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Relations with Communist Nations

Central to Czechoslovakia's relations with communist nations in the late 1980s was its relationship with the Soviet Union. In his address to the Seventeenth Party Congress in March 1986, Husak reasserted the importance Czechoslovakia attaches to its alliance with the Soviet Union. The party chief reconfirmed the "lasting significance of the alliance, friendship, and cooperation with the USSR for vital interests of the Czechoslovak people and for safeguarding the security of our state." That alliance, which Husak described as "based on mutual respect and understanding and on the identity of views between our communist parties on all the fundamental questions," represents the "safeguard on which we rest all our plans and perspectives."

Soviet influence in Czechoslovak foreign affairs was institutionalized after 1948 through the economic alliance of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), founded in 1949, and the Warsaw Pact military alliance, founded in 1955 and renewed in 1985 (see Appendix B; Appendix C). The framework for Soviet influence was expanded with the 1968 introduction of the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine of limited sovereignty and the 1970 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Devised as a Soviet justification of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Brezhnev Doctrine asserts the right of military intervention by Warsaw Pact forces whenever one of the member countries is perceived by Moscow to be threatened either internally or externally, or whenever events in one of these nations are perceived to endanger the socialist alliance. Shortly after the invasion, Czechoslovak officials effectively endorsed the doctrine when they explained that the Warsaw Pact troops "decided to render internationalist assistance to Czechoslovakia" after receiving appeals for help from "party and state leaders, communists, and working people of Czechoslovakia." The 1970 friendship treaty, among other provisions, legitimized the invasion and the ongoing stationing of Soviet troops on Czechoslovak soil and bound Czechoslovakia to support any war engaged in by the Soviets.

Since coming to power in 1969, the Husak regime has pursued one fundamental objective in its relations with the Soviet Union: to maintain its position as a loyal ally and a staunch defender of Soviet policies. In pursuing this goal, Czechoslovak officials have downplayed any distinct Czechoslovak foreign policy interests that may have existed and instead have adopted Soviet interests as their own. Whereas other East European communist regimes on numerous occasions in the 1970s and 1980s adopted foreign policy positions that differed from those of the Soviets, the Husak regime has consistently echoed the Soviet stance.

Probably the most pressing issue affecting Czechoslovakia's relations with the Soviet Union in the late 1980s was trade. In 1986 trade with the Soviets constituted almost 50 percent of Czechoslovakia's total trade (see Foreign Trade , ch. 3). Heavily dependent on the Soviet Union for energy, Czechoslovakia was hard hit by the rising cost of Soviet energy exports. Domestic economic problems, such as declining productivity, low investment, and corruption, made it difficult for Czechoslovakia to produce high-quality exports for the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia's response to these trends was to advocate even further integration of the Comecon network and particularly the Soviet and Czechoslovak economies.

Czechoslovakia conducted its relations with the other communist nations of Eastern Europe largely through the multilateral facilities of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. The Prague government was a proponent of the integration of both the economies and the foreign policies of the nations of the region, and it pursued this goal through the mechanisms of Comecon and the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Warsaw Pact.

Bilateral relations between Czechoslovakia and the communist nations of Eastern Europe were, in large part, a reflection of their respective relations with the Soviet Union. East Germany, which shared the vision of Soviet-dominated "proletarian internationalism" and was the most ardent critic of the Dubcek regime during the 1970s, became Czechoslovakia's closest friend in Eastern Europe. Poland, with which Czechoslovakia shares a border of some 600 kilometers, was another close friend of the Husak regime through the 1970s. The development of independent trade unions and the demand for economic and political reform in Poland in 1980-81 led to strains in the otherwise amicable relations between the two countries. Labor strife in Poland concerned Czechoslovak authorities primarily for two reasons: Poland's port of Szczecin served as Czechoslovakia's main sea outlet, and strikes there disrupted Czechoslovak exports and imports; but, even more important, officials feared that labor unrest in Poland would spill over into Czechoslovakia. The mining area around Ostrava, which was close to the Polish border and inhabited by a sizable Polish minority, was of special concern, and some labor difficulty was reported in the area in late 1980. Czechoslovak officials feared that dissident intellectuals and workers in Czechoslovakia might unite in their support of the working-class dissidents in Poland.

Not surprisingly, Czechoslovakia became the East European nation loudest in its denunciation of Poland's deviation from socialist unity. At the Sixteenth Party Congress in April 1981, Husak harshly criticized the independent labor unions and their leadership and blamed the "antisocialist" forces abroad for encouraging the "counterrevolutionaries" inside Poland. He pledged support for fellow Polish communists but withheld explicit support for the Polish party or its leadership. The Czechoslovak leadership applauded the December 1981 imposition of martial law in Poland, referring to it as a necessary act of self-defense. Once martial law was established, Czechoslovakia ceased its criticism of Poland and instead turned its attention to resolving bilateral issues, primarily Czechoslovak-Polish trade.

Romania refused to participate with its fellow Warsaw Pact members in the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Instead, it loudly condemned the action and, as a result, had less cordial relations with the Husak regime than with other Warsaw Pact members. Yugoslavia too condemned the invasion, and the Yugoslav ideological stance has evoked constant criticism from Prague, although trade relations between the two states have continued. Albania also condemned the invasion, using it as a pretext to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. Albania's ideological dispute with Moscow precluded the development of normal relations with Czechoslovakia.

Likewise, commercial relations with China, which were active until 1964, were strained thereafter by the Sino-Soviet dispute and by China's condemnation of the 1968 Warsaw Pact action. In the 1980s, Czechoslovakia's relations with China began to improve as both nations sought to expand bilateral trade as a first step toward improving political ties.

Czechoslovakia has remained active in its relations with nations of the Third World, especially socialist nations and what is termed "the national liberation struggles in Asia, Africa, and Latin America." Although Czechoslovakia had political and trade relations with the whole gamut of Third World communist nations during the mid-1980s, its relations were especially close (perhaps because of relative geographic proximity) with Ethiopia, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, and the Mongolian People's Republic. Of Soviet-aligned but noncommunist countries, Syria and Libya were particularly close to Czechoslovakia. Of the "national liberation movements," the Palestine Liberation Organization and the insurgents in southern Africa were especially favored by Prague. Czechoslovak relations with the communist Third World typically involved political and military cooperation, trade, and economic and technological cooperation.

Data as of August 1987

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