Revolution and Change in Central and Eastern Europe: Political, Economic, and Social Challenges

By Minton F. Goldman | Go to book overview
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political risk, because many Czechs have little sympathy for the Sudeten German case--agreed to the holding of unofficial talks with groups representing the Sudeten Germans. Although there is little likelihood that the Czech Republic would willingly pay out large sums to the Germans or restore their property, which could be extremely difficult so long after it was confiscated, Czechs remain upset and have observed that Germany's proficiency in "ethnic- cleansing" policies of its own in World War II hardly put the country in a position to talk to the Czechs about their criticism of "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia.118

Relations between the Czech Republic and the Russian Federation have been good, largely in response to the efforts of President Yeltsin to cultivate former Eastern bloc countries as a counterweight to Germany. Convinced that trying to pressure the new postcommunist leaders to draw closer to Russia would be counterproductive, Yeltsin was conciliatory. He apologized for past Soviet abusiveness, which, he insisted, was not Russia's fault. For example, in August 1993, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, Yeltsin visited Prague, met with President Havel, and condemned the 1968 invasion as an assault on the sovereignty of an independent state. He signed a treaty calling for Russo-Czech friendship that was intended to publicize the end of a difficult era in relations between the two countries.119

But there are some clouds on the horizon. Like other former allies of the defunct Soviet state, the Czechs worry about the possibility of a conservative leadership in Moscow with the support of the Russian military and with an interest in expanding Russian influence in Central and Eastern Europe. For the time being, however, the dominance of Yeltsin, his apparent commitment to good relations with Prague, and the development of close Czech political and economic ties with the West, including Germany, provide the Czech Republic with a measure of security and confidence in the region.


The peaceful transition from communist dictatorship to democratic pluralism in the former Czechoslovakia is attributable to at least three major circumstances: the readiness of an already well established democratic opposition to challenge and replace the communists; the nonviolent instincts of the Czech and Slovak people; and the neutrality of the Kremlin. But the so-called "Velvet Revolution" against communist rule was not without problems, especially in the economic and social spheres. By the end of 1996, movement toward a market economy is far from complete, especially in Slovakia, where the state continues to control more than 90 percent of the national economy. Politicians in Prague, as well as in Bratislava, fear that the "shock therapy" adopted by the Polish government and pressed on Prague and Bratislava by Western banking institutions to hasten


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