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The Czechoslovak Communist Regime and

the Polish Crisis, 1980-1981

By Oldřich Tůma

O

ne of the best books on the history of communism, written by Martin Malia, is devoted

to Poland's Solidarity movement, "which began the task of dismantling communism in 1980." In looking at the formation and actions of Poland's Solidarity as beginning a process that finally led to the end of communism in Czechoslovakia as well, it is necessary to consider the reaction of the Czechoslovak regime to the Polish events of 1980-1981. The leadership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCz) viewed the developments in Poland as a direct threat, paid extraordinary attention to them, and made considerable efforts to influence them.

We should say at the outset, however, that it is only possible to reconstruct in part the Czechoslovak Communist regime's reaction to the developments in Poland of that time as the relevant archival sources have not yet been sorted and filed and are still not wholly accessible. I have been able to use some documents from the archive of the CPCz Central Committee (CC), primarily materials from meetings of the Presidium. While the minutes of individual meetings are missing, basic documentation, e.g., various memoranda, notes of meetings with delegations from other communist parties are preserved. Documents of the Ministry of the Interior and materials from the Ministry of National Defense or the Czechoslovak Army are only partially available. For this reason, the military measures had to be reconstructed not only from primary documents, but from other sourcesspecifically oral history, and some documents produced after 1992 within the framework of the parliamentary commission that investigated abuses by the Czechoslovak Army during the Communist period, inter alia in relation to Poland in the years 1980-1981.

The CPCz and its leadership closely monitored the developments in Poland from the very beginning of the strike movement. Documents from the file of General Secretary Gustáv Husák contain a wide variety of detailed material about the situation in Poland (several analyses, reports about individual events, programs of opposition groups, and news about workers' activities). The digests of selected information put together by the CC apparatus and designated for the highest CPCz functionaries also devoted continuous attention to events in Poland. Beginning in August 1980, when the bulletins first reported rumors circulating especially in northern Moravia of impending Polish price rises, until 1982, these internal party information bulletins contained a section of information devoted to Polish developments and their reverberations in Czechoslovakia. Citizens' reactions to

the rumors and events as documented in the bulletins were not positive for the Czechslovak regime. The information spoke of fears about a decline in living standards, tales of imminent military actions against Poland that would include the Czechoslovak army, and the concerns of parents whose sons were serving in the military (especially in December 1980). The information also refered to the appearance of graffiti slogans such as “Solidarity with Solidarity," and "Wałęsa is a hero," etc.* By the end of August 1980, the organs of the Czechoslovak Ministry of the Interior recommended certain preventive measures even before the signing of the Gdańsk agreement. The Czechoslovak media monitored Polish events very closely, although they reported them, of course, in a decidedly distorted and negative manner.

Noteworthy, for instance, are the pages of the CPCz daily Rudé právo which, in the second half of 1980 and throughout 1981, printed material about Poland practically every day, often running more than one story. A mere perusal of the headlines indicates very clearly in what direction the regime's propaganda attempted to orient Czechoslovak public opinion. The headlines were full of negative terms such as violence, disruption, provocation, vandalism, and hooliganism, suggesting to readers dangerous and risky developments. Other headlines reflected the regime's attempts to characterize Solidarity's progress as the result of foreign manipulation: “Together with the BND [West German Intelligence Service) against Poland," "Who does the White House applaud?," "Who does Wall Street applaud?,” “With the blessing of the Vatican,” “The directives come from Paris,” “The CIA pays for Wałęsa's union.” Other articles documented the regime's not entirely unsuccessful attempts to call to mind the catastrophic economic situation in Poland, to link it to the actions of Solidarity, and, against this background, to emphasize the relatively tolerable economic situation at home.7

It is also possible to reconstruct fairly accurately the attitude of the Czechoslovak Communist Party leadership towards events in Poland. Its attitude is reflected in a whole range of documents—in the speeches delivered at the sessions of the CPCz CC where evaluations of the Polish developments were presented, mainly by the leader of the Central Committee's International Relations Department, Vasil Bilak; in talks which leading CPCZ functionaries conducted with their Polish counterparts and with representatives of other communist parties. Especially important are the two extensive presentations of Gustáv Husák at the joint meetings of the leaders of East European Communist parties in Moscow in November

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1980 and May 19818 and the letter addressed by the CC CPCz to the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP) CC in June 1981.9

The CPCz leadership evaluated the situation in Poland as a counterrevolution prepared and controlled by international imperialist centers and by secret counterrevolutionary centers in the country itself. They believed that these centers were exploiting the severe economic situation, the workers' dissatisfaction and—as was heavily emphasized the serious mistakes of the Polish leadership. This evaluation may be illustrated by a few key sentences from Bilak's speeches. According to him, the anti-socialist plan began with the election of a Pole as Pope:

