Elizabeth Pond
Elizabeth Pond

Fellowship Title:

Prague: One Year Later

Elizabeth Pond
December 22, 1969

Fellowship Year

 “To Czechoslovakia,” I proposed as we raised our glasses.

“Ah, you are an optimist,” Zdenek responded sardonically.

He, like every other Czech, was a pessimist. Things were worse now than in the last years of President Antonin Novotny’s rule. They would get worse still, with police harassment escalating to arrests and sentences of unknown severity. The situation would remain bad for a long time, with no hope of rescue as there was under the Nazi occupation in World War II.

“You’ve come to see the end,” was another friend’s opening greeting.

“There is no place to go for your family, for yourself, no private place,” commented a third. “Everyone is nervous and neurotic and drinks like a fish.”

“It was happier before our ‘friends’ came,” said one grandmother simply.

The faces of all of them showed the familiar Czech mix of pain and laughter to have shifted in favor of pain in the 15 months since the Soviet invasion.

The Sword


For a nation so swiftly grown accustomed to the gaiety and spontaneity of pre-invasion Czechoslovakia the picture is indeed grim. There are some 85,000 Soviet troops still stationed within Czechoslovakia, with more waiting on the Polish and East German borders. The occupation treaty Czechoslovakia was forced to sign specifies no numbers of foreign troops or duration of their stay in Czechoslovakia. The vague emergency decree instituted on the anniversary of the August invasion makes virtually anything subject to prison sentence, even housewifely complaints about food lines in stores. Arrests have begun, and if they are only on a small scale so far, they are reminiscent enough of the 1950s to strike a tremor of recognition in the pit of the stomach. Police interrogations have increased.

In perhaps the worst blow of all psychologically, travel to the West has been drastically curtailed for the average citizen of Czechoslovakia as of this past fall. (If a sudden fad for Nefertiti hairdos burgeons in Prague, it will be because one hairdresser who signed “2000 Words,” the 1968 liberal manifesto, has been solemnly told no, she may not get an exit visa for France or Italy, but she may go to Egypt if she wants to).

The one solid accomplishment of the Prague Spring of 1968–government with public consent and participation, however unstructured – has been wiped out. The one area where concrete action really was begun in 1968–rehabilitation of victims of Stalinism – has been confined to minimal political and legal terms. Rehabilitations ground to a halt altogether as of this past summer, and one article in the Czech press in October even suggested that those already carried out might be reconsidered.

The anticipated aims of the Prague Spring have likewise been sabotaged: an emerging pluralistic society; freedom (and liveliness) of expression and tolerance of minority opinions; freedom of association, including formation of proto-political groups like 1968’s Club of Engaged Non-party Members and the K231 club of former political prisoners; protection of law and leashing of the secret police; Communist Party leadership on merit only and Communist dialogue with the nation at large; and economic reform.

Phones are tapped again, with wives reminding husbands to go see neighbors personally rather than call them, and with any significant conversations in cultural offices accompanied by blared radio music. Talk continues unrestrained among friends or in small groups, but must be more discreet in crowds. All this may be only a matter of course for Russians and other Eastern Europeans, but it grates hard on Czechoslovaks who so recently used to smile as they explained to visiting Muscovites that they really could talk freely in their hotel rooms.

Apart from these new – or old – cautions, everyday life is much the same, only harder. It still takes ten years for a young couple to get an apartment in Prague. The stately Prague Castle remains unlit at night, as do the city’s other architectural gems, because there is not enough electricity for both the castle and the residential section behind it. The boys trudging to violin lessons are the same. So are the amateur-lettered posters advertising the sophisticated aspirations of the Psychedelic Band. And the heralding of winter in the yellow paisley scarves and the berets worn with a studied lack of flair. As usual, Bratislava has its “striptiz,” and Prague newsstands supplement the dull party newspapers with postcards of nudes with overfulfilled breasts.

But prices have gone up 50 to 100%. Potatoes are in short supply, and there is virtual rationing of coal, only 500 tons of which is available as against winter needs of one million tons. Lines 80 deep form in front of butcher shops at 5:30 a,m. to compete for poor quality beef. Food shortages last summer extended even to such Czech staples as beer and sausage.

