Robert Miller February 11 1985


Robert Miller February 11 1985


Robert Miller


Forty years after the Red Army overran their territory on its way to Berlin, effectively consigning them to life under communism, the polyglot voices of Eastern Europe are in tune on their political future. But the tune is most frequently flat, the lyric despairing. The Eastern Europeans talk of the “reality” and, by extension, the permanence of Communist rule. They talk of their faint hope for reforms under an ideology that resists change almost as an article of faith. They talk of the hardships and shortages that plague state-run economies. But they do not talk optimistically of freedom to choose their own way of political life.

The 111 million people of the Soviet Union’s Eastern European satellites remain as different as the languages they speak. The Poles, East Germans, Czechoslovakians, Hungarians, Romanians and Bulgarians have largely resisted assimilation during the past four, often difficult decades. But, together with the independent-minded Yugo-

slavs, they now share three overwhelming characteristics: Communist rule, economic frustration and a historic affinity with the rest of Europe. From Warsaw to Sofia their Communist leaders govern with varying degrees of selfconfidence, endlessly striving to balance Moscow’s ideological wishes and their people’s hunger for Western-style material comforts and additional cultural links with their neighbors to the west.

Belligerent: Despite Eastern Europe’s evident despair, all but a tiny minority of dissidents and dreamers are resigned to an indefinite continuation of the political status quo: a divided Europe dominated by competing and belligerent superpowers. During a Budapest interview with Maclean's European bureau chief, David North, last week, Tamas Alaxa, 50, editor of the Hungarian foreign af-

fairs weekly Magyarorzsag, offered a blunt summary of the majority view. Said Alaxa: “The postwar changes in Hungarian political life are irreversible.”

In some ways the people of Eastern Europe are Adolf Hitler’s last victims, the unwilling inheritors of a bitter legacy of three summit conference negotiations among the leaders of the Second World War alliance against Nazi Germany. Their life under Moscow’s firm control is a constant reminder of the hollowness of the Allies’ Declaration on Liberated Europe, issued at the Crimean resort town of Yalta 40 years ago this week. The declaration followed the controversial Feb. 4

0 to 11, 1945, Crimea con-

1 ference, hosted by Soviet Marshal Josef Stalin and

1 attended by U.S. Presi| dent Franklin Delano

2 Roosevelt and British 8 Prime Minister Winston

Churchill. The Big Three had met 14 months earlier in Tehran, where they effectively laid the groundwork for a new postwar order in Europe in which the Soviets would play a leading role.

But the Yalta conference confirmed the Tehran understanding, and consequently became one of the war’s most controversial diplomatic events.

The Yalta declaration was unequivocal. It enshrined the “right of all peoples to choose [their own] form of government” and it followed a promise by Stalin that “free and unfettered elections” would be held in countries in which Soviet troops had ousted German occupiers. Less than three months later Germany collapsed and the war in Europe was over. But Stalin reneged on his election promises —initially in Poland and subsequently in the other satellite states, which Moscow sought to control as a security buffer against any possible German return to military strength. Europe quickly split into hostile EastWest spheres of influence, largely based on the positions held by the Allied armies at ceasefire. And the Cold War began, with the so-called “legacy of Yalta”—the Eastern European Communist bloc —becoming a contentious American political issue.

Angry: President Ronald Reagan revived the debate last Aug. 17 when he told a group of Polish Americans that he rejected “any interpretation of the Yalta agreement that suggests American consent for the division of Europe.” Reagan added that “there is no reason to absolve the Soviet Union or ourselves” from the Yalta commitment “to restore full independence and to allow free democratic elections in all countries liberated from the Nazis.” The President’s remarks brought a swift and angry response from Moscow. Declared TASS, the official Soviet news

agency: “No one is given to call into question the decisions of the Crimea conference, the White House included.” Increasingly strident Soviet commentary on the inviolability of existing European borders—which, in fact, the West formally recognized in the 1975 Helsinki accords—has been aimed chiefly at West Germany, as the 40th anniversary of VE-Day, May 8, 1945, approaches. Moscow plans large-scale celebrations to mark Hitler’s defeat in what the Soviets refer to as “the Great Patriotic War.” In contrast, Washington and London have still not announced details of their VE-Day intentions. Last May, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl expressed anil noyance when his counZ try was excluded from i ceremonies marking the g 40th anniversary of DI Day and the Allied inva-

sion of Normandy. And both the Reagan administration and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher have made it clear that they will not risk offending their West German ally again.

Reagan will visit Bonn from May 2 to 4 to attend the annual Economic Summit, and White House sources have confirmed that there would be unspecified West German participation in whatever ceremonial program the administration decides to adopt. For her part, Thatcher initially decided against any official VEDay celebration but announced a change of heart on Jan. 16, saying: “I understand the feelings of ex-servicemen who had been dismayed at the government’s attitude. The emphasis will be on peace rather than victory.”

