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Ideological standoff keeps Czechoslovak reforms at bay

Internal tensions are keeping a lid on any reforms that might serve to stir the stagnant waters of the Czechoslovakian economy. The country's more pragmatic and reform-minded economists and planners are finding themselves pitted against ideological hard-liners who fear any reform even slightly reminiscent of the Dubcek program of 1968.

These hard-liners want Czechoslovakia to further extend its economic, cultural, and political ties with the Soviet Union and to become still more deeply integrated into the communist- bloc trade organization, Comecon.

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The pragmatists, however, quote Premier Lubomir Strougal, who said bluntly at last month's Comecon meeting in Prague that Comecon integration is not proceeding rapidly enough to meet technological and other urgent needs, and that the West offers the only trade alternative. They would opt for a more open, market-minded economy.

Currently, even as the government is pressuring managers and workers to adopt efficiency and quality priorities written into a "mini-reform" package tied to the 1981-86 economic plan, the hard-liners are conducting a nationwide campaign against the ideological relaxation they fear might result from these reforms.

In a recent speech, Vasil Bilak, principal hard-liner in the party leadership since the Dubcek period, attacked those officials who would oppose closer Soviet and bloc ties and put living standards -- "how many weekend chalets, cars, and refrigerators we have" -- before the "state of consciousness of the masses."

Meanwhile, government leaders are asking that Czechoslovakia, which until now has been among the more affluent of the East-bloc countries, to "change its economic thinking" and accept the austerities all the other East European regimes are introducing in attempts to cope with domestic difficulties and world recession.

Austerity would, in effect, extend last year's wage freeze through 1980 with even existing incentives and fringe benefits largely contingent on achievement of the new criteria.

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