“The choice of Krakow bishop (Karol] Wojtyła for Pope was not an accident, nor was it due to the fact that he had been endowed with supernatural qualities. It was part of a plan worked out by the United States with the aim of attacking another socialist country... It is necessary to realize that on the basis of the defeat of counterrevolution in Czechoslovakia, the centers of international imperialism advanced to the view that they could only hope for success if they managed to take advantage of the mass dissatisfaction of the workers, focusing their plans in practice on factories and plants... The current representatives of the antisocialist forces who stand before the public, such as Lech Wałęsa for example, are not the main organizers. There exists in the background a driving center which so far cannot be revealed."10_ “What is happening in Poland is a great crime being committed against socialism and the Polish people. The blame lies both with the forces of counter-revolution and in those who have made it possible for imperialism to turn Poland into a detonator of socialist society.”'

gospel up to 1989) were obligatory in all meetings with Polish colleagues, with the main emphasis on the recommendation to act decisively, not to fear the risks, and to overthrow the counterrevolution. The resolute and violent repression of public protests on the first anniversary of the Warsaw Pact intervention in August 1969 was often held up as a model."2 Husák himself based his whole presentation at the Moscow meeting on 5 December 1980 on the exposition of the Czechoslovak crisis, and sought a parallel with the unfolding developments in Poland.

It is interesting that the Czechoslovak Communists sometimes spoke of their comrades in the PUWP leadership with a certain disrespect. It was not simply a matter of repeatedly stressing their disagreement with PUWP policies; in materials prepared for meetings of the CPCz CC Presidium there were a number of unflattering comments aimed at individual PUWP functionaries. It is extraordinary to see such material in the records of meetings with representatives of other Communist parties and in internal Party documents. For example, in the notes of a meeting of a Czechoslovak delegation led by CPCz CC Presidium member Karel Hoffmann in Warsaw in March 1981,'3 we find the following comments on Stanisław Kania: “During Comrade Hoffmann's remarks one could notice Comrade Kania nervously shifting in his seat while his facial expressions betrayed his disagreement and dissatisfaction." According to the report, "the exposition and certain further statements by Comrade Kania bear witness to the fact that he idealizes the situation and [they) also contain claims which are simply in conflict with reality."!4

Representatives of other Communist parties in the Soviet bloc spoke similarly about the Polish leaders in conversations with Czechoslovak representatives." In the Czechoslovak case however, the fact that the situation of 1968, which the CPCz representatives still remembered, now seemed to be reversed, played an important role. The events of 1968 had evidently lowered the prestige and worsened the standing of the CPCz inside the Soviet bloc. 16 Now it was as if that dishonor had at last been erased. The Czechoslovak leaders now advised, instructed, made their own experience available, and offered their help. Revenge for 1968, malicious joy, and appeal to antiPolish sentiments was also an unspoken, unconscious part of the regime's propaganda with a view of rallying support among Czechoslovak society. That Czechoslovaks should turn against Solidarity and the Poles because the Polish Army had taken part in the intervention of August 1968 certainly was a very perverse logic. Nevertheless the regime tried to imbue this idea in the units assembled for possible deployment on Polish territory at the end of 1980. The Czechoslovak leadership also tried to influence Polish developments and to aid the PUWP in its struggle against the opposition. Economic, propaganda, military and security measures were taken primarily within the framework of closer cooperation and coordination with

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Above all, Czechoslovak representatives accused the Polish leadership of pursuing an incorrect economic policy, which had led to a high debt with the West; and of acting irresolutely in the resulting crisis, of being willing to compromise too much, and of being unable to regain the initiative. Such critical judgements were not leveled equally at all members of the Polish leadership. Full trust was still placed in PUWP Politburo members Stefan Olszowski and Tadeusz Grabski. While Stanisław Kania was severely criticized, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski earned respect only when he declared martial law in December 1981.

The CPCz leaders constantly compared the developments in Poland with the unfolding of the 19681969 Czechoslovak crisis. They sought and found analogies, and tried to apply their own experience in renewing control over Czechoslovak society to the Polish situation. Repeated reminders of “Lessons from the Critical Development in the Party and in Society” (a basic Party document issued by the leaders of the CPCz at the end of 1970, which evaluated and interpreted the Czechoslovak crisis, which the CPCz adhered to like

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other countries of the Eastern bloc; above all with those countries most affected by the Polish events—the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany.

