Opposition movements bloom in East Europe


WARSAW, Poland -- East Europe's opposition movements blossomed in 1988, achieving enough impact to force some communist rulers to take them into account in making policy decisions.

In Poland and Hungary, the most liberal of the Soviet Bloc states, the leadership grappled with the concept of sharing a bit of power with increasingly dissatisfied populations.


Spurred by Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost policy to test the political waters, many illegal groups plunged in with enthusiasm, operating openly as if their countries were the democracies that those organizations want.

At year's end, U.S.-financed Radio Free Europe described 99 independent groups in the six Soviet Bloc states -- Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania. It said there were hundreds of others, of which little is known.

Their issues ranged from freedom of the press to the environment to homosexuality. But many listed their main concern as their countries' economic and social malaise and possible ways out of it.


'The roots of the crisis lie in long-term economic troubles, to which the Soviet Union is unable to offer any solution,' wrote Hungarian writer Janos Kis in the independent magazine Beszelo.

'Either it accepts that the satellite countries must go through with radical reforms, open themselves to world markets (and the outside world generally) and explore the ways and means of certain political adjustments, or it risks the ungovernability of East Central Europe.'

In Poland, strikes over poor wages and living conditions led by the banned Solidarity union helped force a change in government, and not for the first time. Strikes brought down Polish governments in 1970 and 1980. This time the communist leadership seemed ready at last to seek an accommodation with the people.

Government and party officials sat down with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa for the first time since martial law was imposed in December 1981. They even described Walesa as a partner in a possible 'social contract' for economic reform.

Solidarity chapters began operating openly in dozens of plants, even occasionally holding meetings on the premises. But the momentum was lost as the year closed, and there were fears that planned government moves in 1989 to counter widespread shortages might spark yet another wave of labor unrest.


In Hungary, moderate independent movements such as the Democratic Forum got support from the highest levels -- Communist Party Politburo members Imre Pozsgay and new Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth.

Party leader Janos Kadar and other aging holdovers from the Soviet-installed regime were ousted in May. Now there is talk of possible cooperation between reformist party members and independent outsiders.

The justice minister even spoke of the possibility of independent political parties, previously unheard of in Marxist states. Members of the prewar Smallholders Party, dissolved after the communist takeover, immediately announced the party had resumed operations and would seek the return of confiscated property.

Unlike the Poles, Hungarians appeared to be accepting the idea of tough times ahead while the inefficient economy is overhauled. But among party members and independents alike, 'the majority don't really know where these reforms will lead to,' said government spokesman Gyorgy Marosan.

Non-aligned but communist Yugoslavia spent the year in its worst economic and political crisis in 40 years, with no resolution in sight.

Labor and nationalist disputes seriously shook the federation. Inflation is 250 percent. Living standards dropped 20 percent in 1988.

In Czechoslovakia, citizens silent since the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion were astonished to find 10,000 people in Wenceslas Square on Aug. 21 commemorating the invasion's 20th anniversary.


Another 5,000 showed up Oct. 28, defying tear gas, police dogs, truncheons and water cannon to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the postwar Czechoslovak Republic with cries of 'Long live freedom.'

Increasingly dissatisfied Czechs and Slovaks, who until recently enjoyed one of the widest ranges of consumer goods in Eastern Europe, are finding bare shelves and a lower standard of living.

This forced Czechoslovak customs officials to severely limit the amount of goods East Bloc citizens, particularly Poles, could take out of the country. The move caused a dispute between Czechoslovakia and Poland that took weeks to resolve.

The Czechoslovak leadership remains among the most resistant to either political or economic change. A polemic in the Communist Party newspaper Rude Pravo on the dangers of Gorbachev's reforms if they are carried too far drew a sharp protest from Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

In East Germany, Communist Party leader Eric Honecker was even more direct, despite a marked decline in the economy in 1988.

At a meeting of the party's Central Committee Dec. 1, he referred to debates within the Soviet leadership as 'the gibberings of dullards running amok, who would like to rewrite the history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in bourgeoise terms... .'


Romania, untouched by the Gorbachev reforms, remained the domain of the Ceausescu dynasty. Its citizens, many on near-starvation rations, faced another nightmare winter in darkened, freezing homes and apartments.

In conservative Bulgaria, Communist Party leader Todor Zhivkov's reform rhetoric belied his actions when he ousted Chudomir Aleksandrov, one of the most reform-minded members of the Politburo and a contender for Zhivkov's job.

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