comrades in the struggle for perestroika.

12Kádár: Thank you. That is how it will be. As for our personal contacts, I think that we have found a good form of direct and reliable communications, including the one right now (laughs). You have received accurate information. This time the conversation was difficult. It was not the personal aspect that was important to me. Remembering your concern about the Hungarian state of affairs, I deemed it my duty to make sure you did not find out about our changes through the newspapers. That is what I said at the Politburo session, and my comrades supported me. We have always appreciated your interest in Hungary and your understanding of our problems.

13Now about some issues concerning me personally. Firstly, I believe that an appropriate form of change in the top leadership has been found. All the Politburo members have supported it. I think that this form is significant domestically and internationally. It is true that lately in Hungary sentiments against my leaving have been getting stronger, our “worst [zakliatye] friends” have started talking about it. But I had to make a decision.

14Secondly, I will not remain a member of the Politburo. At the conference we will submit a proposal to change the Charter and to establish the new position of Chairman of the HSWP. While he would not be a part of the Politburo, the chairman could still attend any meetings of the leadership and express his opinion. What were our reasons for this? It was the fact that matters do not progress very well when both the old and the new leaders are part of the governing body. Members of the Politburo look in both directions, and nothing good comes out of that. If it is necessary, I could always speak with any member of the leadership privately or be present at any meeting.

15Thirdly, the need to lessen my personal physical load was another reason that led me to this decision. It had become burdensome to me.

16I want to assure you that our relations will remain the same.

17Gorbachev: Thank you for that message.

18Kádár: I think that the conference will be useful and will provide an opportunity to clarify important questions. Most importantly, the party’s course for the socialist development of our country will be defined more exactly. We think that the conference will allow us to consolidate the party’s position as well.

19We had a problem with the question of whether a change of leadership was appropriate at a conference. At the last CC Plenum we had at first submitted a proposal to change about one-third of the leadership, but the feelings were such that we had to go beyond what is outlined in the Charter. It was decided at the Plenum to propose at the conference to re-elect the entire membership of the CC and the CCC [Central Control Committee]. Therefore, the CC will not resign, and its mandate will be in effect until the next congress.

20There will not be a report at the conference. I will only make an introduction and comment on the draft of the resolution. The CC Plenum fully supported such an approach to the conference.

21The HSWP has the post of Deputy General Secretary, but this time we will bypass that provision of the Charter and will leave the position vacant. There is one argument for that: if a leader is 70 or older he needs a deputy. But if the general secretary is 57 he does not need one.

22Moreover, with the agreement of Politburo members at the CC organizational Plenum, after the conference I will make a proposal to elect CC secretaries rather than a CC Secretariat. That way, we will eliminate a link in the leadership chain. If this passes, in the future the party will sanction a governing body—the Politburo—which has direct access to all party organizations, down to the primary ones.

23CC secretaries will oversee designated sections and direct the apparatus, but it must be clear that there is only one governing body in the party.

24Gorbachev: That is a very interesting and important proposal.

25Kádár: I have had this idea for a long time and I thought that now would be a good time to implement it. Even before this, we had the principle that elective bodies would lead the party, but in practice it was always distorted in favor of the apparatus. Now all the major questions will be decided in the Politburo. At the same time we eliminate the problem of dividing the nomenklatura between the Politburo and the Secretariat.

26I thank you for the phone call and for your attention to our affairs. In the spirit of what has been said, I will try to continue working, and implementing what will be decided at the conference.

27We know that you have a conference coming up. Plus, Reagan will be visiting you in a week. The U.S. Senate’s position on the issue of ratification seems to be changing for the positive; the senators even voted that you and Reagan have the authority to sign the document. As I heard it, 91 senators expressed this view.

28Gorbachev (laughing): Yes, yes, at the meeting we presented our powers.

29Kádár: It seems they are following a policy of delaying the agreement for the reduction of offensive weapons. It looks like they do not want to give this issue to Reagan, they want to save it for the new president.

30Of course, the U.S. president’s visit is very important, but the main thing is the conference. We are all rooting for you. I wish you good health and send my greetings to your colleagues in the CPSU leadership. Also say hello to Raisa Maksimovna [Gorbachev].

31Gorbachev: I can only express my complete agreement and understanding. I have neither questions nor doubts about this.

32Briefly about our affairs. Today a Politburo session took place. We discussed and approved theses for the party conference. We feel that it is an interesting document, one that provides a good platform for discussion and for work at the conference. The expectations the people and the party have for this conference are enormous. This obliges us to be at our best.

33After the meeting with Reagan I will devote all my time to preparing the report. The party and the entire country are mobilized right now. We are living in a difficult but great time; we must make sure that perestroika succeeds. It has to work.

34Once again, I emphasize that we are on the threshold of major events. I am glad to speak with you. I embrace you and wish you good health and success. Please give my heartfelt hello to all the colleagues in your leadership.

35[Source: Mikhail Gorbachev: Zhizn’ i reformy [Mikhail Gorbachev: Life and Reforms], Novosti: 1995, pp. 331-333. Translated by Anna Melyakova.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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