Prague Embassy cable, Brutal Suppression of Czech Students' Demonstration
This official cable sets forth the reaction of the U.S. Embassy in Czechoslovakia to the events of November 17, 1989. Prague university students obtained official permission to commemorate this anniversary of the 1939 Nazi assault on Czech students, but they were forbidden to enter Wenceslas Square, the traditional site of anti-state protest. On that chilly evening, when peaceful demonstrators began moving towards the Square they found themselves surrounded by police units, which eventually broke up the crowds violently. In response, outraged student leaders and actors called for a nationwide protest strike. The aftermath of the November 17 demonstration completely surprised American officials. Despite the rapid acceleration of events elsewhere, Czechoslovakia had not yet experienced a jolt powerful enough to seriously shake the grip on power of the conservative Jakes government. The reaction to the crackdown forced U.S. officials to reconsider how long the regime could survive. According to the cable, possible future consequences included: divisions in leadership, popular outrage against the beating of young people, and the Soviet reaction. This last point was particularly relevant because of the recent humiliating visit to Moscow by Central Committee member Jan Fojtik, whom Gorbachev had snubbed to show his displeasure with Czechoslovakia's slow pace of change.
Prague Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "Brutal Suppression of Czech Students' Demonstration," 18 November 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).