These days, when word spreads of a shipment of Italian shoes in one downtown store, it sets off a madhouse scene that is an imitation of the everyday melee in all the ill-supplied textile stores. When the grapevine reports the availability of linens and towels in Dresden, it triggers a weekend exodus from Prague of those who can still afford cars.

The exhausted economy, the general work slowdown in protest against the Soviet occupation, and hedge-buying against a feared devaluation all contribute to the shortages.

Politically, Alexander Dubcek has long since – in April of this year – been replaced as First Party Secretary by Gustav Husak, a “realist” who was no great believer in the liberalization of 1968 in any case and who in the eyes of many Czechoslovaks has been playing the game of the Russians in hastening to condemn “anti-socialist” elements in Czechoslovakia after the invasion, in deposing the popular Josef Smrkovsky from chairmanship of parliament, and in implementing all the increasingly restrictive measures in the country. Close at Husak’s heels as head of the Czech -party, which he has thoroughly purged down to local level, is Lubomir Strougal, an adamant hard-liner who reportedly does not share even Husak’s compunctions about trials.

All the progressive leaders of 1968 have been muscled out of party and government posts one by one, and their places have been taken by those- the Czechoslovaks considered traitors at the time of the Soviet invasion, by discredited old timers from the Novotny era, or by faceless unknowns. Rank-and file party members have been required to turn in their party cards, and many of these will not be reissued. The intent is to reduce the party from its present unwieldy size to the more tightly controlled cadre party that Soviet party chief Leonid Brezhnev once told Novotny he wanted in Czechoslovakia – and that the Hungarian party was halved to after the 1956 revolution. Many of the more independent-minded party members are quitting of their own accord in any case–600,000 out of the 1.6 million members so for – and it is the hacks, sycophants, and opportunists who will be left. (“I am resigning,” one prominent Slovak writer tersely informed his party chapter, “for historical reasons.”)

The next party congress and parliamentary elections have both been postponed until 1971 out of fear that even rigged elections might return a high vote for Progressives. Sixty-two Czech parliamentery deputies, including the on-again-off-again liberal Cestmir Cisar, have been summarily removed and replaced by more malleable appointees – without elections.

Significantly, the army has been purged no less thoroughly (though more quietly) than the party and government. Shake ups in the trade unions this past summer have reasserted party control over leaders who had supported Smrkovsky in the Spring and might have used the unions as an organizational base to resist further retrenchment. Dismissals have now begun to extend to industrial managers as well.

In the cultural field, the free-wheeling newspapers and magazines have all been closed or turned over to rigidly conservative editors. Hard-liners have been reinstated as heads of the National Theater and Barrandov Film Studios. Renewed censorship in one form or another is suppressing protest songs, the contemporary Polish play Tango (which, ironically, is not banned in the more orthodox Poland, despite its absurdist satire), and some six or seven already produced films, including Jiri Menzel’s new study of Stalinist forced labor in the mines. The last is acclaimed in artistic circles as the masterpiece not only of this talented young director but also of the whole New Wave of Czech films. The long arm of the censor has even reached down to one magazine for three-to-five-year-olds, which published an uncomplimentary verse about robbers – and dressed the robbers in the accompanying Soviet-style illustrations in the reverse colors of the Red Army uniform.

In education the law is being revised to give the party more control over the schools. All incumbent professors of Marxism-Leninism, whom the Russians apparently consider particularly dangerous, have already been forbidden to teach, and an across-the-board purge of the universities is threatened. The hard-line Minister of Education has been circulating questionnaires to universities asking what faculty members did in 1968 and demanding rescinding of the many resolutions against the invasion passed in that year. The minister refused to approve the elected rector of Charles University for so long that when he finally did so the rector-elect himself turned down the post as an assertion of academic independence.

Journalists, the spearhead of so much of the Prague Spring, have been removed wholesale from their newspaper, television, and radio jobs. News style has reverted to the abused syntax of Stalinist times and a content that makes commuters turn immediately to the sports page. Television programs have slid from the liveliest in Eastern Europe to the worst banalities of Communist propaganda, featuring Daghestani dancers with toothpaste smiles and endless interviews with potato farmers who are overfulfilling the plan (even though the potatoes thus glorified never seem to reach Prague retailers). The only redeeming program – which every Czechoslovak is watching religiously – is the English produced Forsyte Saga, which is running serially and interminably on Sunday nights.

