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Relations with Noncommunist Nations and Multilateral Ties

In the spirit of detente of the 1970s, Czechoslovakia expanded and improved its relations with many noncommunist nations. These efforts were hindered by memories of the 1968 invasion, which continued to be condemned by virtually every nation outside the Soviet orbit. Another hindrance that appeared in the latter half of the decade and continued adversely to affect Czechoslovak foreign relations in the 1980s was its poor human rights record. Its repression of dissent, especially regarding Charter 77, brought wide condemnation from the noncommunist world and some Eurocommunists. Despite these problems, important strides were made in some areas. An improvement of relations with its two noncommunist neighbors, West Germany and Austria, was perhaps the most important step forward in Czechoslovak foreign policy during the decade.

Czechoslovak relations with West Germany have in many respects mirrored the state of East-West relations since World War II. The cold war and East German sensitivities precluded any diplomatic thaw until the late 1960s, when the Soviet Union began to promote contact between its allies and the West. Consultation between Czechoslovakia and West Germany began in October 1970 but proceeded slowly, largely because of differing views as to how to nullify the Munich Agreement, a source of Czechoslovak bitterness since 1938. A treaty was signed in December 1973 and implemented in July 1974 that declared the Munich Agreement immoral and null and void; proclaimed the territorial integrity of both countries and renounced the use of force or threats; and called for the development of cooperation in economy, science, technology, culture, antipollution measures, sports, and transportation. A long-term agreement was concluded in January 1975 covering economic, industrial, and technical cooperation, and a treaty on cultural cooperation was signed in April 1978.

Although these documents provided a framework for a wide range of improvements in relations, their implementation progressed slowly. Trade between the two countries increased (West Germany was Czechoslovakia's largest noncommunist trading partner), but disagreements continued to hinder political relations. In April 1978 the governments agreed that their foreign ministers would meet at least once a year, but meetings scheduled for 1979 and 1980 were canceled because of West German protests over trials of Czechoslovak human rights advocates and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. When the foreign ministers were finally able to meet in December 1980, international affairs prevailed over bilateral matters. Despite the fact that both parties expressed a desire to improve bilateral relations. The main subjects for discussion were the issues of detente, arms control, and concern for the territorial integrity of Poland. At a February 1983 meeting of foreign ministers, the deployment of new missiles in Western Europe and environmental protection were the principal topics discussed.

Relations with Austria, Czechoslovakia's neutral neighbor to the south, warmed considerably during the mid- and late 1970s. A December 1974 property-law settlement resolved claims that had severely damaged relations since World War II and paved the way for the raising of diplomatic relations to the embassy level. The March 1979 visit of Austria's president was the first presidential-level visit between the nations since the 1920s. Nevertheless, two years later a variety of problems continued to strain relations. These included the question of the reunion of families of Czechoslovak exiles in Austria, Austrian criticism of Czechoslovakia's treatment of dissidents, and a reported trade imbalance caused by the low quality of Czechoslovak exports.

In 1981 a planned visit to Austria by Husak was canceled because of Austrian objections to Czechoslovakia's treatment of Charter 77 members and the revelation that Czechoslovakia had sent intelligence agents to spy on Czechoslovak exiles in Austria. The visit eventually took place the following year, but Czechoslovak-Austrian relations remained difficult as new tensions arose. In a 1984 border incident, for example, Czechoslovak border guards mortally wounded a defector after he had reached Austrian soil and left him to die without notifying Austrian authorities. At a 1985 meeting, the Czechoslovak and Austrian foreign ministers agreed to work to improve relations. The following year, Austria's president visited Czechoslovakia, where he discussed with Husak efforts to establish closer bilateral ties.

Relations between Czechoslovakia and the United States had been very good during the interwar period of the First Republic. These relations were based on trade between two economically advanced nations, political affinities between the two democracies, and the presence of a large number of Czechoslovak immigrants and their descendants in the United States. After 1948, however, relations deteriorated rapidly, partly because of disagreements over the compensation for the property owned by Americans but seized or nationalized by the Czechoslovak government. Relations were somewhat better in the area of family reunification. Here, the United States succeeded in securing exit visas for some Czechoslovak citizens wishing to emigrate to the United States to join their families. Trade relations were modest, and it was anticipated that there would be no trade agreement until claims were settled. In the late 1980s, bilateral relations remained strained because of United States criticism of Prague's continued repression of human rights activists.

Bilateral relations with the rest of the noncommunist world focused on trade matters. After Western Europe, some of Czechoslovakia's most significant noncommunist trading partners included India, Iraq, and Indonesia. Politically, Czechoslovakia's relations with noncommunist nations mirrored the Soviet Union's relations with those same nations. For example, Czechoslovakia firmly aligned itself with the Arab cause against Israel in the Middle East and with black nationalists against South Africa.

Czechoslovakia's most important multilateral ties are with the member states of the Soviet-dominated Comecon and Warsaw Pact. In addition, Czechoslovakia is a founding member of the United Nations and has acted as an active proponent of the causes of the Soviet Union and its followers within that body. During 1978 and 1979 it served as a member of the Security Council. It has also been an active member of a large number of United Nations specialized agencies, including the International Labor Organization; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the World Health Organization; the Food and Agriculture Organization; and many others. Czechoslovakia also participates in the work of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and is a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Czechoslovakia participates with other Warsaw Pact members, the nations of Western Europe, and the United States in efforts to institutionalize East-West detente, including the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction negotiations.

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Of the few English-language books on Czechoslovak politics published during the 1980s, one that provides a good overview of Czechoslovak politics and government is Czechoslovakia: Profile of a Socialist Republic at the Crossroads of Europe by David W. Paul. In general, information on Czechoslovakia's internal politics and especially on its foreign relations is found in specific chapters of books on East European relations. For example, chapters in Soviet-East European Relations by Robert L. Hutchings and Soviet Influence in Eastern Europe by Christopher D. Jones address both domestic and foreign policy issues.

The best information sources for current events in Czechoslovakia are the Radio Free Europe Research Situation Report: Czechoslovakia, the Joint Publications Research Service East Europe Report, and the Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Report: Eastern Europe. The Radio Free Europe Research bulletins provide analyses of current events, as well as detailed background reports on political affairs. The East Europe Report and Daily Report: Eastern Europe include translations of broadcast announcements and important articles from key newspapers and journals currently published in Czechoslovakia. Finally, the United States Central Intelligence Agency Directory of Czechoslovak Officials is a valuable reference aid and is updated periodically. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of August 1987

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Czechoslovakia Table of Contents