THE brave 3,000 East German protesters in Leipzig last month swelled to 300,000 marchers, then 500,000, and last Saturday topped 700,000 - in all parts of the country. The East German people, who have clearly moved ahead of their leaders, want free elections and free travel. The media-savvy younger generation, well aware of the quality of goods and services found in free-market nations, demand a better life. Much has been made of the demand for more and better material goods in the East bloc. But what protesters in East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria want as much, if not more, than a higher standard of living is a higher standard of truth.
The effect of glasnost and perestroika has been to rip the mask off an idealized communist state, a worker's paradise with no problems, where the difference between official and unofficial truth was more and more intolerable. In East Germany last week the gathered crowds chanted: ``No more lies!'' People in the East bloc are tired of living in a police state that maintains itself through half-truths and coercion. In truth telling, Mikhail Gorbachev has led the charge - though for reasons of self-interest. Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze's recent admission that the Soviet radar station at Krasnoyarsk violated the ABM Treaty, and that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake set serious precedents for open questioning throughout the East bloc.
A kind of truth has also pushed Gorbachev. Early on, he admitted to the economic crisis the USSR faces. Whether or not the title of Judy Shelton's book ``The Coming Soviet Crash'' proves true, her argument that the Soviets have been keeping a huge budget deficit hidden from the people has been proven. The Soviets themselves admitted it last summer.
It is tempting to think that the extraordinary events in Eastern Europe are due only to economic imperatives. Yet as Egon Krenz and other East bloc leaders are finding, intangibles like ``truth'' come in through the cracks - and people hunger for it.
That hunger, of course, was felt long before glasnost. It dates back not to discussions in the Politburo, but to talk around the campfires of the Gulag. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, in his epic history of those times, notes June 2, 1963, as ``a turning point in the modern history of Russia.'' That was when the small town of Novocherkassk rebelled. It was, says Solzhenitsyn, ``the first time the [Russian] people had spoken out in 41 years ... a cry from the soul of a people who could no longer live as they had lived.''
Today that cry is heard far beyond Novocherkassk.