Prague pits rear-guard action against Gorbachev-style glasnost

It was not an appropriate act in the era of glasnost. Czechoslovak police broke up an independent human-rights seminar over the weekend, arresting about 30 dissidents from the Charter 77 movement - including noted playwright and activist Vaclav Havel - who had organized the event.

``The Czechs must hope that Gorbachev is short-lived,'' commented Max Van Den Stoel, a former Dutch foreign minister who attended the event. ``They are fighting a rear-guard action against any grand liberalization.''

As of yesterday morning, only two of the detained Charter 77 dissidents had been released. The rest were expected to return to their homes later in the day.

Because Prague remains hesitant and unsure how exactly to react to Soviet reform, the rules regulating this rear-guard action often are difficult to fathom.

Just as the independent seminar was being broken up, Alexander Dubcek, the deposed leader of the ill-fated 1968 ``Prague spring,'' was permitted to make his first trip to the West (Italy), where he criticized his country's present rulers.

Mr. Havel himself met last week with officials who reportedly advised his group to proceed with the conference ``as responsible citizens.''

But one official warned that it was impossible to know how the ``security forces'' would react.

The Prague leadership feels obligated to pay nominal respect to Mikhail Gorbachev and his policy of glasnost (openness) - while guarding the right to resist and repress any real independent action.

Mr. Gorbachev himself has not intervened to push Prague. Observers here say he wants stability in the East bloc.

But it seems impossible to stop Gorbachev's reform from spreading. In the past few months, a number of groups has emerged here - from an independent Peace Association to an Association for Friendship with the United States.

Public demonstrations, unknown since the 1968 Soviet invasion, are now becoming common.

``The fear of liberalization haunts this regime,'' says Mr. Van Den Stoel. ``It must be frightened by the clear indications of its growing unpopularity.''

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