Will the Iron Curtain open? East Europeans weigh implications of summit, speculate about decreased Soviet influence and more trade with West
Paris — The seminar was designed to focus on the Moscow summit. Instead, it veered off into how the improved superpower relations present opportunities for closer ties between Western and Eastern Europe. ``This is the time for formulating a new Ostpolitik,'' noted Pierre Hassner, director of the discussion last week at the Center for International Research in Paris. When President Reagan goes to Moscow, ``when the Russians pull out of Afghanistan, the whole legitimacy of the Soviet empire comes under question.''
Similar thoughts are percolating behind the Iron Curtain. Mikhail Gorbachev flew Friday to Prague where his Warsaw Pact allies praised the summit. Recent interviews in Budapest confirm how important good superpower relations are for East European reformers.
``If the Cold War wave reappears, it stops reform,'' said Ivan Berend, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. ``If d'etente flourishes, we can attack our outdated ideology.''
As part of d'etente, some suggest Gorbachev eventually will decide it is to his advantage to reduce the cost of maintaining the huge Soviet forces in Eastern Europe. An Eastern Europe `a la Yugoslavia or Finland? With a neutral Germany?
``The road toward a historic compromise over Europe is opening,'' says Vladimir Kusin at Radio Free Europe in Munich. ``Signs are that the Soviet Union is reevaluating its East Europe policy, and Gorbachev could give a momentous speech when he goes to Poland in mid-July.''
The first step towards such a historic compromise could be economic. Just before the Moscow summit, the Warsaw Pact trading association, Comecon, opened diplomatic relations with the European Economic Community. The East Europeans hope to use these relations to expand commercial ties - and to obtain much-needed hard currency.
Hungary recently was saved from bankruptcy by $500 million in West German credit. Even Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, after long absences from the credit markets, have begun asking for loans from banks in the West.
Concessions on the cultural front might also be bought. A new Goethe Institute soon will open in Budapest. Even more interesting, Western banks and universities are raising the $1.6 million necessary to finance a new, Western-style business-management institute which will open in a restored baroque chateau outside Budapest next January.
``If we are are going to compete with the West, we need to learn their techniques,'' explains Zsuzsanna Ranki, director designate of the Hungarian Management Center. ``The Poles, the Czechs, the Russians all have contacted me and expressed interest in sending students.''
Despite such promising projects, grafting together capitalism and communism isn't easy. Until now, all Hungarian schools have been state-owned and operated. The new Budapest business school is supposed to be private and to make a profit.
``When we told the Hungarians about private fund-raising,'' recalls a Western diplomat involved in the project, ``they looked at us like we were Martians.''
Expanded ties across the Iron Curtain also could make the West uncomfortable. If the Comecon-Common Market trade relations are to be increased, the East Europeans will want to export agricultural products to Western Europe.
``I can't imagine the French lowering custom duties on Hungarian sausage when their own sausage makers are struggling,'' said Jacques Rupnik, a East European specialist at the French Institute of Political Science. ``It would be political suicide.''
The largest question remains political. Would France and other West European countries feel comfortable with a reunited, neutral Germany? Or with the flood of immigrants which would follow the openingof the Iron Curtain? Not long ago, former Foreign Minister Jean-Bernard Raimond traveled to Budapest and found his Hungarian counterparts furious about French visa restrictions.
``The Hungarians said, `We want free travel,''' recalls Bernard Lecompte, a journalist for the newsweekly L'Express, who traveled with Mr. Raimond. ``The French had no response.''