Given the growing economic crisis in the country, the Polish leadership turned to their allies with requests for extraordinary aid. The greater part of such aid came from the Soviet Union, but Czechoslovakia also contributed. It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the crisis the CPCz leadership was much less inclined to accede to Polish requests than they were later on. As early as the end of August 1980, the Poles had requested emergency assistance. The Czechoslovak leadership complied, but only on a significantly reduced scale: instead of the requested 20 thousand tons of meat they promised to provide 2 thousand tons; instead of 8 thousand tons of butter they offered 1 to 1.5 thousand tons in exchange for an equivalent quantity of cheese; instead of the requested 20 tons of sugar, they offered to lend 5 thousand tons; and instead of 3 thousand tons of newsprint paper they agreed to lend 500 to 800 tons. 18 In November 1980, the CPCz CC Presidium agreed to Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev's suggestion of a temporary reduction of Soviet deliveries of oil to Czechoslovakia.'' But only after the declaration of martial law, “as an expression of the attempt to help the normalization of life in the country," was much larger-scale assistance offered: goods valued at more than 800 million Czechoslovak crowns, partly as a gift, the rest not to be accounted for until after 1982.20

The CPCz also tried to influence Polish developments through political contacts and propaganda. The exchange of delegations was intensified at various levels as were partnerships between towns, districts and regions. Every day Czechoslovak radio broadcast several hours of programs in Polish across the border (which were supposed to, according to Husák "comment on Polish events from our point of view”)21. Posters and leaflets, printed on Czechoslovak territory, “were directed against Solidarity."22 This activity had, however, as Husák himself admitted, “relatively little effect.”23 The regime also prepared far more direct measures—as seen for instance in the frequently repeated instructions to find Czechoslovak citizens with Polish language skills, especially journalists and broadcasters 24

The most important measures taken in response to the Polish crisis were of a military nature. Code-named “Exercise Krkonoše" [Krkonoše—or Giant mountainsare the frontier mountains between Poland and Czechoslovakia), these military measures reached their peak at the beginning of December 1980, when according to all indications, military intervention in Poland—with the Czechoslovak Army participating—seemed imminent. A lack of primary documents25 permits only cautious assumptions about these events. In general, rather than talking about certainties, we can only talk about great probabilities, based on indirect evidence. On the other hand there are widely preserved and published East German documents, 26 which allow us to place

Czechoslovak events in a wider context, and to interpret them fairly confidently.

On 1 December 1980, the Chief of the Czechoslovak Army's General Staff, General Colonel Miloslav Blahnik, participated in a quickly convened meeting in Moscow, in which the commanding officers of the East German and Polish Armies took part as well. The Chief of the Soviet General Staff, Marshal N.V. Ogarkov, acquainted them with the disposition of forces for a tactical and operational

a exercise. The ensuing preparations and actions were officially presented—at least as far as the Czechoslovak Army was concerned—as part of this common exercise. It is, however, probable, that the Poles (as well as the Czechoslovaks and East Germans) were not informed about the entire plan of operation, only aquainted with those parts which concerned them. After Blahník returned from Moscow, a meeting of the leading ministerial and Army functionaries took place on December 2, as a result of which plans were speedily prepared for the proposed exercise.

The ČSSR would provide two Czechoslovak tank divisions—the 1st and 9th-reinforced by two motor rifle regiments and other units, under the command of the officers and staff of the Western Military District. The 31st tank division of the Central Group of Soviet Forces stationed in Czechoslovakia would also participate. According to the plan, these divisions would at first move up to the Polish border in Northern and Eastern Bohemia and later, in the second part of the exercise, move into Poland. The signal to cross the border was to be given by the General Staff of the Soviet Army. At this point the exercises were to continue, supposedly with the participation of Polish Army units. The target area for the movement of the 1st tank division was the territory north of Opole; the 9th division would advance to the space south of Katowice; and the 31st tank division of the Soviet Army to east of Cracow. The commencement of the exercise was set for 3 p.m. on December 6. In preparation, a special group led by General Major Jaroslav Gottwald, the deputy commander of the Western Military District, carried out a reconnaissance mission on Polish territory. 27

On December 6 at 5 p.m., “Exercise Krkonoše” commenced with the announcement of a military alert. During the night of December 6-7 troop movement began. It was completed in the evening (instead of the morning as originally planned) of December 8. The 1st division moved to its exercise ground in North Bohemia and the 9th division was moved into the area of the towns of Jaromer, Kolín, Cáslav and Pardubice and prepared for a further movement to Náchod, on the Polish border. On December 9, Minister of National Defense Martin Dzúr suddenly terminated the exercise, and ordered all the formations to return to their peace-time positions. By December 11, all troops had returned to their barracks.

