Eastern Europe Doubts West's Committment to Reform

Article excerpt

A YEAR ago everything seemed set for the new-look Eastern Europe. Eastern Europeans and Western observers were encouraged about the region's future.

Now, as the second post-revolution year ends, things look different. The new regimes have been only modestly successful in changing the old economy to the new. Western aid remains slow and based on a disappointing number of conditions.

Three signs of the gathering difficulties have appeared this month.

*Poland, the avant-garde of "shock therapy" reform, is halving its big privatization program to avert worsening public disaffection.

"The atmosphere is too hot," said the privatization minister, Janusz Lewandowski, in Vienna Oct. 15. "The human costs of transition are too high. We've now decided on a gradual approach."

*In similar vein, Adrian Severin, the nonparty academic overseeing economic reform in the recently ousted Romanian government, at about the same time warned that without Western help the "old forces" can halt reform by exploiting grievances.

*In Bulgaria, against the same background of hardship, the former communists lost an overall majority, but only narrowly, in an Oct. 13 election that all the polls indicated they would lose outright.

Everywhere, initial euphoria has faded. The social costs of reform are proving higher than governments and people reckoned with.

Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel has said that, despite the new freedom, people had become "anxious, nervous, and dismayed by the scale of the problems before them."

A Czech economist has said the transfer to a market economy will take more than 20 years. Modernizing industry, environmental protection, and new infrastructure will consume at least $50 billion through the year 2000.

East Europeans rejoiced at political liberation from the Soviet alliance. But they have realized more and more that economic hazards lie outside the alliance which Western economic solutions do not diminish. …

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