2. 11. 2009
Oldřich Černík (1921 - 1994)
It was a period during which hopes for greater freedom and prosperity were exchanged by a shock of the Soviet invasion and the "restoration of order". Oldřich Černík contributed to all that as an active participant. Although he became after 1968 an initiator and executor not very brilliant political decisions, he will be always connected in the Czech national memory with the Prague Spring and the charismatic Alexandr Dubček.
At the beginning of 1968 the forty-six-year old metallurgical engineer Černík (born on 27 October 1921) was holding the position of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chairman of the State Planning Commission. However from the point of view of the power structure of the communist regime, far more important function was his position in the presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Černík had the lion's share in the fall of the long-standing President and the Secretary-General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Antonín Novotný, who had to resign on 5 January 1968 from the post of the leader of the Communist Party. Thus, a space was created for a new political course of the Communist Party which intended to carefully "democratize" public sphere and to make state economy more effective. It was Alexandr Dubček who replaced Novotný at his position. After Dubček's election a complicated process of strengthening of powers was started which resulted in the exchange of persons at the highest positions. Together with Dubček, Černík was actively involved in the new composition of the Central Committee's presidium which was the most powerful organ in the country. When Novotný definitely fell, as a consequence of so-called "Šejna affair" and Ludvík Svoboda became the President; the presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party decided that Černík would be a new Prime Minister.
The Černík's government was appointed on 8 April 1968 and although many people remained at their positions it was a group of advocates of systemic changes. At certain ministries appeared even such ministers who did not have trust of the Moscow regime (e.g. Josef Pavel at the Ministry of Interior). The Programme Declaration of the Government was based on the Action Programme of the Communist Party, which – in the compliance with the Constitution – did not change the principle of the communist monopoly of power, but it promised – also in compliance with the Constitution – respecting civil rights and freedoms. Černík was acting in accordance with that model. On the one hand he ensured that the government decisions were subordinated to those of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, on the other hand the Černík's government, on the strength of a strong pressure of the public opinion, prepared two key laws which were directly against so-called leading role of the Communist Party or which doubted it, at least: It concerned the Act of Judicial Rehabilitation and the amendment to the Press Act, which were adopted by the Parliament on 24–26 June 1968. The government also started extensive preparation for the federalization of the state and tried to restart stagnating economic reform.
A permanent factor of the Prague Spring became a strong pressure of Moscow which started from March 1968 and culminated in armed intervention. Together with Alexandr Dubček and Vasil Bilak, Černík took part in all the negotiations with Soviet leaders. Nevertheless, as both Dubček and Černík were amateurs in this respect, they did not identified threat in time, although they could have deduced it from frequent signs. As he wrote in his short memories "we did not realize, and we did not admitted that something like that could happen".
During that dramatic night from 20 to 21 August 1968 Černík helped to push through the resolution of the presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party which condemned the intervention of five states of the Warsaw Pact and then he was seized in the seat of the Office of the Government by a Soviet commando. In the morning the occupants abducted the Czechoslovak Prime Minister and other five members of the presidium to the Soviet territory. Two days later Černík was transported to Kremlin where he took part in three-day negotiations with Soviet representatives. All the time he defended principles of the Action Programme and refused the occupation of Czechoslovakia. However, after rough and expressly gangster-like pressure of Brezhnev and other Soviet representatives who openly threatened that they would massacre civil inhabitants, he signed so-called Moscow Protocol that can be interpreted as a capitulation.
In spite of the fact that he was considering resignation after his return to his mother country, he did not resign to his position of the Prime Minister. In common with Dubček he was facing to numerous pleading calls of his friends who were persuading him that he could not leave his position upon his own decision. There was fear of chaotic development and political lawsuits. That is why Černík remained and because he promised in the Moscow protocol the withdrawal of Soviet army after "normalization of the situation", he began act accordingly. He thought that he would safe residuum of the reform efforts, in particular the economic reform.
In September 1968 Černík as the Prime Minister was directly involved in restoration of censorship of media and in establishment of the Office for Press and Information – censorship office. At the instigation of his government, three laws were adopted by the Parliament by means of which civil rights and freedoms gained in spring months were reduced. As one of the first, or perhaps the first one, he agreed to "temporary" placement of Soviet troops in Czechoslovak territory and prepared an international treaty in this respect. Thus, he began regarded by the Moscow politburo as a crown prince. In spring 1969 Brezhnev offered to Černík the position of the Secretary-General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party after Alexandr Dubček. Černík immediately refused it and recommended Husák. According to his later statement, he hoped Husák to make a similar policy to that of Kádár in Hungary.
After Dubček's fall, Černík actively cooperated in preparation of all repressive measures of the new Husák´s communist leadership. In particular, as the Prime Minister he was at the head of the police machinery which was to suppress and which really suppressed expected demonstrations on the occasion of the first anniversary of the August events. On account of his function he signed legal measures of the Presidium of the Federal Assembly no. 99/1969 Coll. based on which people who protested on the occasion of the first anniversary of the August events were arrested, expelled from universities or dismissed. In September 1969, upon a direct impulse of Brezhnev, he publicly repudiated Dubček and spitted on his participation in democratization reforms of the Prague Spring.
Then, paradoxically, the Černík's star began to uncontrollably fall. For direct adherents to the Moscow regime, Černík was too apparent symbol of the Prague Spring and their personal degradation. Although Černík was trying to hold up at the top at any cost, Husák let him fall in January 1970. Thus the twenty-months-long period of the Černík's prime minister carrier ended. In the following period he was making his living as an economic director of the Standardization Institute in Prague.
As late as after his expulsion from the Communist party in spring 1970 he said on his after-invasion activities in personal discussion with Zdeněk Mlynář: "I lost both my position and credit".
Author: Jiří Hoppe
Institute for Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences