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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 48: Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Achille Occhetto February 28, 1989

Traduction de Anna Melyakova

Texte intégral

1Gorbachev’s interlocutor at this meeting is the Italian communist leader Achille Occhetto, who in 1994 would declare the communist experiment over and dissolve the Italian party into a social democratic institution. The notes of this conversation, which focus in part on the significance of the Prague Spring of 1968, were probably prepared by Valentin Falin of the International Department. The Italian communists had been early critics of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Occhetto goes out of his way to praise the Czechoslovak leader at that time, Alexander Dubček. But Gorbachev responds with remarkable ambiguity, still unready to admit that the intervention was a mistake. He says that by July—August of 1968 the Czechoslovak reforms had amounted to “not just extremism” “but also anti-socialism and anti-Sovietism.” His reluctance to reinterpret those events, which Moscow insists were Czechoslovakia’s own internal affair, stems from a concern that if he did so the entire CPCz leadership would have to go. “In the present situation, we are trying to be especially delicate.”


2Occhetto: I would like to touch upon the Labor Movement question. We view the processes taking place in Eastern Europe positively: the introduction of a multiparty system in Hungary, the beginning of talks with “Solidarity” in Poland. But at the same time we are worried by the state of affairs in the socialist countries where the developing situation contradicts the commitments that were assumed with the Helsinki agreements.

3I would like to tell you about a moving meeting I had with Dubček. I must say, I formed an impression of Dubček as not only a convinced communist, but also a sincere supporter of socialism. He follows the process of perestroika with great enthusiasm and faith, and in many respects evaluates the situation in Czechoslovakia reasonably. He says that we cannot speak of perestroika in Czechoslovakia without determining the historical place of the “Prague Spring” of 1968. And the point is not even the historical evaluation, but the fact that it could revive and restore the desire to fight for socialism on the part of thousands and thousands of people who took part in the “Prague Spring.” If the connection between that historical moment and today is not strengthened, the right will take the lead. Dubček said that some dissidents in Czechoslovakia want to fight outside the framework of the party. He thinks that they should remain in the party.

4During his stay in Italy, Dubček disappointed the reactionary powers, which had been expecting him to make statements against socialism. His speech at the University of Bologna turned into the praise for humane socialism. Dubček publicly gave a positive evaluation of the perestroika policies of the Soviet Union. We understand that to restore Dubček’s good name and to return him to his former position are different matters. But it is necessary to give the “Prague Spring” its due.

5The Hungarian comrades said that elements of a people’s uprising played a part in the events of 1956, although later reactionary powers took root there. Perhaps this is even more true for Czechoslovakia as well, especially since the processes there developed differently. A reform process in Czechoslovakia would have enormous significance for us all.

6Gorbachev: The entire socialist world, all the socialist countries, one way or another, are in the process of change. Not perestroika, but change. This is as characteristic for Cuba as for Mongolia and Vietnam. I want to emphasize that all the countries are being overtaken by a process of rethinking of history and changes under the influence of what is going on here, as well as under the influence of their own internal imperatives. To a significant extent this is tied to the economy. But it is no less tied to the realization of what socialism is today. With all the differences in these processes, they are characterized by the development of democracy. Perhaps Romania does not fit in here, even though Comrade Ceauşescu always brings up claims that his country is developing democratically. One’s attention is of course drawn by the specific regime in place there. The main direction of developments in the socialist world is toward democratization. And this is very interesting. The spheres of economics, politics, and culture are affected by this. Our friends in Eastern Europe are returning to history. In a word, normal development is taking place.

7You spoke about Dubček and about Czechoslovakia. It is probable that the lessons of 1968 left an imprint on the situation in this country. That is why our colleagues are being careful, so as not to spur destructive tendencies. But they intend to keep moving forward. The resolution of many issues there is tied to personnel changes. We are taking this position: it is their internal affair. This approach fits well with the type of relations that we have now assumed and maintain. We believe that the events of 1968 should be analyzed in their development. There was a promising beginning in December 1967 and January 1968, and we welcomed that.

8Falin: Novotný asked for help then. We said no.

9Gorbachev: Yes, there was a request for help. But we thought that everything had matured on its own there. The latter stage of that process, in July-August, was a different matter. That was not just extremism—it would probably be impossible to do without that—but also anti-socialism and anti-Sovietism. That came from over the border. All of it escalated the situation significantly. This is our perception of those events. But there will be changes in Czechoslovakia. We are sure of this. The problem is already coming up of how to deal with communists expelled from the party. We are trying to assume a careful attitude toward these processes, especially since the Czechoslovak comrades are trying to understand them themselves. This must take its natural course.

10As for Hungary, the economic and social tensions in this country led to the necessity of seeking a resolution. It is difficult there. Recently I spoke with Grósz over the phone about Pozsgay’s speech. We will meet with Grósz on March 18 or 20. The new premier, Németh, will soon be coming. There everything depends on the economy. But all of this is an incentive to look for a new model for socialism.

11Every country—China, Poland, Hungary—enriches us with its experience. Bulgaria has its own. I think that each party’s task is to understand the necessity for change and to lead these processes, these changes—not vice versa. And those who lose time will see how these losses will tell on the nature of the changes taking place in the country.

12In the present situation, we are trying to be especially delicate. Let them observe our experiences, and we will observe theirs.

13There are some who would like to throw explosives into these processes. In these circumstances not only democratic decisions come through, but the completely opposite kind as well.

14We must be open to these changes. Otherwise socialism will not be able to unfurl. There can be only losses. We are firm supporters of these processes; we value highly each party’s search. And they are all different. In the past everything was simple: the “one size fits all” approach. Now that is impossible.

15[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Fond 1. Opis 1. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Anna Melyakova.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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