JOHN BIERMAN December 18 1989


JOHN BIERMAN December 18 1989



The mildly reformist Czechoslovakian prime minister, Ladislav Adamec, resigned under pressure, unable to build a cabinet acceptable to the prodemocracy movement. East German President Egon Krenz, whose late conversion to reform was not enough to save him from public fury over disclosures of corruption among his former Communist colleagues, also stepped down. Bulgaria’s Communist leaders, facing mounting popular demand for reform, fired six members of the Politburo and 27 Central Committee members, the second purge in four weeks. And inside the Soviet Union, the once all-powerful Communist party felt the chill winds of change as well. The semi-autonomous Lithuanian parliament delivered an unprecedented challenge to the Kremlin by voting to establish a multiparty system; and in Moscow on Saturday, the Communist leadership, under growing pressure to surrender its monopoly on power, decided to start preparations for a full congress next October when key decisions on

the party’s future will be taken. Last week, all over what was once the Soviet empire, the landslide set off by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s own cautious reform program gained momentum.

The sheer pace of change created dangers of its own. Despite the orderly way in which both Czechoslovaks and East Germans have con-

ducted their parallel peaceful revolutions, there were signs that events were spinning out of control. That was particularly evident in East Germany. There, a leadership vacuum, combined with corruption scandals that included revelations of graft and lavish lifestyles among senior old-guard Communists, made the situation especially tense. Many of the former officials, including party leader and head of state Erich Honecker, were detained under house arrest last week.

But public resentment was so extreme that angry citizens stormed offices of the hated security police to prevent the destruction of confidential files. “We have been betrayed. They will suffer for this,” declared factory worker Wolfgang Hauer, voicing the feelings of many East Germans who once believed that the Communist leaders practised the austerity that they preached. In an attempt to calm the situation, the Communist-led coalition government met church leaders and prodemocracy activists. The talks produced a majority vote in favor of rewriting the constitution and holding free elections next May 6. The East German parliament was expected to vote on the proposal soon.


Meanwhile, the embattled East German Communist party, at an emergency weekend congress, chose a new party chairman, 41year-old human rights lawyer Gregor Gysi, best known for defending dissidents. The congress also decided to change the party’s name and to debate a program of democratic socialism at a second session to be held at the end of this week. Gysi, who becomes the youngest leader in the Eastern Bloc, immediately promised to break with the party’s Stalinist past. He also said that the party would put up a strong fight in the May elections and would be open to taking part in a coalition government.

But it was doubtful if those concessions would appease incensed grassroots members or the reform movement, whose anger over

abuses of power forced the resignation of the entire Politburo and Central Committee last week. As Honecker and many of his most senior colleagues faced prosecution for corruption, former deputy minister of foreign trade Alexander Schalk-Golodkowski was in custody in West Berlin, promising to fight any attempt to extradite him. Schalk-Golodkowski was expelled from the party and stripped of his post on Dec. 3 after disclosures that he had operated a secret arms-export business. He fled the country and surrendered to the West German authorities three days later, promising to return nearly $40 million in hard currency that he had hidden in Swiss bank accounts.

The mood in Prague was also tense as the opposition Civic Forum pressed demands for greater prodemocracy representation than existed in the 21-member cabinet—of whom 16 were Communists—and for the replacement of hard-line President Gustáv Husák, 76. Prime Minister Adamec stepped down in face of the demands. Then, on Saturday, Prime minister-designate Marian Caifa, 43, nominated to succeed Adamec, announced Czechoslovakia’s first non-Communist-dominated gov-

ernment in 41 years. Caifa said that 11 of 21 ministers would either be nonaligned or members of the Socialist or People’s parties. Almost simultaneously, in a dramatic TV address, Husák announced that he would quit after swearing in the new cabinet. Said Husák: “We have to do away with the mistakes of the past.” Civic Forum sources said that they planned to nominate playwright Václav Havel, their leading figure, to replace him.

The week’s developments illustrated the need to maintain stability while the prodemocracy movement swept on. One response came from European Community leaders meeting in Strasbourg. Their summit agreed to create a new development bank to finance reform of Eastern Europe’s battered economies and suggested a new program of food aid for Poland, to supplement $130 million in aid already sent. Earlier, the Warsaw Pact meeting to which Gorbachev reported after his recent summit

with President George Bush also contributed a stabilizing move. In a stunning reversal, the leaders condemned the Soviet-led armed intervention that crushed the Prague Spring reformist government of Czechoslovakian leader Alexander Dubcek in 1968.

In Brussels, Bush asssured his NATO allies that, despite the lowering of Cold War tensions, “the United States will remain a European power.” He also sought to ease European concerns about the growing likelihood of German reunification. That, Bush said, would occur “only in the context of Germany’s commitment to NATO and an increasingly integrated European community.” At the same time, Bush made it clear that he was committed to helping Gorbachev and his reform program to survive. But there were tight limits on the extent to which the West could help. And Gorbachev, with dangerous new challenges appearing almost daily, faced an increasingly unpredictable future.





East Berlin