CZECHOSLOVAKIA recently announced a change of command. Longtime leader Gustav Husak is out as party leader. Milos Jakes, a member of the governing Presidium, is in. Does that mean a new, more reformist order in Prague - firm East-bloc support for the type of deeper structural changes now called for throughout Eastern Europe by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev? Possibly. But don't count on it. A modest movement toward reform seems far more likely. Czechoslovakia is a nation still in the grip of rigid communist orthodoxy.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Husak, who will stay on in the largely ceremonial office of president, has dominated his nation's politics - and ideological orientation - since 1969. Back then a Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion crushed the ``Prague spring'' reforms begun under the liberal Alexander Dubcek. But Mr. Jakes, as Czech dissidents grimly remember, was also there. He masterminded the purge of hundreds of party officials after Dubcek's ouster.
Both Husak and Jakes have given lip service to Mr. Gorbachev's call for glasnost.
In fairness, Jakes has supported some limited restructuring of the economy to make it more efficient. But neither Husak nor Jakes has been publicly enthusiastic about making the wholesale commitment to reform necessary to revive Czechoslovakia's sluggish industrial sector. And when it comes to liberalizing the nation's political and cultural climate, Jakes is a voice out of the past.
The baton of power may have passed, but not to a new, or younger, generation.
Ironically, the impetus for reform is now coming more from Prague's eastern front - the Soviet Union - than the West. How long can the individuals who acquiesced in the arrival of Warsaw Pact troops back in 1968 resist this latest, quite different invasion of ideas?