Trick: For months Moscow has expressed grave concern about what it calls Bonn’s “revanchism,” ascribing recent West German efforts to improve relations with East Germany as an illdisguised plan to reverse the outcome of the war. Acerbic commentaries aimed at West Germany appear almost daily in the Soviet media, as well as in government-controlled publications in Eastern Europe. Last week the East German Communist Party daily Neues Deutschland, for one, attacked Kohl for his plans to attend a scheduled June rally organized by ex-refugees from the former German province of Silesia, ceded to Poland in 1945. Denouncing Kohl and the refugee group, the paper declared: “With an all-too-transparent trick they want to achieve everything Hitler failed to achieve, within a Europe dominated by Bonn and stretching to the borders of the Soviet Union.”

Despite Moscow’s apparent inflexibility, the issue of increased political independence for a larger Europe persists in some Western quarters. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to former president Jimmy Carter and now a professor of government at New York’s Columbia University, recently called on the West to repudiate publicly “the legacy of Yalta.” Writing in the influential Foreign Affairs magazine, Brzezinski proposed a gradual withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Europe and enhanced European responsibility for its own defence as necessary first steps toward eventual elimination of spheres of influence in Europe.

Craving: In an interview with Maclean's Washington correspondent, Ian Austen, last week, Brzezinski said the West should “work for the peaceful restoration of a larger Europe” and added: “When [former French president Charles] de Gaulle spoke of a Europe to the Urals, he was responding to a profound craving in both east and west Europe. His notion still has an appeal. I believe that historical change in Europe

is pointing in [that] direction.” Indeed, in his article,. Brzezinski described the current East-West division as “inherently unstable and potentially dangerous,” adding that it was “likely to produce new explosions in Eastern Europe.”

Among past “explosions” in the Soviet satellites: the bloody 1956 Hungarian uprising, ultimately crushed by Red Army tanks; the 1968 Czechoslovakian experiment in liberalism, eventually snuffed out by a Soviet invasion, and the arrest of Communist Party secretary Alexander Dubcek; and the stormy 1980 emergence of Solidarity, the independent Polish trade union movement that challenged the Communist regime and was subsequently banned while Poland was placed under martial law.

Defiance: In each case of major upheaval in Eastern Europe, the West reacted with extreme caution, taking great care not to encourage active rebellion within the Soviet sphere. The lack of overt Western support clearly helped to reinforce a sense of political isolation among citizens of the satellite nations. But after punishing the ringleaders, Moscow usually allowed at least token reforms in an effort to deter further unrest. Indeed, after widespread food riots in 1970, the Polish government temporarily rolled back the price increases that caused the outbreak.

In a similar gesture, the Polish government decided last December to try publicly four members of the interior ministry’s secret police force. The fpur men faced charges of kidnapping and murdering Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a 37-year-old radical priest who openly preached defiance of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski’s administration, which took office in the wake of the Solidarity crisis. Reported North: “For millions of Poles, glued to their television sets and radios, the most sensational aspect was that the authorities had chosen to hold the trial in public.” The regime considers the trial to be an important signal of its reformist intentions. Said Ludwig Krsucki, 59-year-old deputy editor of Neme Drogi (New Ways) and a leading Polish Communist Party theoretician: “The trial is a guarantee that Polish society will be built on law and justice.”

Jaruzelski lifted martial law two years ago but Poland remains sullen and tense—even though most of its 37 million inhabitants are more concerned with the everyday struggle to live than with politics. Meat, sugar, cooking fat and flour remain strictly rationed and housewives complain that buying necessities requires as many as five hours a day. Most consumer goods and a rich variety of foodstuffs are available in Poland’s thriving unofficial markets.

But few shoppers can afford to pay prices as high as six times the official rates. A pair of blue jeans—a status symbol behind the Iron Curtain—costs a month’s pay; a color television set as

much as seven months’ _

income. Said one weary Warsaw mother: “Life is very difficult unless you have money and connections. Then you can get anything.”

Elusive: Despite the Jaruzelski regime’s assurances that it will undertake reforms, the people are clearly skeptical.

Poland is struggling to carry an estimated $30 billion (U.S.) in foreign debt. Moreover, previous government pledges of reform often were ineffectual or exaggerated.

The result is that hundreds of thousands of Poles want to emigrate to the West. Passport applications, a broad indicator of the public’s confidence in the future, soared to nearly one million in 1984, from 300,000 in 1982, after the end of martial law restrictions on travel. According to Janusz Onyskiewicz, a mathematics lecturer and former Solidarity spokesman, the regime and the people have different concepts of political reality. Said Onyskiewicz: “Realism should mean taking into account not only our geopolitical situation and our economic troubles but also things that are much more elusive, such as people’s hopes of having a say in what is going on.”

