Other Walls in the East
NOV. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Nearly a year later, both East and West should be doing everything possible to see that the revolutions of 1989 don't sour. Early euphoria in the old East bloc is disappearing. Frustration is replacing expectation. Crime is up, GNP down. One recent visitor to Prague noted that ``the velvet revolution has become a velvet hangover.'' Conditions in the Soviet Union are even worse. Mikhail Gorbachev, for all his political adroitness, seems as helpless as a turtle on its back when it comes to economic matters. Production, exports, and consumer goods are at a low ebb. Meanwhile, the Kremlin thrashes about deciding how far it can go toward genuinely free markets while still retaining ``socialism.''
Roy Medvedev, Soviet dissident-historian turned politician, noted recently: ``To say we are at a historic crossroads is already a clich'e. But what other way is there to sum up this endeavor?'' The comment could stand for the entire former iron-curtain world. The patterns developed there in the next year may shape these states for decades. Bitterness and chaos aren't a good start.
Short-term direct aid from the West is necessary. Alexander Kerensky, head of the 1917 post-Czarist provisional government, once said the October Revolution could have been stopped by a few boxcars of grain in what was then Petrograd (now Leningrad).
But the deeper issue is how people trained and educated in socialist sensibility - even many who rejected that training - are going to get past what scholar Joshua Muravchik described after a recent visit to Leningrad as a ``perverse social and psychological architecture.''
One source close to Czechoslovak president Vaclav Havel said recently: ``Czechs have been educated for 40 years in distrust. How do you make them feel they are part of something?''
Indeed, how does one help shift an entire political bureaucracy, trained in central planning, to a market system?
Individual initiative has been stifled in these countries. Intellectuals, in particular, harbor deep suspicions about ``success.'' In the old system, the most successful people were often the most corrupt. Private property isn't yet seen as a positive value; the socialist tradition doesn't support it.
Small, private models of success are important, as are new cultural symbols (and we don't mean fast food on Wenceslas Square). Another, interior, wall - the East's conformist mentality - has to fall.