CZECHOSLOVAKIA, one of the last Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, seems on the verge of reviving not only the crushed reforms of 1968 but also its revered prewar democratic traditions. After more than a week of pro-reform protests in Prague and other cities, the Communist Party drastically altered its Politburo on Saturday and released all political prisoners. And yesterday Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec entered into the first real talks with Civic Forum, a week-old opposition group, as the party Central Committee met in extra session (its second since Friday).
It is clear that the changes did not satisfy many Czechoslovaks.
``This is only the beginning. There is still a long way to go,'' cautioned veteran opposition activist Josef Vohryzek, when he heard of the changes in the Politburo.
Many people here say they feel it is too late for the Communists to save themselves, after years of mismanagement and repression.
``The Communists must go, completely,'' said a young man at one of the huge opposition rallies.
``It is just like musical chairs,'' said a former Communist who left the party in 1968, speaking of the Politburo shuffle.
And Civic Forum would have nothing of the changes, saying that its members had been ``cheated so many times before by personnel changes.'' The group said it doubted that the new men would understand the crisis and be able to quickly solve it. It urged perseverance and increased pressure on the regime. There is no turning back, it said in its statement early Saturday morning as it renewed its call for a two-hour general strike today.
``The general strike should be an informal referendum on whether we want the members of one political party to keep destroying this country and suppressing its people,'' it said.
Even inside the Communist Party the leadership changes were criticized. At a tumultuous all-day meeting Saturday of the Prague party district, which was partly broadcast on the radio, Miroslav Stepan and Miroslav Zavadil, two reelected members of the new Politburo, were forced to resign after massive criticism from the membership. Many members warned that the party had already lost the trust of the people.
Anxiety permeated the meeting. The political survival of the Communist Party was at stake. Reforms were necessary - and fast.
But it is doubtful whether Karel Urbanek can accomplish such rapid change. Western diplomats were surprised at his choice as party chief. They described him as a weak figure, a man without profile, who would satisfy the hard-liners in the party. He had not distinguished himself in any way in the Politburo, they said. Mr. Urbanek became a party member in 1962, but was elected to the Politburo as late as last year. Before that he had mainly served in Brno.
Urbanek was not part of the leadership that suppressed the 1968 Prague Spring uprising. In fact, all the old conservatives who had ruled Czechoslovakia since the Soviet-led invasion in 1968 that crushed Alexander Dubcek's attempts to introduce ``socialism with a human face'' were gone.
President Gustav Husak lost his seat on the Politburo, while Mr. Adamec was reelected but chose to resign in protest against the election of Mr. Stepan, the young hard-liner. Adamec, who earlier had been the only one to show willingness to talk with the opposition, promised, however, to remain in charge of a caretaker government. The regime was split.
Still, the speed of the changes, which were unexpected as late as a few weeks ago, was breathtaking. People throughout the entire capital, and in the last days most of the country, seem to be on their feet, marching in the streets, debating in small crowds long into the night. The radio plays songs long forbidden. Workers demand openly the resignation of Communist leaders. And for he first time on live television on Saturday, Vaclav Havel, a playwright and longtime persecuted opposition leader, appeared with Mr. Dubcek before half a million jubilant supporters waving hundreds of red, white, and blue Czechoslovak flags.
To many observers, the Communist Party's loss of control of radio and television has played a decisive role in the crescendo of events this weekend. On Saturday, both radio and television reported live and objectively about the opposition's activities. For the first time, the entire country could see first hand the tumultuous events in Prague and the comeback of Dubcek.
This dramatic week started with the violent police response on Nov. 17 to a peaceful student demonstration, in which 38 students were injured, according to official reports. Two days later, the students went on strike and Civic Forum, consisting of all opposition groups, was formed with Mr. Havel as its leader. It demanded an investigation into the violent suppression of the student protest, mass resignations of the Communist leaders, and the immediate release of all political prisoners. In addition, it called for a two-hour general strike today.
The opposition increased its pressure on the regime, which clearly was confused. It seemingly had disappeared, together with the riot police, and left the whole field open to the students and Civic Forum. A speech by former party boss Milos Jakes pleading for calm and inviting political inviting political reforms had no effect on events.
In response to the violence, a student strike started at the drama faculty of Prague University. Theaters in Prague and throughout the country quickly went on strike in support of the students. But it was not until last Thursday that the protests caught on among the workers.
Igor Chaun, a student strike leader, says the students are against the monopoly of one party and that it is now time for pluralism and democracy.
``We are now trying to make the best of this chance,'' said strike leader Dalibor Fenzel at the electrical engineering faculty.