Now a new propaganda campaign is being mounted against intellectuals and could lead to more widespread arrests. It is difficult for the intellectuals to coordinate their defense against this threat. The hard-liners have not been able to take over the key professional unions, but these unions have been disbanded or prevented from functioning normally. A crucial issue now is whether the party will impound the funds of the Czech Writers Union. These monies have been used at various times in the past to support writers whom the regime has prevented from publishing – and they are being so used again. Most of the writers can sustain themselves by foreign royalties or by regular jobs they hold apart from their creative work, but an estimated 30 now need assistance to weather their present disfavor and dismissals.

The Pen


Despite all the heaviness and danger, however, something remains still of the Prague Spring. For all their despair and fear and passivity the Czechs (more so than the Slovaks) are still sticking together and protecting one another. This sense of community is no little accomplishment for a nation that in the 1930s succumbed so quickly to Nazi occupation and a demoralization that amounted to self-hatred – or for a nation in which every apartment house had its “fizl” (“squealer”) in the Stalinist 1950s.

“This is our last chance,” one writer had said in early 1968 in contrasting popular involvement and activity then with the two decades of lethargy that had preceded it. “If we don’t succeed now, everyone will become completely cynical and apathetic.”

Apparently he was wrong. The Czechoslovaks are passive now; they see no hope of issue for a long time; and they talk cynically. But they are acting notably uncynically.

The quality and character of this resistance are elusive to define. Many Western observers would deny the existence of anything sturdier then wishful thinking. And so would many Czechs – until pressed.

Certainly the period of open defiance is over, as of the August anniversary of the invasion, when the Czech police and army – not the Russians – deliberately used strong-arm tactics to disperse crowds. One still sees freshly-chalked graffiti now and again reading 4:3, the score of the Czechoslovak ice hockey victory over the Russians last April. Soviet soldiers continue to be ostracized even in the countryside of Bohemia and Moravia whenever they appear in shops, railroad stations, or other public places. Soviet troops in Prague prudently remain all but invisible, even in the windows of their command headquarters above the Castle. Jokes from the Nazi occupation have returned. Many Czechs still boycott Georgian cognac (however reluctantly) and Moskvich autos, even when these are available without the usual two-year waiting period for cars.

But these are all gesture rather than summons to action.

Similarly, the new shrine that Czechs bring flowers and candles to – ever since an inviolable flower bed was put around the Wenceslas statue – is the grave of Jan Palach, the student who burned himself to death last January to protest the occupation. Palach may be a less ambiguous symbol for the Czechs then an ancestral prince who appeased the powerful Saxons rather then fight them, but Palach’s out-of-the-way grave does attract fewer casual visitors and is less inflammatory than the downtown Wenceslas site.

What does remain after overt defiance has passed is indicated in the treatment Czechs are according their own leaders. This time, interestingly, it is the ruling minority that is being isolated, not, as in the Stalinist 1950s, the resisters who are being atomized…”not yet, anyway,” a Czech always adds. Husak is considered a collaborator by many Czechs, and so now, since his latest trip to the Soviet Union and his stinging attack there on the Dubcek era, is President Ludvik Svoboda. “Svoboda is a Petain,” said one moderate Czech suddenly and flatly about the former hero. Then he added, “Husak has betrayed himself,, Slovakia, and Czechoslovakia, and I think he knows it.” Even their own families (especially the university-age children) are said to reproach Husak, Prime Minister Oldrich Cernik, and other leaders for undue cooperation with the Soviet occupiers.

As a result, the incumbent leadership is far removed from the nation at large. Popular respect is reserved instead for those who have quit their government or party posts rather then implement Soviet demands. The list of these men is respectably long and includes Smrkovsky, former Foreign Minister Jiri Hajek, and especially Frantisek Kriegel, whose last unyielding speech before he was kicked out of the Presidium, the Central Committee, and the party has been widely circulated clandestinely. In his lifetime Dr. Kriegel, a veteran Communist, has been a Spanish civil war fighter; a political prisoner (in Stalinist times); a still unsubdued zealot after his release who used to preach to bored medical colleagues on the injustice of doctors getting more than laborers; an ardent convert to the Prague Spring in 1968; the target of Soviet Anti-Semitic harangues at the Cierna meeting preceding the invasion and the single abducted Czechoslovak leader that the Kremlin would not have allowed to return to Prague but for Svoboda’s adamant stand; and, finally, one of the four parliamentary deputies who refused to sign the Soviet occupation treaty. Now he is again practicing medicine in a Prague hospital, where he is brought flowers daily by an admiring public.

