A New Deal for Eastern Europe; Gorbachev's Gamble

By McAdams, A. James | The Nation, June 13, 1987 | Go to article overview

A New Deal for Eastern Europe; Gorbachev's Gamble


McAdams, A. James, The Nation


A New Deal for Eastern Europe

Until recently the conservative leaders of Czechoslovakia,East Germany, Rumania and Bulgaria dealt with their critics by throwing them in jail, confiscating their publications or forcing some troublemakers into exile. But now that Mikhail Gorbachev has stepped into the critics' ranks, that approach is no longer so easy. His call for candor in politics, economic reform and cultural liberalization has thrown into disarray those Eastern European regimes that once depended on the Soviet Union to act as a bulwark against change.

Indeed, far from rushing to embrace Gorbachev's policyof glasnost, some of these governments have subtly mobilized their resources against the Soviet leader. After Gorbachev articulated his plan for democratic electoral reform in a highly publicized speech at the Central Committee Plenum on January 27 and proposed the introduction of secret ballots and multiple candidates in Soviet elections, copies of Pravda containing the speech were suddenly withdrawn from public distribution in Prague. In East Germany, which has a longstanding policy of reprinting the speeches of Soviet leaders, the official press published only a cursory summation of Gorbachev's remarks. Clearly, there are influential politicians in Eastern Europe, as in the Soviet Union, who will do everything they can to shield their positions and privileges from the new wave of reform.

Only in the past few months has Gorbachev addressed thequestion of changing Moscow's historically dictatorial relationship with Eastern Europe. But from his first days in office he recognized that his country was dealing with states that are now more nearly the equals of the Soviet Union than in the past, each possessing a greater sense of its own rights and entitlements. Hence, more than any of his predecessors, Gorbachev has maintained regular communication with members of the bloc, in order to "learn to prevent a collision of interests of the various socialist countries,' as he put it at the Twenty-seventh Party Congress. He still adheres, however, to the principle that his allies should ask not what the Soviet Union can do for them, but what they can do for the Soviet Union. Thus, in the same manner as Leonid Brezhnev, he has expressed displeasure with the Eastern Europeans for failing to ship higher-quality manufactured products to the Soviet Union. At the Eleventh Congress of the East German Socialist Unity Party in April 1986, for example, Gorbachev urged East Berlin and its neighbors to redouble their efforts to integrate the bloc's economies. Predictably, Gorbachev sought out his friends among those states in the region that are least likely or able to stand up to Soviet demands for further sacrifices, notably Poland. That factor, not age or personal affinity, probably accounts for Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's high-profile relationship with Gorbachev.

Yet while on a three-day visit to Prague last April, Gorbachevtook a step in the direction of a policy meant expressly for Eastern Europe. He announced that a "new stage' had begun in the relations of socialist states, which required that those "countries' cooperation be raised to a qualitatively different level.' In language that must have astonished the listening Czechoslovak party leaders, he said: "No one is entitled to claim a special status in the socialist world. The independence of every party, its responsibility toward its people, the right to the sovereign solution of problems of the country's development--these are unconditional principles for us.' Never before had a Soviet leader so explicitly called into question the Soviet Union's right to a special position in the bloc, let alone in a country the Soviet Army had invaded two decades earlier. True, Gorbachev neither apologized for the invasion of 1968 nor renounced the so-called Brezhnev doctrine, under which that action was justified; rather, he insisted that respect for the common interests of the bloc was "obligatory. …

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