It is only possible to speculate about what this unfinished operation could mean. It is certain, however, that it was not a normal tactical-operational exercise

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although the responsible ministerial and army

“critical deterioration of the situation in Poland." functionaries of that time might have said otherwise. “extraordinary security measures of the third level” were Moreover, the documents of the time do not speak of an managed by the Federal Minister of the Interior (Jaromír “exercise", but of an "action," "operation," or of “Special Obzina), from December 5 at 4 p.m., and extended on Task Krkonoše.” No exercises of such scale were ever December 8 to 6 a.m. On December 9, however, they prepared or planned in the short period of a few days. were down-graded, and on December 16 called off.33 Much larger quantities of munitions, fuel, spare parts, and Lieutenant Colonel Šobán reported on December 11 at a other supplies were made available than would have been meeting of the operational staff at the Regional necessary for the declared purpose of an exercise lasting a Department of the Corps of National Security Ostrava: few days. Moreover, the assembled forces were fully war- “The advance of the Warsaw Pact against Poland reached capable and prepared to fulfill tasks in a tactical and a halt; time was given for the PUWP CC to realize the operational depth covering the territory of Poland.

conclusions of the 7th Plenium.”34 Additionally, exceptional political and counter-intelligence It is clear that “Operation Krkonoše" could not have measures were linked to “Exercise Krkonoše.” The been a normal exercise. Whether it was the preparation for political apparatus and the military counter-intelligence an intervention, an act of pressure on the Polish leadership, departments of participating units were brought up to or an attempt to provide the Polish leadership with the wartime numbers. Soldiers with assumed "negative" means for sudden action against the opposition is not political attitudes were removed from their units and left possible to say for certain without access to Soviet behind on their home bases. It is also noteworthy that documents. The number of units described in the units used in “Exercise Krkonoše” belonged to front-line Czechoslovak (and also East German)35 documents—5-6 units of the Czechoslovak Army, which formed more than Soviet divisions, 2 reinforced Czechoslovak divisions, and one third of the border defense between Czechoslovakia 1 reinforced East German division—would certainly not and West Germany. Their sudden displacement to the have been sufficient for the first alternative. In that case, North and the East left the Western border of

however, it is possible that the main tasks could have been Czechoslovakia, and therefore part of the Warsaw Pact, carried out by troops of the Baltic, Belorussian, and temporarily undefended. This too points to the unusual Carpathian Military Districts of the Soviet Army,36 and character of the whole operation.

that state leaders and army commanders (who would have Constituting a special chapter in this story are the played only a partial role) were not provided with activities of a group of Czechoslovak Army officers on complete information. In any case, the military operation Polish territory on December 4-5. A similar group of East was terminated before it was fully developed—and it was German Army officers was operating in the northwestern terminated from the place that the orders had come, that is, part of Poland during this same time period.28 These well- the military and political leadership of the USSR. The documented reconnaisance missions by the Czechoslovak course and dynamics of the military and security operation and East German armies cast strong doubts on the claims in Czechoslovakia in December 1980 seem to indicate, by the Chief of Staff of the Warsaw Pact Joint Command, however, that the principal decision to terminate the General Anatoly Gribkov, that in December 1980 no plans operation did not come on December 5, immediately after existed for “allied” troops to enter Polish territory and that the summit in Moscow, as Gen. Jaruzelski,37 or Stanisław in no instance did a single foreign soldier cross the Polish Kania, 38 for example, have argued, but apparently some frontier.29 The official task of the group was to reconnoiter time later. 39 for the needs of the units on exercise, and to provide

It is not easy to reconstruct precisely the position of liaison with the Polish units meant to be participating in the CPCz leadership in December 1980 regarding the the exercise. In reality, however, its tasks were mainly of possibility of military intervention. In the records of the a military-political character. They reported on the

CPCz CC Presidium, no material has survived concerning professional and political character of selected officers in a debate on this problem. On December 2 it was decided the Silesian military district of the Polish Army, as well as to send a delegation to Moscow for a key meeting per on their views about a resolution to the political crisis in rollam, without convening a session of the Presidium. The Poland. Units of the Silesian military district supposed to corresponding decision, included in the minutes of a be preparing for the joint exercises did not show up. The meeting of the Presidium on December 8, only states the commander of the district, General Rapaczewicz, issued make-up of the Czechoslovak delegation.40 The no instructions for bilateral meetings and his deputy, Presidium certainly discussed the Polish situation and the General Wilczynski, who waited to meet the Czechoslovak Czechoslovak point of view at the forthcoming summit; group at the border on December 4, was not informed as to only indirect information, however, is contained in the the purpose of their visit. 30

record of conversation between East German Premier That this was not just an ordinary exercise is also Willy Stoph, who was in Prague December 2 and 3, and evident from the concurrently implemented measures by Gustáv Husák. According to the SED minutes, Husák the Ministry of the Interior, which explicitly referred to informed Stoph that the CPCz CC Presidium had “the events in Polish People's Republic"31 or the possible discussed Poland and reached the same conclusions as the

