EAST Germany is careening between euphoria and desperation. The growing popular passion for reunification is being matched by an anxiety that no one is in charge at the top. Concerns about mass instability and chaos are real. The East German Communist Party, having given up its monopoly ``leading role'' position last week, was hit hard this week by revelations of abject corruption in the old Honecker regime. This caused genuine shock even in the party. The Politburo resigned. What's left is a demoralized party that must be restructured, and is even thinking of renaming itself.
The leadership quandary is made more difficult by the fact that while the Communist Party appears to have lost the faith of the people, and to be on the way out, there is as yet no credible group to fill the power vacuum. At least five opposition parties exist. But their rhetoric and politics run far ahead of their programs. None so far has shown a serious platform for the future.
The reunification passion may be increasing faster than anyone suspected - partly from frustration, partly nationalism. But barring total collapse, East Germany is going to need a working government next year. That makes the special party congress next week - which will lay out election dates and new rules of political competition - a crucial event.
The Communist Party must emerge from the congress with reformers clearly out in front, and with a specific economic reform program. The former will be easier than the latter. Egon Krenz is on his way out. Hans Modrow, now head of the 25-member interim government, is an effective politician, as is Dresden mayor Wolfgang Berghofer. Gregor Gysi, whose father as cultural minister in the 1970s worked out a sensitive church-state coalition, is trusted.
Economic reform is tougher. But here is where a partnership with West Germany may fruitfully begin. It would be a gradual step toward unity. Despite Helmut Kohl's proposals, many West Germans worry about the cost of bailing out all of East Germany.
Anarchy and chaos need to be avoided. So does slouching into reunification. Free, multiparty elections in East Germany may help avoid that.