Czechoslovak leader backs Soviet reforms. Step marks dramatic shift from Husak's past hard line
Vienna — Hard-line Czechoslovakia has firmly endorsed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms. This surprising turn of events followed a few months of obvious anxiety and acute differences of opinion among dogmatists and reformist moderates within the Prague leadership.
At what was likely to be the Communist Party Central Committee's last meeting before Mr. Gorbachev pays an official visit to Prague early next month, Czechoslovak party leader Gustav Husak largely echoed the Soviet leader's proposals on secret ballots in party and legislative bodies and on open attitudes toward information. This is a major departure from nearly 20 years of dogmatic and frequently repressive rule under Dr. Husak's leadership.
Earlier in his speech, Husak had insisted that ``no one is forcing Soviet ideas'' on Czechoslovakia. ``We have been learning from Soviet Communists throughout the history of our party and,'' he added, ``we shall go on doing so.''
``We want people to know what is happening in our country,'' he said, ``what is being decided and how it is being decided.
``It is the duty of functionaries to consult the people, and regularly and openly inform them of programs and goals and of the difficulties which have to be solved.''
The speech makes astonishing reading after 10 years of severe and persistant efforts, for example, to silence the Charter 77 movement which, besides defending human rights, has tried to act as a constructive public spokesman on social and political policy in general.
In another unusual passage, Husak foretold the ``biggest change'' in economic management since the nationalization and centralization imposed with the Communists' takeover in 1948. It would include enterprise autonomy and the election of managers. Preparations for changes, he said, would begin next month.
These were the major elements in the 1968 package of reforms devised by economist Ota Sik, an exile in Western Europe ever since Soviet intervention crushed the ``Prague Spring'' and brought Husak to power.
There was initial rejection of Gorbachev's ideas by Vasil Bilak, the party's most hard-line spokesman during and since the Soviet intervention. Reform in Czechoslovakia, he said, was a tool for those who wanted to revive the ``counterrevolution.''
Shortly afterward, however, Prime Minister Lubomir Strugal made a speech that looked like total repudiation of Mr. Bilak's arguments and strongly favored Gorbachev-style economic changes.
And Husak - who has previously always been the cautious balancer between the two factions in his own party - went still further in a strong speech to the Central Committee. At least in words, he seems to be returning to some of the Prague Spring's political ideas.