From the archives: Czechs Relegate Communist Party to Minority Role

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PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia -- Three weeks after it was born, this nation's opposition of students and political amateurs on Saturday won its revolution. The victory was sweeping:

-- In a new government to be formally announced today, the opposition will hold several key posts, including two deputy premierships and the portfolios of foreign affairs and economic affairs.

-- While the prime ministership remains in Communist hands, the new government pushed the Communist Party into a minority role. Communists will have 10 seats in a 21-member Cabinet.

-- The opposition also won the resignation of the country's president, Gustav Husak, the sole remaining senior Communist figure linked with the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Husak, 76, announced his resignation in a nationally televised address just two hours before the new government was formed.

He is expected to step down today after the planned swearing-in ceremony for the government in the 1,000-year-old Prague Castle.

Husak's departure fulfilled one of the final demands of the opposition umbrella group Civic Forum, which from its inception Nov. 20 had called for the resignation of those installed in power by the Soviets.

Meanwhile, speculation mounted that Husak could be replaced by the opposition's leading figure, Vaclav Havel, an idea that would have been considered absurd three weeks ago and highly improbable as recently as last weekend.

At a hastily arranged news conference, the new prime minister-designate, Marian Calfa, declared that two days of talks had succeeded in creating what he called "a government of national understanding."

The main task of the new interim government is to pave the way for the country's first genuinely free national elections in 43 years. Elections should be held "at the latest in June," according to Jan Carnogursky, a former dissident who will now be a senior government minister.

The announcement followed a day of hectic negotiations and mounting anticipation. Calfa's appearance before the television cameras was repeatedly delayed.

"I can proclaim the result of these talks is agreement on a government for Czechoslovakia," Calfa said. "I emphasize full agreement."

He described the negotiations as "very difficult."

Flanked by two aides, Calfa sat at the head of a large square table, noticeably distant from the Communist Party's negotiator at the talks, Politburo member Vasil Mohorita. Mohorita, seated at the far end of the conference table, was seen on state television being overwhelmed by cameramen leaning over him to take pictures of Calfa and Havel.

Havel, dressed in a rare suit and tie, agreed with Calfa, both on the difficulty of the talks and his description of the government as one of national understanding.

"We have arrived at a result which is satisfactory to Civic Forum and the Public Against Violence," Havel said. "It is the maximum which could be accomplished in the given situation and speed."

The Public Against Violence is an opposition umbrella group in the country's eastern constituent republic of Slovakia.

Earlier Saturday, students of the University of Coimbra in Portugal delivered thousands of roses to students here in a gesture of solidarity.

At Civic Forum headquarters, there were hugs, tears and laughter as members celebrated their victory into the early hours of this morning.

"I think the composition (of the government) provides guarantees that conditions in the country cannot go back to the situation prior to November 17. This means that the inauguration of total democracy in Czechoslovakia can continue," Carnogursky said.

It was a vicious police attack on a peaceful student demonstration in Prague on Nov. 17 that sparked the revolution that brought down the hard-line Communist regime.

Carnogursky, 45, who was in jail until two weeks ago, is expected to hold the most senior opposition job as deputy premier with responsibility for legal and interior matters.

The position would give him responsibility over those who guarded him while he was in prison.

Control over the Interior Ministry was the biggest sticking point in the talks, according to one of those present. The solution, the source said, was to place the ministry's police and security functions under a troika of Cabinet ministers, including Calfa and Carnogursky. The third member of the troika is expected to be a minister with ties to the opposition.

With its secret police, the Interior Ministry was a key instrument of Communist Party intimidation and repression.

Economist Valtr Komarek, head of the country's controversial Institute of (Economic) Forecasting and a well-known critic of Communist central planning, will be named a deputy prime minister placed in overall charge of economic affairs, according to an opposition participant in the talks.

This source said that two other members of the same institute will also be in the Cabinet, including Vaclav Klaus, a man who has described himself as the Milton Friedman of Czechoslovakia.

The University of Chicago's Friedman is a strict free-market economist.

Although nominally a Communist Party member, Komarek recently said at a news conference that communism is "nonsense."

The Communists also gave up control of foreign affairs, ceding the foreign minister's post to a senior opposition figure and Civic Forum's main spokesman, Jiri Dienstbier, a journalist by profession.

The critical Defense Ministry portfolio was apparently decided last Thursday at a meeting between Havel and Communist Defense Minister Miroslav Vacek, an army general.

According to an opposition source with knowledge of the meeting, Havel told Vacek that Civic Forum had no objection to his remaining in that post.

Previously, Civic Forum had demanded a civilian defense minister.

The evening of political drama began with Husak's appearance on national television, shortly after the main evening news.

"As soon as the government is appointed, I will resign from the post of president to permit the easing of the situation and future development," he said. "The National Assembly will elect a new president within two weeks."

Husak, who seemed tense and edgy during his brief speech, apologized in advance for the unstructured nature of his remarks.

"Things are developing so fast, I didn't have time to write the few lines I wanted to say to you today," he said.

The breathtaking pace of Czechoslovakia's political transformation from Communist repression to the brink of democracy has given few the luxury of preparation.

Husak spoke of the debate that has been ignited here about the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces that crushed the so-called Prague Spring reforms of 1968. He admitted that mistakes had been made and cited Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev as the leader in the renewel of socialism.

"I personally, from early years, believed in the shining ideas of socialism," Husak said. "I can't see anything better. There were mistakes in the ways it was carried out, but not in the ideas. I don't see in the world today better fundamental ideas."

The controversial Husak, who has held the largely ceremonial presidency since 1975, concluded: "I hope we can overcome the crisis as soon as possible so we can go forward with our effort."

Husak's resignation was part of a package negotiated between the Communists and the opposition.

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