Soviets, hard-line allies get tougher as Poles embrace new freedom; Czechs, Romanians move to contain fallout from Poland
Czechoslovakia and Romania, two of the Soviet bloc governments most vulnerable to fallout from the apparent victory of the Polish workers over the Polish Communist Party, have taken cautious preemptive action to head off similar troubles on their own turf.
But while Czechoslovakia has chosen a stick, Romania has opted for a carrot.
At the same time, Romania has the kind of communist leader in Nicolae Ceausescu who would not hesitate to use a stick if he felt he had to -- going even further than the Czechoslovak authorities have this week in temporarily detaining potential dissidents.
There has been no public action in other bloc countries against potential dissidents directly attributable to events in Poland. From Hungary, which has a relatively "liberal" communist leadership, there have nevertheless come reports of warnings issued to Hungarians who were thinking of sending messages of sympathy or encouragement to the Polish strikers at the height of their recent confrontation with the government in Warsaw.
It was such a message from Czechoslovakia, actually sent to the Polish strikers, that has given Czechoslovak dissidents their latest run-in with their government. Reuter quoted emigre sources in Vienna as saying 11 Czechoslovaks -- including former Foreign Minister Jiri Hayek -- were picked up by the police Sept. 10. Two of them were said by Reuter to have been released 24 hours later. The BBC in London said Prague reports indicated that the whole group might have been freed.
The group is said to be following up their letter to the Polish strikers in Gdansk last month with a letter to Czechoslovak President Gustav Husak on the conference in Madrid later this month to review implementation of the Helsinki accords of 1975. These accords, to which the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc countries are party, include specific reference to freedoms in East and West Europe.
If there is evidence of any priority in Communist Party or government action in Soviet bloc countries to head off having their own Polish situations, it points to preventing contacts between political dissidents and dissatisfied workers. This presumably is seen as the most threatening combination in any situation of potential dissidence threatening the monopoly of power by ruling communist parties. The men detained in Czechoslovakia were political dissidents -- entering into communication with workers, albeit in Poland.
In Romania, the danger to President Ceausescu stems less from an immediate alliance between political dissidents and workers than in the fact that his country has the lowest standard of living in the Soviet bloc. In 1977, there were reports that troops had been brought out to patrol the Jiu Valley, where miners had gone on strike. More recently, the Romanian, authorities denied rumors last month of work stoppages in some Romanian towns because of meat shortages. (It was a rise in meat prices in Poland that triggered the recent workers' protest there.)
It is against this background that the Romanian party leadership met under Mr. Ceausescu's chairmanship Sept. 9 and announced cutbacks of 2 million lei and 4 million lei (nearly $0.k million and $1 million) in this year's military and administrative expenditures. It was said the money made available by these cuts would be used to improve the general standard of living of the population. At this stage, Mr. Ceausescu apparently tinks this is the better approach to spare himself labor trouble on the Polish model.
In East Germany, separated only by the Oder from Poland and with a leadership often contemptuous of the way the Polish party runs things, there is little immediate likelihood of labor trouble. The East German economy is at the opposite end of the economic spectrum from that of Romania within the Soviet bloc. East Germans have the highest, Romanians the lowest standard of living in the bloc. And as for political dissidents, the East German party leadership tends to get rid of them in a relatively humane way these days: They shunt them across the border into West Germany.
Yet all thing point to the party leadership keeping its collective ear close to the ground in East Germany for the first sign of any trouble sparked by events in Poland -- or, as a phrase in German has it the leadership is making sure it hears if any grass starts growing.