THE United States's official response to the rush to freedom in Eastern Europe has been cordial but correct, congratulatory but cautious. ``Of course we're pleased, but there's only so much we can do to help,'' has been the official refrain. Outside the official arena, however, out in ``1,000 points of light'' land, many Americans (like even more Europeans) are throwing themselves into projects to instruct East Europeans in the ways and means of democracy. Their funds are limited, but their aid is being given in the coin of time and experience.
Some of the major efforts:
The AFL-CIO's Free Trade Union Institute, long active in support of Solidarity, is helping workers in Hungary develop an independent trade-union movement separate from the old, communist-run labor establishment. In Czechoslovakia, where the old union movement has collapsed, the institute is helping some 8,000 strike committees communicate until an organized labor movement can coalesce.
The American Federation of Teachers, at the request of teacher's groups in Eastern Europe, is launching a project to help East-bloc teachers educate students in the principles and practices of democracy. The AFT will hold seminars for teachers, print and distribute materials to classrooms, and foster student dialogues between Eastern Europe and the US.
An international arm of the Democratic Party has sent American political and media consultants to Hungary to train politicians in campaign techniques.
American constitutional scholars are advising lawyers in Eastern Europe on the drafting of new constitutions containing safeguards for individual rights.
The National Endowment for Democracy - federally funded but privately administered - is involved in dozens of efforts to strengthen the democratic movements in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and other East-bloc countries. The NED grants funds to organizations for activities in the emerging democracies ranging from education in local governance to voter registration to publishing and broadcasting. It also is the hub of an international network of consultants, activists, and citizen volunteers ready to help develop cultures of democracy in long-repressed nations.
In addition to education and training, some NED money goes into computers, presses, TV cameras, faxes - the hardware by which free markets in information are maintained.
American universities have also instituted Eastern European projects. Businessmen are advising fledgling entrepreneurs there. US cities are participating in sister-city projects to improve local-government techniques and promote citizen involvement.
There's much that Washington can do to help Eastern Europeans negotiate the tricky passage from dictatorship to democracy. Yet it's only fitting - more than that, it's essential - that the main burden of sharing with others the fruits of freedom should be borne by We the People.