E. Europe would have mixed reaction to superpower thaw
Vienna — All the East European communist states welcome the easing of East-West tensions signaled by the agreement to hold a Reagan-Gorbachev meeting in Iceland. All are aware of the threat to peace -- and how it might affect them -- if United States-Soviet relations are not brought back on to a better course.
All know that a successful encounter next week in Iceland, followed by a summit that produces concrete accords between the superpowers, must have an impact on Eastern Europe.
On this point, however, East European estimates of the current situation differ. In a nutshell, the reformers, like Hungary and Poland -- which must be included in this category, despite its crisis -- welcome any move that promises a calm, and even good, relationship between Moscow and Washington. Confrontation is not welcomed by those who, having launched themselves on a reform path, want to take steps to further reform.
Those like Czechoslovakia and Romania, on the other hand, are not so happy. Despite all their economic difficulties, they resist tangible relaxation or reform. They know that those of their citizenry who press for reform -- both political and economic -- would only be strengthened by mutual accommodations between the two superpowers.
``When the heat is on between Washington and Moscow, it makes life very difficult for us at home,'' a leading East European reformer said recently. ``When it is off, we can concentrate on our national interests and concerns.''
Conversely, a thaw in relations between the superpowers can spell problems for the antireformers.
In capitals like Prague and Bucharest, the very word itself has an ominous ring, still capable of recalling the effects of the thaw of the first years of Nikita Khrushchev.
That thaw wrought varying degrees of change throughout the region and removed some of the more despotic leaderships in the process. A Stalinist regime in Prague survived until the 1960s. But the Prague Spring of 1968 is still the ``specter'' conjured up by Czechoslovakia's present rulers to block even the most modest and obviously needed reforms.
Moreover, in the last two years, Mikhail Gorbachev's calls for reform in the Soviet Union have posed new problems for leaders like the highly conservative Gustav Husak of Czechoslovakia, or the even more ideologically orthodox Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania.
If the Soviet Union becomes more flexible economically, it will be difficult for the antireformers of Eastern Europe to continue on their present path. A stable relationship with the US would likely strengthen Mr. Gorbachev's hand at home, allowing him to push through more of his reform ideas.
That would give new impulses to a country like Hungary, and to Poland and East Germany as well, while making it extremely difficult for Eastern Europe's antireformers to carry on as if what happens in the Soviet Union has nothing to do with them.
Those East European politicians not overburdened with ideology have consistently said that both sides need a summit.
They have also insisted that the Soviet Union is ready to make real concessions to secure a genuine arms control accord with the US. They cite a long list of Gorbachev initiatives from troop cuts to a unilateral nuclear testing moratorium, and, more meaningfully of late, big reductions in intermediate-range missiles.
When Moscow threatened tit-for-tat response to US Pershing II and cruise missile deployment in Western Europe, all of the East Europeans shrank back in ``not me, please'' apprehension. Eventually Soviet missiles were installed in Czechoslovakia and East Germany to counter the US action.
Hungary, however, is aware that it is next on the list to receive Soviet missiles. Hence its quite open calls on both superpowers this year to set ``limits of confrontation'' beyond which neither would go. At the least, they hope President Reagan and Gorbachev will begin working seriously on such limits during their talks in Reykjavik, Iceland, next week.