Dissidents have been giving two troubled East bloc regimes a difficult time. Poland's government -- on the eve of the March 23 parliamentary elections -- faced a determined effort by a major protest group to challenge the validity of the Communist Party dominated polls.
Czechoslovakia, with the bloc's most repressive regime, faced a challenge of a still more substantial kind -- a persistent bid by academic and student victims of its discriminatory education policy for freedom of teaching and learning.
The two governments are in some ways the most unstable in Eastern Europe. Each faces considerable frustrations over failure to secure wider popular backing and good will.
* The Polish leaders still seem quite unable to win the broad public support they need to cope with the most burdensome economic problems within the area.
* The Prague government of Gustav Husak also has acute economic difficulties, but not on the same scale as the Poles.
The Prague regime's apparent unsureness of itself stems less from actual dissent than from the apolitical apathy gripping the nation since the Soviets put down the reform movement in 1968. That apathy remains as pervasive as ever among most of the population, especially since world economic pressures and the resulting domestic difficulties have precluded further rises in living standards.
The regime's response has been an all-out, hard-line decision to suppress all dissent, with the police apparently having a free hand to adopt almost any means of harassment to silence protesters.
The latest target is the unofficial university classes in which academics fired in the ideological purges of the 1968 reformers organize teachers and courses for students denied higher education on similar political grounds. The classes are quasi-clandestine, though their organizers make no effort to hide or disguise them.
On March 19, in the third move against them in a fortnight, police raided the Prague home of historian Ivan Dejmal, where 26 students were listening to philosophy professor Radim Palous, who was dismissed from Charles University after he signed the Charter 77 declaration on human rights.
The 12 policemen conducting the raid arrested Mr. Dejmal, Professor Palous, and seven others, including Dr. Julius Tomin, a leading figure in this "free university" movement, and Baptist minister Milos Rejchrt, currently a spokesman for Charter 77. All were detained till the weekend.
It was at the Tomin home that Canadian professor William Newton-Smith was arrested while giving a "guest" lecture two weeks earlier. He was interrogated for several hours before being driven by night to the border and unceremoniously put across it into Germany.
Pastor Rejchrt was a co-author of the latest charter statement. It protested the "sub- standard" conditions in breach of law -- including solitary confinement for the most trivial infringements of prison regulations. A number of sentenced dissenters are being held in "solitary" in the jail at Pilsen in western Czechoslovakia.
Meanwhile, a written challenge to the public prosecutor to state the law that prohibits meeting in private homes to hear lectures has so far gone unanswered. Dr. Tomin and his friends insist there is no such law.
The Polish authorities applied similar repeated detention tactics to block efforts of the dissident self-defense committee (KOR) to persuade voters to boycott Sunday's polling.
More than 60 were detained in the weeks prior to the election, and 70 apartments were searched for the leaflets circulated in Warsaw and other towns advocating abstention from the polling. Many of those detentions were re-arrests of persons only just released within the 48 hour limit for holding them without charges.
On the polling eve, government officials declared themselves confident the effect of the appeal would be minimal and that the regime would get its customary 90 percent plus "popular" endorsement.
Nearly 650 candidates, in fact, contested 460 seats in the Sejm (parliament). But the dissidents say the results were totally predetermined because all -- party members or not -- had to have prior approval of the Communist-controlled Unity Front.