Wryer examples of stalwarts who have refused to renege on the Prague Spring include Martin Vaculik, the former Prague city boss who hitched his career to the unreconstructed Novotny, went into disgrace and eclipse with the 1968 liberalization, then emerged as a major organizer of the underground resistance to the invasion; and Bohumir Lomsky, Novotny’s old-time Minister of Defense and a bugaboo of the progressives who nonetheless got so incensed at the Soviet invasion that he became an instant and unrepentant convert to the Czechoslovak path.

The ultimate hero, of course, is still Alexander Dubcek, despite his steady post-invasion retreat in the face of Soviet power while he was still First Secretary of the party. His picture appears in stores in Bratislava and in students’ wallets all over the country. Workers stroll by his house in Bratislava to offer to tend his garden. Part of this admiration is nostalgia for the past; part of it is approval of Dubcek’s refusing to make a self-criticism of 1968 that would have negated the country’s search for a more open society and would have pilloried other leaders of the 1968 renaissance.

Public esteem for fallen leaders may have no practical value at the moment, but it does help keep conscience and decency alive and does feed into more specific acts of resistance. “How long do you think the writers will last?” one worker inquired anxiously. “If they can last, the rest of us can last.” If Kriegel could refuse to sign the occupation treaty and Dubcek would refuse to indict the Prague Spring, he was saying, then the man-in-the-street could refuse to turn his fellows over to the secret police just to save his own skin.

If they could act together, the universities could simply not reply or else say nothing of substance in response to the ministry questionnaire about political activities of professors. If they could have each other’s moral support, the intellectuals could accept dismissals and take jobs in factories or on collective forms rather then recant. They could boycott the party newspaper despite offers of Hearstian sums to any major writer willing to lend his name to it.

This – so far – is exactly what is happening. Publishing houses have managed to slip past the censors Slovak edition of Boris Pasternak’s proscribed Dr. Zhivago and a Czech edition of Artur London’s prison reminiscences. A few writers have forced the party to expel them. In Prague’s Realistic Theater, by tradition the faithful party theater, all but three actors have resigned from the party.

Characteristically a general gathering of the several hundred members of the Czech Writers Union last Fall informed the Minister of Culture that writers and artists want culture to be independent of politics. This so offended the minister that he adjourned that meeting forthwith and called another that he ordered to be more amenable. The writers refused even to discuss subordination of art however. For the second meeting only 50 “writers” showed up – and of these, 40 were clerks or bureaucrats.

As for students, now that their self-generated youth organization of 1968 has been dissolved by fiat, the new party-sponsored organization has to its name little more than students from the military academy. And in Bratislava the official 100,000-crown youth center attracts only a handful of students to its functions.

Nor is this mood of resistance confined to intellectuals. The peasants, for all their conservatism and original opposition to collectivization and its cruel forced modernization of agriculture, became partially radicalized during 1968. They are now complaining that the independent peasant organization promised in that year has never materialized.

Workers, in a move that may be cutting off their nose to spite their face but is nonetheless a clear expression of discontent with the occupation, are carrying out a prolonged nation-wide slow down that has brought some industries down to two-thirds of capacity and has spurred government threats to impose a six-day work week.

Such goldbricking, of course, is spectacular, impersonal, and readily agreed to by disgruntled workers who are getting little out of the system. Similarly, last summer’s strike of uranium miners who wanted to know how much of their uranium was being exported to the Soviet Union – and the stoning of a Soviet delegation by workers in one Prague factory back in the defiant period – represent action that is fairly easily galvanized.

More unexpected, however, is the protection numbers of local trade unions are affording their members at some direct risk. One Prague chapter, for example, prevented reinstatement of an incompetent foreman from Novotny times by threatening a strike. (The union had been responsible for the man’s original demotion in 1968). The same union also saw fit to inquire persistently into the sudden disappearance of one of its workers – an impertinence unheard of in the past. On finding that he had been arrested during the August 21 demonstrations, the union promptly took a collection to support the worker’s family, despite the objections of party hard-liners.

