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For most E. Europeans, passports are a thing of past

No longer can East Europeans, especially Poles, say, ''Have passport, can travel.''

For most ordinary citizens of Soviet-bloc countries, traveling freely is once again just a wistful dream.

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Passports from some East European governments were more available a year or so ago. In communist-bloc context, a passport means the possibility of visiting Western countries.

Now, thanks largely to the political fears stirred by the ongoing crisis in Poland, hopeful travelers are encountering more difficulties and official obstacles than for many years.

It is as though the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 - particularly the undertaking by all East European well as the West European countries to facilitate their citizens' foreign experience - has been put in a dusty pigeonhole of history.

With their first rebellion in 1956, the Poles won more freedom of movement than any other East European people. Only the Hungarians subsequently gained more.

And only the Hungarians - whose government sticks to economic reform despite internal and world pressures - are still traveling freely. The small family car with an ''H'' identity plaque remains a common sight here. For Hungarians, formalities and economic red tape for modest travel have been steadily eased. Budapest is even planning further ralaxation.

But Poland's new military regime and the Czechoslovak government are both setting limits on travel that put ordinary citizens back to pre-Helsinki times. Czechoslovakia is reacting to the Polish crisis more stridently than any other East-bloc nation.

The Warsaw leadership has the pretext of a gigantic political and economic crisis. But young Poles, in particular, find its radical change of travel policy the most obnoxious aspect of martial law.

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The crackdown on travel came in the wake of post-August 1980 freedoms in which Poles voyaged abroad, largely to the West, in record numbers - just as the Czechs did briefly at the time of their ''Prague spring'' of 1968. Military rule has closed the frontiers to all but reliable officials and trusted business chiefs, cultural groups, and sportsmen.

Formerly, Poles responded to freedom to ''go West'' by making it a point of personal honor to return home. Today, for the first time, they are turning increasingly to what has been the only option for other East Europeans - defection.

It was recently disclosed in Warsaw that 270 seamen in Poland's commercial fleet jumped ship in Western ports in the first four months of martial law. That may not seem like many in a fleet that includes 11,000 men, but before martial law defections never numbered more than 20 in a year.

Recently, there were defections from both Poland's ice hockey team and one of its most prestigious song and dance ensembles during tours to Western Europe, the United States, and Canada.

More than 200,000 Poles are ''somewhere in Western Europe'' just now. The UN refugee organization says 47,000 have requested asylum, and another 90,000 have asked for residence permits or extensions of visitor visas.

But even Poland's new restrictions are less discouraging than the new measures devised by the Prague government this year. It has raised fees both for passport applications and passports themselves. Foreign currency allocations have been peeled to a minimum. Invitations are hedged around with petty conditions.

Ostensibly, Czechs may still move within the bloc with internal identity cards. But now they must also have an exit permit, a customs declaration, and a border identification document showing destination and duration of their trip. Special conditions apply to travel to Poland.

And a Czechoslovak hoping to visit communist but ''revisionist'' Yugoslavia, must have a special gray passport permitting passage only through neighboring bloc states. It is valid only for Yugoslavia. This may make ''escape'' to neighboring Italy, Austria, or Greece more complicated, but it won't necessarily make it impossible.

Last year, nearly 250,000 Czechoslovaks sought passports for Western visits. Only 1 in 5 got one. Procedures are now so complicated that only East Germany remains a largely unrestricted destination for Czech travelers.

Only Hungary is currently demonstrating what the Poles formerly pointed to with pride - the knowledge that the freer people are to travel at will, the less likely they are to embarrass their governments by defection.

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