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Turmoil on the Danube [ cf. ...and in the Balkans ]

REFORMIST political passions are still running hot in the Danubian states of Bulgaria and Romania. In Sofia, the issue has been the ruling Socialist Party's inaction in removing the old symbols of one-party communism from the landscape. The Socialist Party headquarters (the former Communist Party building) was ransacked and burned by opposition dissidents on Sunday who were infuriated by the red Soviet star still shining on top of that building.

Violent means are not the answer. But what was that star still doing there?

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In Romania, protest against the regime of Ion Iliescu on and around University Square in Bucharest continues. The protests, which call for Mr. Iliescu's departure, are based both on renewed charges that the December ouster of former president Nicolae Ceausescu was a planned coup, and on outrage over the country's economic crisis, one rapidly approaching third-world status.

Both countries offer a lesson in political evolution. Both have governments run by former Communist parties. These parties changed their names and won in multiparty elections held this past spring. Yet both governments are still chock full of former communist functionaries whose mind-sets have altered little. They are still bureaucratically petty, and are suspicious of change and particularly of the needed openings toward a market economy. The result is a system in limbo, a system that is neither fish nor fowl, neither socialist nor democratic.

Moreover, the current internal dissent in these states is increasingly split between intellectuals who want to bring about serious political redemption and democracy, and workers who want jobs, land, food, and economic stability. Such splits are also developing in Poland's Solidarity party.

Hard choices are emerging. Should the Romanian and Bulgarian governments crack down further to buy ``stability'' at the cost of a more tarnished image?

Or, do they allow an inchoate ``democracy'' to emerge and possibly put themselves out of business - creating a power vacuum that could conceivably lead in Romania to a military takeover?

US loans and trade with these states should continue to be tied to Helsinki human rights accords.

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