East-bloc leaders visit West in search of warmer relations
Budapest — Given the present sorry state of East-West relations, something quite unusual is happening this week. While high-level contacts between the two superpowers remain at an impasse, the Hungarians and other East Europeans are doing what they can to preserve advantageous ties with the West.
No fewer than three of the Soviet Union's allies are engaged in official visits to noncommunist Western states. Hungary's Janos Kadar is in France, Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu has gone to West Germany, and East Germany's Erich Honecker is visiting Finland.
The Kadar and Ceausescu trips are the first by Warsaw Pact leaders to NATO countries since the collapse of the fifth round of Soviet-United States strategic arms reduction talks (START) in Geneva on Dec. 8, 1983.
There has not been a squeak out of the Kremlin about these trips, though only last month it leaned heavily on Mr. Honecker to abandon his own planned visit to West Germany, which he did.
The two Germanys represent a special problem, of course: a divided nation symbolizing an ideologically divided continent. Even theoretical discussion of a united Germany in the distant future is enough to cause Richter-scale tremors in the Kremlin.
The Honecker trip to Bonn was a direct, predictable victim of the strains between Moscow and Washington, and of Soviet nervousness at any suggestion of too much ''togetherness'' between East and West Germany.
Thus, it is significant that three Soviet allies should, so soon after the Honecker cancellation, demonstrate a resolve to preserve, and even try to enlarge upon, other lines to the West.
In fact, it looks as though an unspoken state of mind is developing throughout Eastern Europe. It is possible to see a certain change of style, though not yet of substantive attitudes, among most East Europeans since the Americans and the Russians stopped talking to each other.
The East Europeans may not say it in so many words, but privately there is a strong inclination to regard the superpowers as sharing responsibility for the present situation.
There is also a growing tendency to view detente as something the Soviet Union's allies have a duty to try to keep alive. Indeed, it is their view that countries in both alliances should try by example to induce the two superpowers to resume meaningful dialogue.
Of the three communist states whose leaders are in Western Europe this week, Romania has often been out of step with Moscow. But there is no evidence that Russia is more perturbed by Mr. Ceausescu's trip to Bonn than by his maverick stands on other occasions.
Hungary has been insisting that small nations can have an influence on the world scene and that they have a right to attempt to use such influence - even in the present chilly international scene.
There is no doubting the satisfaction felt here that, despite a continued coolness between the superpowers, Kadar's visit to France has gone ahead as scheduled. Such bilateral contacts, one newspaper here stressed, are of fundamental value in efforts to settle international problems.
Honecker said much the same thing when he told Finnish journalists on the eve of his journey to Helsinki that he will still be going to West Germany, when the time is ''more suitable.''
Experienced observers here say trends toward ''autonomous'' East European behavior were given this impulse by the US-Soviet deadlock following US missile deployments in Western Europe and Soviet counterdeployment in Eastern Europe. So far, only East Germany and Czechoslovakia are involved in this latter development. But misgivings over the Soviet action were quite evident - here and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
They are seen as prompting a new feeling that the European nations (both East and West) are ''in it together.'' Hence the interest in more bilateral contact between East and West European nations as a potential contribution to general security.
Such developments are obviously in the Soviet Union's interest, when viewed in terms of its desire to raise the East bloc's economic and technological level.
The essential point to this week's East-bloc travels is that they are taking place, and at a time when Soviet contacts in such directions are at a standstill.
The process is one the Kremlin may find increasingly difficult to restrain.