“I haven’t decided how much to needle them,” one worker announced in the course of conversation. It soon became clear, however, that he already had decided to “needle them” extensively and that he scorned possible danger to himself. “Give me trouble?! I’m just a worker. I don’t have anything they could take- away from me!” He quoted with approval the comrade who had opened his trade union speech with two minutes of silence, explaining afterwards, “That was the political part of my speech. To say anything would only be political masturbation.”

All is not rosy solidarity, of course. There are cracks in the unity, and backbiting does go on. Even the intellectuals, who led the 1968 liberalization, are not holding together 100%. The Slovak Writers Union has already broken the otherwise total boycott of cultural contacts with the Soviet Union. Prague’s Rokoko Theater has signed a quasi-self-criticism and is reportedly considering making a tour of the Soviet Union. In the movie world some of the 60 directors (though none of the well-known ones) are already “sneaking in the back door” and “cleaning the keyhole” of the minister to bag assignments for themselves out of this year’s sharply reduced film budget. In one of the most painful retreats, the Historical Institute of the Academy of Sciences has disowned the Black Book it published in answer to Soviet charges of counterrevolution and anti-Soviet activity in Czechoslovakia. In the factories a few of the workers–5% perhaps – have abandoned the common cause in order to get privileges or position.

Even taking into account all the defects, and uncertainties, however, the sense of community that does exist is impressive.

The vast majority of professional men (with the exception, of doctors) have chosen to stay in the country and fight it out rather than flee. (“Yes, of course he came back,” one Czech said matter-of-factly in discussing the recent return of a prominent Czech writer who had just published a book in West Germany that could easily land him in a Czech jail. The speaker was surprised that a visitor should even raise the possibility of that author’s staying in the West. “After all, we must be consequent in our actions.” Another Czech, a journalist in the West who expected to be called home at any moment because of his liberal views, expressed the same urge in saying quietly, “We must go back to queue and curse with the people.”)

Journalists, so many of whom were conformist or cynical under Novotny, then tested heroism in 1968 and came to like it, and are reveling in their dismissals and their new menial jobs as proof of their independence.

The people at large have never responded to the anti-Semitism that the Czech ultras and the Soviet occupiers sought to whip up. They are not cooperating with the secret police in large numbers – yet. They are holding back from ratting on each other – either by accusation or by staying silent while neighbors are persecuted. The ideas presented even in the elementary schools are the same as last year, even if their presentation is a little more veiled.

The Future


Is this some chimera? Is it only some new version of a “yes massa” Schweik irony that is adequate for physical but disastrous for psychic survival? What can the Czechs hope to achieve?

“Logically things may go in only one direction,” a Western diplomat noted in Prague. “All the power is on one side. But Czechoslovakia just isn’t a very totalitarian country.”

In their own way – and only after establishing their real distress at the situation and at the countless daily compromises they must make – a number of Czech agreed with this diplomat’s judgment.

“I want to be cynical, but I cannot,” one Czech explained. “It’s physical. It’s like a man who can no longer sleep with his wife. It’s not a question of wanting. You cannot.” A little later he shrugged his shoulders. “We have to live.” But this turned out to be resignation not to the frailties of mortals but rather to an involuntary compulsion to integrity if a man is to live with himself.

Another Prague resident also addressed himself to the question of why the Czechs are not just acting cynically despite the provocation. “There is a way of not being cynical in being cynical in words,” he said first, then thought some more. “When you are too close to death on a large scale, when you work in a morgue, you can no longer afford the luxury of being cynical.” Then softly, as if one must speak diffidently of such things in a secular society, he concluded, “Maybe there is something Christian in us.”

There is no grandstanding in this, no martyr complex. The declamation on freedom in Don Carlos was greeted by a Prague audience this fall with derisive laughter. The pragmatic Czechs have a horror of romanticism – or of claiming more than they can deliver.

Equally foreign to them – especially now in their acute estrangement from what they consider the Asiatic Russians – is any Dostoevskian beatitude through suffering. On the contrary, they believe that century-old acquiescence in and mystical elevation of suffering and sheer endurance constitute a hang-up that has long blocked Russian intellectuals from being able to free their countrymen from tsarist and Stalinist brutishness.

The hopes of the Czech intellectuals are altogether more modest than either a doomed 19th-century heroism or some final spiritual catharsis. At this point they would be content with hibernation, a simple preservation in the Czechoslovaks of the assumption of human decency and responsibility made in 1968.

