Glimmers of Change Reach Czechoslovak Countryside

Prague reforms encourage opposition in outlying town

AS the parliament in Prague voted Wednesay to end the monopoly of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia, democracy took its first shaky steps here in Benesov, a town of 17,000 not far from the capital. The vote in Prague was praised by Civic Forum, the umbrella organization for the Czechoslovak opposition, and one of its spokesmen, Jiri Dienstbier, commented that the ``revolution is continuing much quicker than we expected.''

But here in Benesov progress is measured in small steps. Although a big step was taken Wednesday, when a delegation from the local Civic Forum paid its first visit to Benesov's mayor, Josef Stiburek.

``Civic Forum in Benesov is only four days old, and we have had such a short time to prepare ourselves,'' explained Vlasta Chroma, an engineer who headed the delegation, which included a young man and a young woman.

Mr. Chroma was clearly nervous, and the mayor did not quite seem to know what he should do - the situation was new to him, too.

``Yes, I was surprised by the events of the past days,'' said the mayor. ``Is it good what happened? Well, as a representative of the state power I have always wanted the best for the population here. That is our mission.''

Benesov is an ordinary town with a nice central square, which, during the general strike two days earlier, had been full of people. Today, only a couple of Civic Forum posters could be seen. A big portrait of Lenin on top of the Communist Party headquarters continued to dominate downtown Benesov. Some teenagers wore the little tag in the Czechoslovak colors, a sign of support for the revolution.

``We are sorry that we had to go to Prague to draw strength and courage, and that kind of atmosphere does not exist here,'' said Chroma. ``Here the emotions are mixed with fear. We have very few leaflets, and there are still people who tear down our posters. People are still afraid, and the students who have come here to explain the strike have not been well received.''

Still, over 2,000 of the town's inhabitants signed the petition of Civic Forum. That was enough to create frantic activity in the local Communist Party organization. Local party secretary Jaroslav Husak has just returned from a meeting in Prague, and everyone discussed the political situation.

In the lobby of the party headquarters, a middle-aged woman conducted a loud conversation with coworkers about her unhappiness with the turn of events.

``We have just lost 20 years,'' she said, ``but we can go back to 1968 and start all over again. In 1968 they wanted to hang my son and me, but so what? I won't change. They should have known that something was wrong after the first student demonstration.''

After years of deciding everything in Benesov, the Communists now have a force to take into consideration. ``The situation is more complicated than before,'' said Mr. Husak.

But there is little doubt the party is trying to change with the times, just like the national party organization. There is much talk of dialogue and finding a common language with Civic Forum.

This week the Benesov county district council adopted a far-reaching resolution, urging open dialogue and new elections.

``The conditions have changed,'' Husak admitted. ``We have a new partner, and we will try to fulfill its demands. But we cannot talk in the streets. It is important to have calm and peace.''

Husak also said that he strongly supported the election of Karel Urbanek as new party chief, and it was not until he was elected last Friday that the tension subsided. Husak also said that the Communists in Benesov had known for a long time that there had to be changes, and had proposed such. But the leaders did not respond.

``And now Civic Forum has copied our proposals and aims,'' he said, repeating a phrase often heard from Communists in the present debate here. ``But the Communist Party is now on the offensive, and although there are lots of problems and worries, we Communists want to solve them.''

Meanwhile, in Prague, the revolution continued its march forward. The decisions by the parliament to change the Constitution and do away with the leading role of the Communist Party and Marxism-Leninism as the basis for the educational system were taken by an overwhelming majorities. They even received support from the old Stalinists.

The parliament also decided to establish a commission to investigate why force was used against the students on that fateful Nov. 17 demonstration in Prague. It was that incident that set off the revolution.

The votes came after hours of unusually lively debate. The parliament has up until now largely been a rubber-stamp body.

The work to form a new government by Sunday also continued.

Although Civic Forum has stated that it does not aspire to any posts in the transition government now being formed by Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec, it has proposed that the ministers of defense and interior should be ``uncompromised'' civilians, and the defense minister should be a Communist Party member.

The suggestions were seen as an attempt to reassure the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia's membership in the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact is not questioned by the Civic Forum.

If the present trend does not change, all indications are that Civic Forum will continue to gain victories. Meanwhile, the Communist Party, in the words of new Politburo member and chairman of the youth union, Vasil Mohorita, is in a ``rather unpleasant situation, yes, even in a crisis.''

``We are being dragged along by the development, and we have to get out of that situation,'' he said Wednesday.

As for the coming free elections, which he thought would be held within 12 months, Mr. Mohorita said it would be ``naive'' for him to say that they would win. But he refused to say outright whether the party would relinquish power if it lost.

However, the next government will reflect the results of the free elections, Mohorita said.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Glimmers of Change Reach Czechoslovak Countryside
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today