East Europe Braces for Fallout from Soviet Coup
Renewed threat seen as reviving unity within divided countries
LET'S hope the Soviets are preoccupied with their own problems and don't have time to fiddle in our affairs," says Peter Molnar, a Hungarian parliament deputy."We're lucky, at least we have no Soviet troops left in our country," comments a Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry official. "Maybe the West will now understand the danger and give us more help," says Michael Cichy, foreign editor at the Warsaw daily, Gazeta Wyborcza. East Europeans are looking for a silver lining to the dark cloud over the Soviet Union. Sources contacted in Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest say that for the foreseeable future, the Soviet Union should be too preoccupied to try and roll back democracy in its former satellites. Since the success of their own anticommunist revolutions, East Europeans have become divided over how to carry out reforms. But officials say the revival of a Soviet threat now should unite their peoples. "It's clear, we all must work together now," says Mr. Molnar. "This should bring political parties here together." Czechoslovakia decided to reinforce its eastern frontier with the Soviet Union yesterday, the Interior Ministry said. "We must be ready in case there is an exodus of Ukrainians," President Vaclav Havel told reporters. The last Soviet troops left Czechoslovakia and Hungary in June. But the Poles are in a much more delicate position. About 50,000 Soviet troops remain on their territory, and negotiations on their withdrawal have bogged down in recriminations. "Poland does not have much room for maneuver," says Mr. Cichy. "It was hard before to negotiate the troop withdrawal. It will be even harder now." East Europeans depend on Soviet oil supplies and other raw materials. The new Soviet regime could tighten the economic squeeze. But trade already has plummeted following a switch to hard currency payments. For the fragile East European democracies, a positive benefit of a Soviet crackdown could be increased Western support. NATO already has offered private security assurances; a more public reassurance might be forthcoming. Western Europe also could grant much desired trading advantages. The long-term East European goal is full EC membership; the short-term goal is freer trade. So far, negotiations on free-trade "association" agreements between the EC and Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland are deadlocked. The West refuses to dismantle its quotas and import restrictions on East Bloc goods. "For now, everybody in the West will focus on Moscow, not Warsaw, Prague, or Budapest," Cichy says. "Maybe afterwards, they'll think about us."