Pizza Hut communism splits East bloc
Pierre Cardin boutiques and a Pizza Hut are being allowed to open up in Bulgaria - examples of how one East European communist nation is expanding its links with the capitalist West.
But Bulgaria and its fellow members of Comecon, the Soviet bloc's equivalent of the Common Market, are divided over how far to lean toward Western markets and Western-style capitalism in helping their economies.
For a year now, talk of a Comecon summit meeting has been in the wind among leaders of the member nations. But the Soviet Union seems to be having some second thoughts about such a meeting. And the East Europeans cannot agree on what to do next, whether to opt for reform or orthodoxy, for decentralization or Soviet-style command economies.
The Hungarians - long the economic reformers of the bloc - prefer to decentralize. The Bulgarians have come to prefer it, too. To different degrees, both nations have committed themselves to market-focused economies that include active and increasing contact with the world economy at large.
The Poles, adrift in their sea of troubles, have yet to find a coherent economic policy at all.
The East Germans, Czechoslovaks, and Romanians prefer to play it safe with domestic economic maneuvers and limited, often cosmetic measures within basic, existing structures. These are lauded as ''real socialism'' and the only secure way for Comecon states to try to make a necessary transition from extensive development - i.e., quantity - to intensive economic effort, meaning quality.
This East European split over whether to open up economies to the West is complicated by the mixed political reactions to present East-West tensions, indigenous problems of mismanagement, massive foreign debts, and various levels of development in each country.
To varying degrees, the Comecon countries, including the Soviet Union, have had to settle for a slowdown in the improvement of living standards, if not outright cuts in them. (Even the more prosperous East Germany, still planning faster growth, has suffered meat and butter shortages lately.)
That has meant lowered rates of capital investment and an imperative need to make sure that export to Western markets rises substantially faster than at present above import levels.
But the competitiveness of goods will remain the determining factor. Performance thus far is not impressive, nor is the outlook hopeful - with a slowdown in Western demand as well as a disinclination to extend further credit.
Czechoslovakia, for example, once a showcase of European engineering, has for some time been meeting increasing criticism both of the quality and costs of its products. These days even its Eastern bloc partners are much more exacting.
In debate about the direction of the proposed Comecon summit, Hungary is an unequivocal supporter both of domestic economic reform and more active ties with the Western and world economy at large.
Jozsef Marjai, Hungarian deputy premier, has reaffirmed that, to meet present difficulties, Hungary has to expand and diversify its economic links. Cooperation within the Communist bloc was ''irreplaceable,'' he said, but Hungary could neither exist nor develop without an economy open in all directions, and it would resist any endeavor to limit such broad relations.
Hungarian economist Laszlo Csaba pointed out that trade among Comecon countries accounts for only 6 percent of the world total and that the prices within the other 94 percent of world trade form the basis for the Comecon economies, even in their trading with one another.
He dismissed the view that superpower quarrels necessarily preclude NATO and Warsaw Pact states pursuing mutual economic interest. (The Siberian pipeline controversy would seem to support his argument.)
Instead, he forecast a period of ''peaceful coexistence'' albeit not detente, in which, despite military and ideological ''competition,'' those in both groupings would have to recognize a mutual dependence and interest that could even act as a stabilizing influence in otherwise disturbed international relations.
He pointed out that seven years ago 70 percent of Comecon's standard fuels came from its own sources, mostly from the Soviet Union. By 1980, with greatly increased need, only 60 percent was produced within the bloc. By 1990, the need will be 1 billion tons, and only half of it will come from Comecon countries.
There will be no choice but to look for more outside.
Hungarians say that other Comecon states besides themselves and Romania should join the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
World Bank membership, economist Csaba said, would help increase exports to developing countries - on which the bloc trade is losing out at present - and IMF credits would tide Comecon members over difficult times and help them avoid forever hovering on the ''brink of technical bankruptcy.''
Hungary already has many cooperation-partnership arrangements with Western concerns. Bulgaria is forging similar links. Neither Czechoslovakia, with a stubbornly stagnant economy, nor Romania, which has not only debts but also Polish-sized food queues, has taken on the venture-minded pragmatism of Budapest and Sofia.
Playing host to an East-West economists' symposium recently, Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov extolled his country's progress in healthy growth rates, stable living standards, a positive trade balance, and innovations in more substantial ties with the West.
The first practical result in newly authorized joint ventures - in addition to the opening of those Pierre Cardin boutiques and a Pizza Hut contract with Pepsico - is a joint industrial investment with the British Perkins group. Bulgaria will build the company's famous engines as a full partner in Perkins' trade network around the world.