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SED Politburo. The December 2 SED Politburo meeting's conclusions sounded ominous, however they authorized Erich Honecker to agree to whatever measures the situation called for. In other words, Honecker received a blank check to consent to anything, including eventual intervention.2 One can speculate only to a limited extent as to the position of the CPCz leadership. All things considered, however, it seems the CPCz leadership was less active and less decisive than that of the SED. It could also be significant that the Czechoslovak delegation at the Moscow meeting was comprised of only political functionaries—in contrast to the East German delegation, which also included the ministers of national defense and state security. Husák's speech in Moscowt} was not as pointed as Honecker's.- Husák did not speak openly of a military solution (neither did anyone else). Nevertheless, according to the testimony of Stanisław Kania,45 his awareness of the gravity of the situation even brought tears to Husák's eyes at one point in his speech. As the military and police measures carried out indicate, the CPCZ leadership evidently would have complied with and was prepared to take part in an eventual decision to intervene. The plans for implementing "Operation Krkonoše," remained valid beyond December 1980, and the units assembled to carry it out were kept in a state of readiness until 1982.

The operations of the security apparatus were less striking, but just as long-term and important as the military operations. They were aimed not just at Poland, but also at the Czechoslovak population with the goal of eliminating potential public sympathies for the Polish developments. As early as 29 August 1980, the regional police commands had received circulars warning them that U.S. and West German special services were trying to encourage Czechoslovaks to act in solidarity with the striking workers in Poland. In the following days and weeks, frequent monitoring and analysis of the situation in Poland showed an attempt to evaluate the exact nature of the situation there. For example, on 3 September 1980 Czechoslovak police received instruction on how to secure contacts with agents of the State Security service in the event that they found themselves in a situation comparable to that of their Polish counterparts in which Polish agents were isolated in striking plants and had lost contact with their directing organs. 46 Other measures were concerned with: increasing the security of state borders; controlling opposition figures; controlling Czechoslovak citizens of Polish nationality, and Polish citizens working in Czechoslovakia; and limiting travel and tourism in Poland.

Particularly intense activity by the security units occurred twice during the “extraordinary third level security alert:" first, from the 5 to 6 December 1980; and second, during the period of martial law, specifically from 13 December 1981 to 4 January 1982, which the Czechoslovak security organs were informed of beforehand.47 At that time various other measures were taken. High functionaries of the state security and the

police were "on call," special public order units were in operation, control of state borders increased (as did the control of Poles on Czechoslovak territory), movements of foreign diplomats were followed more intensely, and counter-intelligence provided protection for the Polish consulate in Ostrava. Special attention was paid in December 1980 to securing communication channels in connection with the movement of Czechoslovak Army units to the Polish border. In December 1981, Czechoslovak Security forces attempted to prevent any utterances of solidarity with Solidarity or the Polish opposition. The chief of the operational staff, Deputy Interior Minister Major General Hrušecky, emphasized, "pay attention to the activities of unfriendly persons (especially Chartists (members of Charter 77) and members of VONS (Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted]). Do not permit any kind of protest against the measures taken by the state organs of the Polish People's Republic to neutralize the counterrevolution. Immediately arrest anybody attempting to protest, or preparing to do so."48 He also talked about “sending picked secret collaborators to Poland” and again about preparing linguistically qualified members of the Interior Ministry for deployment in Poland. All these measures were actually implemented, and further actions were also planned in the event the situation in Poland should worsen.

The Czechoslovak regime could not, however, completely obstruct acts of solidarity with Solidarity and the Polish opposition. Charter 77 reacted to developments in Poland by publishing a wide range of documents, which expressed solidarity with the Polish striking workers, criticized Czechoslovak media coverage of Polish events, raised concerns about the movement of Czechoslovak Army units to the Polish border, and protested against the imposition of martial law.49

The wider public followed developments in Poland with interest and visible sympathy. It speaks to the success of the regime, however, that no important public manifestations of solidarity with the Polish opposition took place in Czechoslovakia in 1980-1981. Gustáv Husák was essentially right, when in talks in Moscow on 16 May 1981 he proudly declared that "there exists no danger that the masses (in Czechoslovakia) would support it (i.e. the Solidarity movement in Poland)... We are not

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