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Masterpieces of History

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Svetlana Savranskaya
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Thomas Blanton
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Vladislav Zubok

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Document No. 55: Report from Vadim Zagladin on Conversation with Jan Pudlák April 1, 1989

Traduction de Vladislav Zubok

Texte intégral

1Even while working on his secret task of drafting Gorbachev’s Strasbourg speech (see Document No. 44), the International Department’s Vadim Zagladin continues his official role as liaison with “progressive” East and West Europeans. Here, Zagladin’s report on conversations with a leading Czechoslovak official, Jan Pudlák, provides yet another of the many “early warnings” that reach Gorbachev’s desk long before the events in Czechoslovakia take a dramatic turn. Zagladin describes a “deep moral and political crisis” in Czechoslovakia comparable to “the one that preceded 1968.” He tells Chernyaev that “in the working class, among intellectuals and the youth, there is a time bomb of discontent.” Also noteworthy is the way this leading Moscow expert judges the political role of Václav Havel, a “mediocre writer” who “could have been dealt with through softer, political means.” Obviously, the old habits of looking at dissidents as Western agents of influence are still strong in Moscow. Zagladin also gives a candid reason for not reassessing the events of 1968: because “one part of the leadership was thoroughly involved in those events, and another fears a repetition of 1968 through inertia.”

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2[Pudlák] is now also director of the Institute of International Policy at the Foreign Ministry of the ČSSR. He participates in the work of the Commission of the CC CPCz on international affairs. I have known him for a long time.

3[According to him, Czechoslovakia] is in a “deep moral and political crisis.” This crisis can be compared with the one that preceded 1968. One difference today is that the living standards of the masses are considerably higher than in 1967. This means a lot for the Czechs. […] However, these positive factors are about to disappear. […] On the mass level, among all groups of society but above all in the working class, among intellectuals and the youth, there is a time bomb of discontent.

  • 1 Charter 77 was a groundbreaking Czechoslovak dissident group founded in January 1977. The human ri (...)

4Gradually a broad opposition is being formed. But it is a diverse phenomenon. It would not be all that bad if there were only hostile groups like “Charter-77” or “Renewal.”1 But along with them there is a considerable group of former party members (up to half a million) who, without joining the opposition […] voice their active dissatisfaction both with their own situation and that in the country. Simultaneously, the mood of discontent has spread among a great number of party members and members of the Communist Youth. And non-party members are not calm either. […] The youth is comparing the activities of the authorities to the actions of “fascists.”

5[Václav] Havel’s arrest [and] imprisonment have converted this mediocre writer into a martyr, and for the discontented he has become a national hero. This is a priceless gift for the West. In all truth, he could have been dealt with through softer, political means. […] The leadership failed to demonstrate the skill “to think several moves ahead.” Today it is most important to operate by political means, to “cage” discontent into discussions. […]

6[It is necessary to reassess 1968 and the role of Alexander Dubček.] However, it has been difficult to do that so far; one part of the leadership was thoroughly involved in those events, and another fears a repetition of 1968 through inertia (although if the party became a true political leader of perestroika, this would not happen). We must approach it cautiously, gradually. […]

7[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Fond 3. Opis 1. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Vladislav Zubok.]

Notes

1 Charter 77 was a groundbreaking Czechoslovak dissident group founded in January 1977. The human rights activists who signed the initial Charter included future President Václav Havel and prominent members of the Czech and Slovak intelligentsia. Their goal was to uphold principles of the Helsinki Final Act in the daily lives of Czechoslovak citizens by using non-violent legal means in accordance with the Czechoslovak Constitution. “Renewal” is a reference to Obroda—Klub Za Socialistickou Přestavbu, the Club for Socialist Restructuring, an organization formed in early 1989 by reform communists who had been pushed out of the party after the Prague Spring. It became a part of Civic Forum in November 1989.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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