Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nations Chart Own Economic Courses

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nations Chart Own Economic Courses

Article excerpt

WHEN East Europe's new political map is complete, what next? And is the West - a year after Poland sparked the great reform revolution - doing all that it might to help the East Europeans?

The last of the national elections will soon close the book on communist rule in Eastern Europe. But Western politicians have yet to determine precisely what their policy toward the region should be.

Diversity from country to country in an obvious transition period partly explains why. There is also political volatility in Romania and Bulgaria. In both, communists - reformist though their credentials may be - are still in power and the opposition is handicapped while party hard-liners capitalize on the instability.

Poland is the region's pathfinder. It alone has followed glasnost (openness) with perestroika (restructuring), thus meeting the West's criteria for strong support. Poland is well into a courageous program aimed at developing a full free-market system, despite obvious social-political hazards. Already there are positive results. Inflation is down and an abundance of goods is available that previously could be bought only with hard currency.

Prague and Budapest are, in principle, as committed as Warsaw to Western-style economics. But each is nervous of the side-effects of such a "shock" strategy and therefore in no hurry.

Poland's experience illustrates the quandary. Abundance has its market prices - beyond most pockets. Closures of dud state enterprises will mean a half-million unemployed by midsummer. And half of next month's tide of graduating students are unlikely to find any sort of job, let alone one matching their qualifications.

Such results are inevitable in any rapid, thorough reform, but they frighten even the industrially capable Czechs. In Hungary, too, which did some bold reform pioneering well before Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, the newly elected democratic government is opting for a "softer" approach.

Militant trade unions - even in once ultraconformist Bulgaria - are pushing the old "rubber stamp" unions aside to present new problems for reformist governments. …

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