Luxury: In vivid contrast, the Hungarian capital of Budapest, 750 km to the south, with its modern office blocks and Western-style traffic jams is thriving. Hungary’s 10.7 million people enjoy Eastern Europe’s highest standard of living, prospering dramatically since their failed 1956 revolution. Stateowned and private shops are well stocked with mouth-watering displays of food, as well as a full

range of clothing and

luxury goods. The National Bank offers secret numbered accounts to foreign depositors. And János Kádár, the 72-yearold Communist party secretary, has allowed limited private enterprise and . free speech as part of his so-called “goulash communism.”

But beneath the surface life is more complex, befitting a country that gave the world one of history’s most ingenious puzzle games—the Rubik’s Cube. Hungarians wishing to enjoy the widely available but still costly material benefits can only afford them by | “moonlighting” in sec£ ond jobs, often in pri2 vate-sector ventures but ö occasionally in state-run I concerns. The Kádár gov-

ernment does not discourage their initiative. Hungary is still laboring under an estimated $4-billion foreign debt. And the country is contractually bound to ship more than half its exports to its Soviet masters and East Bloc partners.

Housing facilities are scarce, too. The waiting period to acquire a modest municipal apartment in Budapest can be as long as 15 years, and most young couples either live with relatives or volunteer to cook and care for pensioners—a practice known as “granny-sitting”—in exchange for accommodation. But Kádár, who assumed power 28 years ago, re-

mains personally popular even though his innately acquisitive fellow-countrymen chafe under the Communist philosophy.

Struggle: Hungary’s avid pursuit of creature comforts has enabled the country to submerge its oncepowerful instinct for political independence. Soviet-dominated communism has become a permanent way of life.

Said Gyorgy Konrad, a Hungarian novelist and political dissident: “We have learned the lessons of the 1956 uprising, of Czechoslovakia and Poland. Younger Hungarians do not feel that political struggle is effective.”

Still, according to Leslie Laszlo, a Hungarian emigré who is now pro-

fessor of Eastern European politics at Montreal’s Concordia University, “All is not lost. The Soviet Union has failed to impose control over art and culture. Literary and cultural journals quite openly note that they are part of Western Europe’s traditions, that their influences come from Paris and Rome. Young people say they are part of the West.” But, Laszlo declared, Soviet power made Charles de Gaulle’s vision of a larger Europe independent of Moscow and Washington “just a dream.”

For its part, France officially continues to reject the division of Europe and

the Yalta accords, although a senior government spokesman conceded that “change will require a long and slow evolution.” In his 1981 New Year’s address to the nation, French President François Mitterrand declared, “Anything that allows us to get out of Yalta is good, on condition that we never confuse the wishes that we might have with the realities of today.” But most observers contend that France uses the word “Yalta” as shorthand for the super-powers’ postwar division of § the world, not merely 5 Europe. Indeed, there is an undercurrent of popu1 lar feeling in France and o in other Western Eurog pean countries that a di| vided Europe might be 5 preferable to a reunited

Germany. Three decades ago, Jean Monnet, a former senior adviser to de Gaulle and one of the initial proponents of the European Common Market, expressed that concern in a famous remark: “Certainly I like Germany. I like Germany so much I want two of them.”

Realities: Beyond Europe, the Yalta accords have had a continuing negative impact on Soviet relations with Japan. Forty years ago, Roosevelt arrived in the Crimea determined to win agreement from Stalin that when Hitler surrendered, the Soviet Union would join America and Britain in the war against a still powerful Japan. Stalin’s price, which Roosevelt accepted, was the acquisition of Asian territory, including four Japanese islands in the Sea of Okhotsk northeast of Hokkaido.

Subsequently, the development of the atomic bomb—its first successful test on July 16, 1945, followed Yalta by five months—made Stalin’s help in the Pacific unnecessary. Indeed, Stalin waited until after the bomb was first used on Hiroshima to declare war on Japan only six days before Tokyo surrendered. But Stalin had acquired the Yaltaagreed islands, which Japan still wants to recover. Said Masamichi Inoki, president of To^ kyo’s Research Institute o for Peace and Security y and a respected unoffi" cial adviser to the Japanese government: “The Soviet Union cannot establish friendly relations with Japan without returning the northern territories, but I understand that this cannot be done immediately, as it would initiate a chain reaction [of border claims] in Europe.”

But Moscow has vacated territory occupied by its troops only once. It pulled out of Austria in 1955, after the other occupying powers and the Austrians guaranteed the country’s status as a neutral republic. Said former Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky, 74, in an interview last week: “A forced revision of Yalta would provide the political foundation for the Third World War. We can only hope for the liberalization of the peoples of Eastern Europe, including those of the Soviet Union, in circumstances of peace—and gradually.”

With David North in Eastern Europe, Ian Austen in Washington, Erigid Jansen in Paris, Peter Lewis in Brussels, Sue Masterman in Vienna and Peter McGill in Tokyo.

David North

Ian Austen

Brigid Jansen

Peter Lewis

Sue Masterman

Peter McGill