INT: So the writers... the '67 writers' congress.
EG: '67, well it was taken up with the censorship because it proved to be even worse than the illegal one, and secondly there was... it came to an outburst of criticism, because by that time things were far enough to enable the writers to speak out very clearly and they did...
EG: You see, because ever since '56, there were two young philosophers in '56 who immediately started publishing very critical articles in Literali Novyni Karol Kosik and Ivan Svitak , and they were immediately punished. Kosik had to go for a year into a factory and Svitak was expelled from the party and well, pushed on the edges of society so to speak. But, as I said, there was an element of uncertainty which entered the heads of our rulers after '56 and they tried ever again... ever... and again to push back the progress of freedom, but they didn't succeed any more. We made two steps forward and we were repressed by one step, but we gained one step always.
INT: That was a deliberate policy on your part?
EG: There was a deliberate policy to probe so to speak the frontiers of our freedom ,or our un-freedom, and to push that frontiers a little bit further off, to create a larger space for free expression, a free life....
INT: So when it came to '67, that continuing as it were campaign you'd had, was able to be pushed...
EG: Oh, by the sixties, you see sixties there was a congress and after the congress the party leadership decided it cannot tolerate that and it must punish the writers. The congress took part in June and there were summer holidays and in September the next meeting of the party Central Committee had on its program the punishment of the writers. They singled out four of them, who were member of the party to punish them and the fifth, who was proposed to be chairman of the writers union, Brokaska , and they punished them by expelling Brokaska from the Central Committee by expelling three writers of the party and cautioning the fourth, [inaudible] and the main thing was, they took away Literali Novyni from the writers' union and put it under the direction of the Minister of Culture, who was Mr. Hoffman, one of those who are now being accused of high treason because of that meeting by Chervonenko in '68. He was later on... he was at that time Minister of Culture, but later on he became the head of the media and in the night of the invasion in '68, he tried to prevent the publication of the party Presidium's protest against the invasion. Karol Hoffman.
INT: So once Dubcek had consolidated his position in January 1968, how did you... what did you think might happen, what did you hope might come out of that?
EG: Oh we knew that a new era was being introduced on that fifth of January where at last, after three months of discussions, Novotny was deposed and Dubcek elected. We knew that a new era is coming that... because that was the criticism of the leadership... of Novotny's leadership went in the direction of economic reform and democratization of the whole public life. And Dubcek was the candidate of those who advocated these steps, this program and we knew... I remember on the fifth of January when at last Dubcek was elected, the then director of the Czechoslovak Television, [inaudible], and myself were at lunch at the Canadian embassy in Prague and came out. [Inaudible] went to the next telephone booth and asked whether a decision has already been taken and we learned that Dubcek was elected. And we were full of joy, because that was what, the frontier point of a new departure, a starting point of a new departure.
INT: Now did you think that it went further, that once that sort of longing for freedom had been a found, expression, were there difficulties because there were people who were demanding more freedom?
EG: Of course, of course.
INT: Can you describe that tension between what was possible for the leadership and what people wanted...
EG: Well, you see, that has a very nice Czech little detail to it. The Central Committee elected Dubcek, but as if it got scared of its own courage, it decided that on... in the public, it will pretend that nothing of importance happened, that they only took decisions to enabling them to better fulfil that was a sterile type formula, to better fulfil the resolutions of the last party congress. And the public did not learn anything, until a whole month, until at the beginning of February, one of the new leadership, Smkovsky, published an article in a daily paper, and even that, did not get great notice, get upsurge. But on the fourth of February, I had an interview in television, and I learned from that, that what is said on television has an immediate effect on the whole nation, because immediately I heard that in certain great Prague enterprises, the workers are being asked, to send in resolutions against me, that I committed a crime against the party discipline, that I talk about internal party matters in public and that the change for me was that I immediately telephoned to the party Secretary of that part of the town, Prague 9, and asked him to confirm to me those who signed those resolutions. And at that time, he couldn't say no any more. And I took a number of writers and film people and dramatists with me and we had a discussion for the first time. Because, you see, the regime, Novotny regime, was very careful to prevent the direct contact of intellectuals and the workers. Only those intellectuals could face the workers who were introduced by the party Secretariat or party leadership. And this was the breakthrough. that was a very large meeting and so on and with that meeting, started a whole series of meetings, of mass meetings from one end of the country to the other, where people came in hundreds and thousands to put questions and to listen to the answers. There were no speeches, no great... we...... group of intellectuals sat on a platform and were asked questions and replied. And people came in thousands and sat there for hours on end, in the greatest halls of the given locality. And if they didn't get in, they listened outside for hours on end, over midnight and so on, and that went on from one end of the country to the other. I, myself, took part in such meetings from Karlsbad to Mikelsovsa on the Soviet bord, in the East Slovakia.
INT: Can you spell out for us that was different?
EG: That was different because people suddenly realized that they can live more freely and they came very anxious to learn about the new enlarged boundaries of their lives, and whether it is really so. They asked me, and not only me, whether I can guarantee that and that and that and that, but I told them I can't guarantee anything, 'cos life doesn't guarantee anything. You cross the road, the street and, you know, a brick falls on your head. Nothing's guarant... But if there is a chance, you cannot get around it and not try to realize it. That was our chance.... we were naive and we were wrong in one basic assumption. We thought that the Soviet Union will after all realize that what we are trying to do is in the best interest of Socialism and our great mistake lies in our misjudging the Soviet Union, because the Soviet Union was not interested in Socialism primarily, but in power, in its imperial power. Here in Czech... in the country, we had all conditions, all presuppositions for a success in the democratization drive, because the country here was ready for it and supported it enthusiastically, you cannot imagine. Imagine the Czechs and Slovaks, whom you know as very... materialist people in the basic sense of the word, imagine those people who suddenly from their own will, started a movement to collect gold for the Treasure of the Republic and they collected millions, gold of millions of worth before the invasion came. You see, today, some politologues, let's say, are of the opinion that the whole Prague Spring was a sort of I don't know, squabble between two sorts of Communists within the Communist Party and nothing else. But in reality, it was a tremendous movement of the whole people, the whole country. The slowest in that movement, which... the slowest to come in was the working class, which I realized to my surprise, personally really, because they were most hesitant and they were... among them were the elements of the most conservative attitudes, which turned again, immediately, in favor of the occupation when it came. But that was a... you see that was... it was the last great attempt to reform the so-called Socialism of the Soviet making.
INT: I mean, at the time, you said you made a mistake and that's a retrospective view, at the time, it was ... did it matter that much what the Russians thought?
EG: Well, I asked in the middle of that Prague Spring, I asked one influential member of the Central Committee whether they think of what the Soviet Union will do. And he answered me very spontaneously, 'They'll have to accept it'.
INT: Which member of the Committee was that?
EG: Oh, well...
INT: Right. Yes. And that in fact was the attitude of the majority of the leadership, was it?
EG: (Interrupts) yes. The attitude was that sooner or later there will come to conclusion that something is happening here which is basically, ultimately in their interests. And it is true, because by suppressing that, when Brezhnev signed the order of his armies to march against us, he signed, historically taken, the death certificate of his system. Because after that, the system said, we shall not admit any reform and this went to pieces. Because if a system is... not viable enough and refuses reform, then it has to breakdown, disappear, and that's what happened.