In this world of ours, little nations must not be seen to triumph over great powers. Otherwise, there can be no triumph.
That was how one Czechoslovak leader explained the mood of Prague last week. In the aftermath of their victory over the Soviets at Cierna and Bratislava, Czechoslovakia's rulers were carefully masking their jubilation. In the showdown, Dubček had had an unusual weapon in reserve. It was a promise from the Communist world's first successful rebel, Marshal Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, to fly to Prague on three hours' notice if Dubček needed help in facing down the Soviets. As it turned out, Dubček was quite capable of handling the Kremlin phalanx at the summit meetings on his own. But it was nonetheless fitting that Tito should journey last week to Prague to share in the Czechoslovaks' victory and to receive the grateful thanks of Dubček and his people.
Tito received a hero's welcome. As he stepped from his Ilyushin-18 turboprop at Prague's airport, pretty girls in Moravian and Bohemian costumes pressed bouquets of carnations into his arms. In counterpoint to a thunderous 21-gun salute, thousands of Czechoslovaks chanted "Tito! Tito! Tito!" The route to the city was packed with thousands more, waving Yugoslav flags. At Prague's Hradčany Castle, Tito's residence during his two-day visit, a huge crowd kept up a continual clamor until Tito finally appeared on a balcony. "Long live Czechoslovak and Yugoslav friendship!" he shouted. The people roared their approval.
No Secret Deals. In the eyes of ordinary Czechoslovaks, Tito's visit put seal and confirmation on the reality of their triumph at Cierna in defense of their new freedoms. Until he arrived, many Czechoslovaks had found the sudden letup in Soviet pressure almost too good to be believed. Young Czechoslovaks milled around Prague's Jan Hus monument, puzzling over what had happened. The nagging suspicion lingered that their leaders had undertaken a secret sellout to the Soviets that only later would become apparent. Those fears were reinforced by the fact that Dubček and his colleagues purposefully played down the scope of their victory in order to be able to keep it. They seemed grimly determined not to antagonize Russia by gloating.
In fact, only after Dubček sensed the extent of the nation's misgivings did he and other leaders publicize the real significance of the showdown. Six thousand party workers from all across the country were called into Prague for briefings on the conferences. The press, which had been asked by the regime to tone down its anti-Soviet polemics, ran reassuring editorials. "The sovereignty of Czechoslovakia has remained and will remain untouched," wrote Lidová Demokracie, a Prague daily. Dubček, again on radio and TV, spoke to his people. "Fears about any secret deal are unfounded," he declared.
Lesson from Stalin. Tito's visit, and the response it elicited, no doubt infuriated the Soviets, worried as they are about the consequences of the Czechoslovak precedent elsewhere in Eastern Europe.