Czechoslovaks Tackle Tasks of Democracy

After calm takeover, nation chooses president and begins purge of communist bureaucracy

THE Velvet Revolution is coming to a close. The next steps will come harder. Czechs overthrew their Communist dictatorship without violence, without even any broken windows. Joyful celebrations greeted the removal of repressive Communist Party chief Miklos Jakes, the admission of anticommunist Civic Forum leaders into the government, and the news of the all-but-certain election today of opposition leader Vaclav Havel as president. Ahead lies real work. The new government must purge the bureaucracy of incompetent Communist appointees without precipitating a Communist backlash. It must prepare for full, free democratic elections in June or July. And it must accomplish all these goals while guarding strong relations with Moscow and transforming a stagnating, state-run economy into a lean, efficient market one.

``Until now, it's been like one big dream,'' says Leo Pavlat, a Civic Forum activist. ``We're going to have to wake up and face reality.''

For the immediate future, Civic Forum's candidate, popular playwright Havel, has emerged from a field of five candidates. His chief rival, Alexander Dubcek, the leader of the Prague Spring uprising of 1968, is expected to be named parliamentary president.

As president, Havel offers the best guarantee of controlling the accelerating revolutionary forces. He is above all a strong moral voice, the author of powerful probing essays on nonviolence and ``living in truth,'' respected by the most militant student demonstrators.

``Havel never lies,'' a young protester explained as he waved a ``Havel for President'' poster. ``He always has done what is correct.''

In neighboring East Germany, peaceful demonstrations have grown angry and rancorous as former leading Communist officials have been arrested and face trial on corruption charges. A thirst for revenge is also visible here. Stories have appeared in the Czech press detailing official corruption. A parliamentary inquiry has opened to determine responsibility for the beating by police of students on Nov. 17 - the act that sparked the revolution.

Civic Forum leaders and government officials believe incompetent and corrupt Communists must be dismissed from their posts. But they want to keep the housecleaning limited to the worst offenders.

``We must get rid of the really corrupt and the really incompetent,'' says Karel Dyba, an economic adviser to the government. ``We must not get rid of those communists who do a good job.''

This presents a tortuous path. Civic Forum leaders have strong memories of the post-1968 purge that deprived 500,000 Communists of their party membership and their jobs. Like Havel, many of the new government leaders are strong moral voices who themselves suffered under the former repressive regime.

Vaclav Maly, a priest who lost his state license to preach for his human rights activities, ended up cleaning toilets in the subway. This month he gave his first Mass in 11 years. After the moving service, he spoke of reconciliation, not revenge.

``People are angry at the Communists. I understand their anger, but we must remain peaceful,'' he said. ``It is the great task for the future.''

Another great task concerns the fate of 80,000 Soviet troops, who arrived here after the 1968 invasion. Popular demands are mounting for their removal, and Jiri Dienstbier, the new foreign minister - a longtime dissident - has opened negotiations with Moscow.

``We must be careful,''cautions Jiri Hajek, former foreign minister and an adviser to Mr. Dienstbier. ``The withdrawal of Soviet troops has to happen within the framework of a general reduction of troops in Europe.''

Prudence also is the watchword concerning the economy. Unlike Poland, where the Solidarity-led government has just proposed a dramatic market program, officials here say a similar ``shock'' won't be possible. At best, they foresee a step-by-step opening of Czechoslovakia to the West. At worst, they foresee little real reform.

``We're going to have a real debate over the economy,'' says Petr Uhl, a veteran opposition leader.``Everyone agrees that there should be a market economy - but there's no agreement on returning to capitalism.''

Compared with those of its neighbors, Czechoslovakia's living standards remain high. Welfare guarantees enjoy strong popular support. The new government's economic ministers all are ex-communists who say they believe in a ``socialist market economy.''

``This government doesn't have a mandate for dramatic reform,'' says economist Dyba. ``It only has a mandate to prepare for free democratic elections.''

How to prepare for these elections represents the final, difficult dilemma. The new Civic Forum, grouping together diverse beliefs behind the single unifying issue of anticommunism, has emerged as the country's most-powerful political force. On the one hand, its leaders say they will support a list of candidates. On the other hand, they insist that the Forum will not become a political party.

This contradiction may not be tenable. Czechoslovakia needs a strong government. But the new political parties sprouting up - from the Christian Democrats on the right to no less than four social democratic parties on the left - look likely to remain small and weak.

In Hungary and East Germany, the absence of a strong united opposition has led to a dangerous power vacuum as Communist control has collapsed. A more successful model seems to be Poland, where the broad social movement Solidarity ended up forming the government.

``On the one hand, if Civic Forum becomes a National Front, there are grave risks,'' says the dissident Petr Uhl. ``On the other hand, we need our unity against the communists.''

Czechoslovakia made the peaceful destruction of Communist totalitarianism look easy. Installing a strong democracy will be a tougher task. 30-{et

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.




Save for later


Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items


Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items


Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items