OFF to the side of a narrow road leading through the wooded Moravian highlands, stand huge, concrete-block houses. This remote site long served as one of the Soviet Army's largest ammunition dumps in Central Europe. But today, the high explosives are gone and the munitions block houses are empty.
After occupying Czechoslovakia and the rest of Eastern Europe for more than four-and-a-half decades, the Soviet Army is withdrawing. The Soviets pulled out of Hungary in March. Later this month, the last Soviet soldier will leave Czechoslovakia.
The ammunition from the Kvetne base already has been shipped back to the Soviet Union and the Soviets have returned control over the base to the Czechoslovak Army.
For Czechs and other East Europeans, the Soviet pullout has brought great joy - and new worries of a security vacuum. In the aftermath of the Soviet crackdown in the Baltics and Armenia, the East Europeans observe a Kremlin under siege by military hard-liners and fear that their fragile independence could be snuffed out by a Soviet backlash. Looking West, they see that NATO and Western Europe are not ready to protect them.
``One year ago, the Soviet Union was on a good democratic course,'' says Michael Kocab of the Czechoslovak Parliament committee supervising the Soviet pullout. ``Today, it is a totally different situation, and it would be much more difficult to get such a good withdrawal treaty.''
Moscow has asked for delays in the past few months in pulling troops out of Poland and eastern Germany. The Kremlin now says its soldiers will leave by 1994. Negotiations on new security treaties with Moscow, meanwhile, are stalled. The Soviet Union still insists that its former satellites sign ``friendship'' treaties forbidding them from joining any alliance hostile to the Soviet Union. With the exception of Romania, the East Europeans refuse.
A neutrality clause, the East Europeans argue, would impinge on their newly won sovereignty. The Warsaw Pact's military arm was dissolved in March. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary want its political skeleton dismantled as well.
As cogs in the Soviet military machine, East European armies used to sit mainly along their western borders. Units now are being shifted eastward. Each country wants smaller armies with better weapons, manned by professionals, not by conscripts. They are considering buying Western arms, exploring joint-purchasing schemes to save money, and negotiating mutual defense pacts with each other. In adddition, Hungary and Czechoslovakia have civilian defense ministers, and Poland soon will.
But the East Europeans know there is little that they could do to stop a Soviet assault by themselves. They believe their security depends on forging ties with the West. In March, Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel became the first former Warsaw Pact head of state to pay an official visit to the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels.
NATO's response was cordial, but standoffish. The West doesn't want to frighten Moscow by pushing NATO's frontier to the Soviet border. But the Havel visit did pave the way for Western participation at a security conference this month in Prague and the visit by NATO Secretary-General Manfred W"orner to the Czechoslovak capital.
``A new web of security relationships are being created,'' explains Michael Zantowsky, a close adviser to President Havel. ``We will exchange information and people with NATO, increase diplomatic liaison, train our military personnel abroad.''
For the time being, the East Europeans emphasize getting the final Soviet troops out of their territories. As they leave, Soviet soldiers have been selling hats, uniforms, and even ammunition. They also have left behind serious pollution problems at their bases.
For residents of Kvetne, the Soviet base was a frightening reminder that they did not control their own destiny. Many worried that they were living beside a literal time bomb. Until the visit last month by the local parliamentary representatives, Deputy Miroslaw Sychra says no Czech officials were permitted to visit the site. ``We now plan regular inspections,'' he says.
During the visit, Soviet Gen. Edward Vorobjov tells the local deputies that 79,000 tons of ammunition have been returned to the Soviet Union. His Czech colleague, Gen. Svetozar Nadovic, adds assurances that technicians are supervising the withdrawal.
``We want to cooperate with the mayors of Kvetne and Polivka, the neighboring villages, so that the inhabitants have no fears,'' General Nadovic says. ``If there are any questions, please tell me.'' The locals are impressed.
``All the ammunition is gone, the warehouses are empty,'' says local resident Petr Klim. ``There are no problems in that respect.''
But other problems remain. Mr. Klim says some Russian soldiers have vandalized homes near the base and demands compensation. Nadovic says negotiations are under way.
Klim wants to believe the Soviets will negotiate in good faith. Remembering when Soviet troops crushed the 1968 Prague Spring reform, he hopes the USSR today is too preoccupied with its own domestic problems to intervene in Czechoslovakia.
``It's good that they have left,'' he says. ``Let's just hope they don't come back.''