Soviet Withdrawal Leaves Behind Environmental Woes for Czechs

Article excerpt

GOLD-STARRED buttons from Army uniforms and medals enameled with the hammer and sickle are ground into the debris of a recently evacuated Soviet military camp here.

Some 40 Czech troops have replaced the thousand-plus Soviets in an area that until a few months ago served as the command of the Soviet tank division for Northern Moravia. Although the Soviet troops may be withdrawing, they are leaving a legacy of environmental problems.

Since the winter, Soviet military installations have been closing and troops returning home from a countrywide occupation that commenced on Aug. 21, 1968. Roughly one-third of the 70,000 troops have left many of the 140 Czechoslovak cities and villages that were under Soviet occupation.

The Czechoslovak government would like to see a speedier withdrawal of the remaining 45,000 soldiers. Moscow has requested more time. The economically troubled Soviet Union cannot accommodate their immediate return.

If President Mikhail Gorbachev carries through his pledge to cut the armed forces by 500,000, the Soviet Union's economy will strain still further. Hundreds of thousands more Soviet military families could be without homes, given the current rate of more than 170,000 homeless families.

Soviet Minister of Defense Dimitri Yazov must implement Prague's timetable for total withdrawal by the end of this year. Creating work in addition to housing for the returnees will also prove difficult, Soviet officials say.

To the Soviet military stationed here, Czechoslovakia presents a standard of living far better than the one at home.

One of the 300 remaining families here is a couple that shares a small two-room apartment. Their two young children stayed in the Soviet Union. Despite the withdrawal, the couple would like to remain. The husband is a glass worker who says he earns three times his Soviet salary, which he also continues to receive.

He and his wife speak to the Czech military commander from the base. The discussion is tense.

"Why is Czechoslovakia so strong all of a sudden?" asks the glass worker. He is frustrated that he cannot complete the remaining two years of his protocol. "We are all one people - Soviets, Poles, Czechs - with a common purpose. Why should we have to leave?"

During the past month, Prague has sharpened its criticism of the Soviet military apparatus. Moscow is charged with abandoning environmental responsibility at the bases. Bruntal is just one example of some 150 military sites where Soviet carelessness ranged from the uncovered storage of fuel to the hazardous disposal of waste. …