The Czechs are not sure they can achieve even this much. They doubt their own staying power. They are stumbling and groping and confused. With some regularity they get depressed, drunk, and psychosomatically ill. But there is a core stubbornness here, a lurking doubt that brute force is all there is – and an inclination to act in accordance with that doubt. And there is, in Kafka’s city, a refusal to take oneself too seriously. “It was tragedy before; it’s farce now,” one Czech commented fastidiously.

Why this contrariness in the teeth of harsh reality? Why don’t the Czechs just turn to an escape orgy of slivovitz and sex?

In every polity, of course, there are the unique ones who out of conviction will not conform to social injustice. They exist in Czechoslovakia too. The woman who was the only one in her university class to vote against expulsion of a fellow student in the witchhunt period of the late 1940s – despite the terrible loneliness and the threat of punishment can be counted on to remain recalcitrant even under the Soviet gun. This kind says of the occupation and its forcible ending of the Prague experiment, “We have lost our illusions but not our ideas. Now we must keep the ideas alive for the people.”

More common, however, is the offhand shrug (often accompanied by a memory of past equivocation). It was epitomized by one speaker at a mass meeting of Czech journalists called to decide how to proceed in the first few months after the invasion. “We are located in the crossroads of Europe, where the fortunes of history ebb and flow. Nothing is permanent. So why should we prostitute ourselves if it’s just going to be for a year?” This way of thinking became so common, in fact, that the party newspaper deemed it necessary to condemn the bourgeois “crossroads of Europe” fallacy in print this fall.

Expanding on this theme, one Prague writer said, “In the 1950s we thought it was forever. Now we know nothing is forever. Our parents lived under six regimes. And the cycles of history are running faster and faster.”

In a more analytical vein he continued, “They will have to stop recriminations sometime. They can’t keep firing all the good people and hope to run the country with the mediocrities that are left.”

He readily admitted that for all the rationality to commend this point of view, decisions are seldom made on pure rationality. The parallel of 1968 is too close for comfort. The pre-invasion assumption by practically everyone was that 1968 was no longer 1956, and that the Sino-Soviet split, Moscow’s desire to unify the world Communist movement, mutual American-Soviet interest in the minimal coexistence necessary for survival of the human race, and Russian self-interest in a successful Czechoslovak experiment in rejuvenating a stagnant Communist society all militated against an invasion. Yet August 21 happened anyway.

The Czech admitted further that his analysis might be only another form of rationalization. In every society too there are the wishful thinkers – and so in Czechoslovakia. The Russians have gotten what they want now, and things will get better at the first of the year, run the rumors among people who are searching desperately for the silver lining. The Soviet troops will leave, and Moscow will give us that hard currency loan to get our economy moving again. The first of the year passes, and the screw is tightened. Then April becomes the golden date. April passes, the screw is tightened again, but still the hope remains that the Soviet Union will change for the better soon, and then Czechoslovakia can get on with things.

The Czech dismissed these projections as wild speculations. Those who scrambled to the top in the Kremlin over the bodies of 20 million dead in Stalin’s purges (a figure higher than the total Czechoslovak population) are unlikely to soften just because the Czechoslovaks wish they would. He estimated a minimum of ten years before a “clean” and more modern generation would take over in Moscow, and he didn’t expect any second chance at a breakthrough in Czechoslovakia before this generation barrier was broken in the Soviet Union.

He still hoped, however, that the need to run Czechoslovakia with some basic rationality would set internal limits on purges now. He therefore was not going to make “unnecessary” or “premature” compromises.

In the end unswerving principle and calculations of historical transcience explain only part of the phenomenon of present-day Czechoslovakia, however. The remarkable thing is the wide spectrum of people touched by the yearning to maintain humanity. It can only be said that somehow the Daedalus leap of 1968 caught the imagination of the whole nation as pride for the attempt more than humiliation for the defeat. Somehow the new sense of identity, of reclaimed self-respect and decency after the nightmare of Stalinism, was diffused throughout the whole Czechoslovak society in 1968 and continues still.

