Eastern Europe sniffs the wind for policy shifts in Kremlin
Eastern Europe is holding its political breath for the first policy statement from the new voice in the Kremlin. Leaders in these countries will get an early hint of what is to come during their visit to Moscow today for the funeral of Yuri Andropov, who died Feb. 9.
What can be said thus far is this: They are not anticipating major or subtantial changes.
But they know that, whether shifts lie ahead or not, there is bound to be some change of style and emphasis with the rise of Konstantin Chernenko to the post of secretary general of the Soviet Union's Central Committee. But they realize that the Kremlin is always disconcertingly slow-moving, which means uncertainty over policy shifts can be prolonged.
To the East Europeans, Chernenko like Andropov before him is not seen as an individual leader with unqualified authority, but as the head of a collective leadership - i.e., the Politburo. This, they say, makes radical change in present policy patterns unlikely.
''One doesn't expect changes of substance,'' a well-placed source comments, ''but any period of uncertainty - better said, our lack of exact knowledge for the time being of what may emerge - is unsettling.''
For its part, the West would make a mistake to anticipate any Soviet shift on the big international issues such as NATO's new missile deployment, say the East Europeans.
''It was (Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei) Gromyko,'' one recalled, ''who said at (the European security conference in) Stockholm that the US still is thinking in terms of aggression and acting accordingly. Gromyko is still around.
''There will be no 'new broom.' Overall, probably continuity. And the West will be wrong to expect some new sign from Moscow without some concrete gesture first from the West itself - just as Andropov made clear.''
Reformers in Eastern Europe - Poland, Hungary, and, in a very limited way, Czechoslovakia - may draw some comfort from a feeling that Andropov's efficiency campaign has taken some root. Moreover, Poland and Hungary will doubly welcome a general sense of ''no change'' in Moscow this week, since anything else could almost certainly make life more difficult for everyone.
The recent regional party shake-up did not go as far as Andropov wanted, but he had been able to bring supporters and like-minded people into the Politburo. What now happens with them will be of crucial importance to the future for reform in Eastern Europe.
For Poland, there could be further problems. For example, Mr. Andropov was probably not fully satisfied, but seemed more ready than Leonid Brezhnev, to let the Poles sort out their crisis themselves, despite Moscow advocates of a tougher line.
These hard-liners can still find echoes among hard-liners in Warsaw who may momentarily be down but are not yet out and will certainly be ready to exploit any Soviet turn toward a more conservative line - as is possible under Konstantin Chernenko.
Perhaps the East European nation most lamenting Yuri Andropov's passing is Hungary.
Hungary, wrote the Budapest daily Magyar Hirlap, has lost ''a true friend.'' Other Hungarian commentaries also stressed Andropov's concern for economic efficiency in the Soviet Union and other communist states.
The party daily Nepszabadsag recalled an Andropov speech in which he acknowledged differing ideas among them about how to ''develop socialism.'' But these differences, he said, were no obstacle to cooperation.
Several times during Mr. Andropov's brief rule, what the Hungarians saw as a ''protective hand'' - and approval - for their reforms was evident in the Kremlin.
That encouraged them to go further ahead last year with the economic reform. And recently, the government increased consumer prices to bring them more in line with market values, despite world recession and the domestic political hazards of such a move.
To varying extent, all East Europeans benefited from the Andropov period for one relevant reason: Yuri Andropov was one of the few top Soviet men in relatively modern times who knew something about Eastern Europe. His knowledge came from his long tenure in the department that handled the Soviet Communist Party's relations with other nations' communist parties.
Even under Mr. Brezhnev, Hungary saw Andropov as a ''friend at court'' for more flexible relations and for Hungary's individual ''way to socialism.''
Last year, for example, finally saw some movement toward a Comecon summit, the first since 1971. The idea was to make the trading organization of the Soviet-tied communist nations more efficient - and perhaps, the East Europeans hoped, to iron out some inequalities between them.
But the summit was put off, and the prospect of more delay as a reorganized Soviet leadership takes stock is probably causing East Europe as much concern as the deployment and counterdeployment of European nuclear missiles and the rupture of East-West talks.