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
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
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