And how long can this subdued national consensus last? The minimal answer would seem to be as long as arrests go no higher than the present level. Barring a return to stark terror, the general determination not to be frightened into unnecessary silence in personal life can probably sustain itself. Positions would appear to have been so polarized by the Soviet invasion that anything short of reimposition of such terror would probably anger rather than intimidate the Czechoslovaks.

It is true that many have been detained for short periods in the past few months, and many more have been called into police stations for interrogation. But so far relatively few have been jailed indefinitely – and those who have are the sort who seem proud of the honor. Typically, Ludek Pachman, the apolitical chess champion who got so furious at the invasion that he began firing off letters to Neues Deutschland complaining, because he wasn’t on their list of counterrevolutionaries, has been in jail since August but continues to cheer up his own lawyer on visits. But most potential victims of arrest are still free as of this writing. They include Dr. Kriegel; Ludvik Vaculik, the self-made novelist, author of the most stinging indictment of the corruption of power in his 1967 Writers Congress speech, and final author of “2000 Words;” Jan Prochazka, also a novelist, an accidental literary darling of Novotny’s, and one of the first Czech writers attacked by the Soviet press in 1968; Emil Zatopek, a middle-aged Olympic track star of no political weight, but a thorn in the leadership’s flesh because of his popularity, his signing of “2000 Words,” and his indefatigable public protests against the invasion; and some 40,000 others that Soviet media counted as the core anti-Soviet conspirators in the immediate wake of the invasion.

There is some indication that a plateau has now been reached in arrests. Husak, himself a victim of Stalinist imprisonment (one who refused to testify against others even under torture) has argued that show trials and arrests would stir up more trouble than they are worth. The recent abrupt warnings in the Slovak and Czech press against “left sectarianism” extremes would point to Husak’s ascendancy on this issue. And after an initial period of hedging, the Kremlin appears to be backing the more moderate Husak against the ultras. There are reports as well of Hungarian and even East German concern lest the Czechoslovak purges go too far and set off an uncontrollable chain reaction.

If Husak stays on top and if arrests do not accelerate, then resistance in personal lives – even if not in public statement – can probably be maintained in the foreseeable future.

For the longer term, it should be noted first that most of the same historical forces that converged into the Prague Spring are still present, operative, and, if anything, reinforced.

The floundering economy, to begin with, needs resuscitation even more badly now than it did when Novotny refused to let reform economists tinker with it. And this time around everyone without exception will blame the Russians and the Czechoslovak conservatives for the country’s economic plight. The conservatives no longer have the option as they did in early 1968 of appealing to the self interest of workers who fear unemployment when the economy is rationalized.

Similarly, the urge to freedom and decency first among intellectuals and then among people at large has only-been whetted by the experience of 1968.

Since the federalization of this past year there is no longer the catalytic force of Slovak nationalistic desires for autonomy from Prague. Nor is there the same cumulative disgruntlement with Novotny’s arbitrary personal rule. National (Czech and Slovak) hatred of the Russians and discontent with the present restrictive and mediocre government and party structure should form a reasonable substitute for these last two drives, however. And if the Czechoslovaks have now tasted the bitter knowledge that there are limits to what the Russians will allow even in domestic policy, they have also tasted the dangerous knowledge that the Czechoslovaks themselves do possess the moral and practical energy to rejuvenate their society once they are given the chance.

Just how these powerful social forces will be channeled next time is more difficult to predict. The smoothness of the liberalization of 1968 was occasioned by the eventual responsiveness of the Communist Party (through its progressive wing) to group and public pressures. For a number of peculiar historical reasons the existing governing structure became an instrument for change rather than a barricade to that change which had to be stormed. Today, however, it is unlikely that Czechoslovaks would entrust their hopes for the future to the party that has by now returned to subservience to Moscow. On the contrary, the party will probably atrophy into a club of 50-year-olds living in their own surrealistic world and legitimized only by Soviet tanks.

At the moment the only organizational alternative is the trade unions, with some 5.5 million members, or more than a third of the country’s total population. For all of the changes in Czechoslovakia in winter and Spring of 1968, the jaded workers really committed themselves to the new course only in midsummer, some six or seven weeks before the invasion. Surprisingly, however, political motivation lasted long after bread-and-butter issues had become irrelevant. Despite the leashing of key union leaders at the top, a situation is conceivable in which grassroots actions might spread from local chapters and, with the Czech administrative genius, flare into organization. Few Czechs care to depend upon this, however.

The intellectuals, while they could be the sparkplugs of another liberalization, cannot really form an organizational structure themselves, either in a mass or cadre sense. Nor does a Western reporter find evidence of real underground organization anywhere else, even among students. A few clandestine pamphlets circulate, but communication is difficult with the party clampdown on “horizontal” (nonhierarchical) contacts and on the factory meetings that many intellectuals used to speak at.

There are three broad-brush possibilities in Czechoslovakia now; explosion, demoralization, or hibernation. Any of the three could develop out of the present situation.

First, explosion. A sudden trivial annoyance might combine with the first warm days of Spring to set off a wildcat strike in Plzen or Prague or Ostrava. If such a development were to be handled clumsily by the regime – given today’s total divorce between social pressures and political power – it balloon into a general strike or even clashes of citizens with the police and the army.

This is unlikely. The Czechs are undemonstrative by temperament, with iron control, as they illustrated in the first week of the Soviet invasion. Such an outburst could only bring out the tanks again, dump Husak for the ultras, and set off terrible reprisals – and the Czechoslovaks know it. Furthermore, the example of last spring, when no such incident occurred even when feeling was running high in the unions, would suggest that the Czechoslovaks who are much more passive now, will keep their cool this Spring too.

Last Spring, however, Dubcek was still in power (until April), and the Czechoslovaks did give his successor the begrudged benefit of the doubt. Now they no longer consider the regime even partially theirs, and in incendiary circumstances alienation and frustration might outweigh rationality.

The second general possibility is demoralization. This could be achieved either by terror or by attrition. The ultras might take over and stage massive arrests and trials. The language of threats in the newspapers from time to time has been reminiscent of the Rudolf Slansky trial that inaugurated Stalinism in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. This phase seems to have passed for the moment, but it could reappear instantaneously at the whim of Moscow.

Alternatively, an unstructured holding action with no concrete goal might just prove untenable. The dynamics of history permits no static lulls, however changeless the surface appearance. The present resistance might dissipate, the present passivity increase, and determination wear down to nothing more than sterile nostalgia and poisonous hatred. The constant uncertainty, plus suppression and internalization of hostility might turn corrosive.

The Czechoslovaks do not have the luxury now of open combat in which they can fight a tangible enemy. They have set themselves the more ambiguous task of standing against the imperceptible daily erosions, the little compromises and indignities. They may fail. “You can’t keep squeezing heroism out like some toothpaste tube,” one oldtimer said. “Heroism is an abnormal – and temporary – state.”

Czechoslovakia might thus follow the Polish or Hungarian paths, with the nation dulled into acceptance of retrenchment. If so, the Czechoslovaks will have obliged the Russians by destroying themselves.

The third possibility is hibernation. If the Czechs are successful in what they are attempting now, the forces working for liberalization will remain dormant but undiluted, ready to be reactivated at any moment. Today’s low-key resistance would become a habit, not in any rote sense but in tenacity.

There probably would be no second chance for the 40-year-olds who shaped the 1968 Prague Spring and were unique among their comparable takeover generations in the Soviet bloc in their humanist rather than technological or straight power concerns. But the bare-handed 18- and 19-year-olds who tried to reason with the Soviet tanks that first day would carry on the struggle. The vinyl-booted maiden teachers and the flint-eyed grandmother teachers would impart the stubborn streak to the youngest generation as they toured Prague Castle and Palach’s grave.

Czechoslovakia would not follow the Hungarian path because leadership has not been drained from the country as Hungary’s was in the emgration after the revolution. And while Husak has all the makings of a Wladyslaw Gomulka, Czechoslovakia would not follow the Polish path because Czech workers cannot be turned against the intellectuals in any philistine and anti-Semitic bid. In Bohemia’s democratic tradition, the intellectuals and the common man have been homogeneous since the native aristocracy was wiped out in the 17th century. To this day they are bone and marrow.

In short, Czechoslovakia’s tensile strength would hold. No one is betting on this outcome, but then no one is precluding it either.

“We are dancing on a volcano,” Zdenek said.

Received in New York on December 22, 1969.

©1969 Elizabeth Pond

Miss Pond is an Alicia Patterson Fund award winner on leave from the Christian Science Monitor. This article may be published with credit to Miss Pond, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Alicia Patterson Fund.