Courtesy Reuters

Gorbachev and Eastern Europe

The spirit of Mikhail Gorbachev’s "Moscow Spring" haunts Eastern Europe. While most people in the region—including members of various opposition groups—welcome the changes made and the changes promised in the Soviet Union, and hope for similar changes in Eastern Europe as well, most leaders worry about the likely repercussions.

After all, it happened before that when Moscow sneezed Eastern Europe caught pneumonia. In the aftermath of the 1956 de-Stalinization campaign in the Soviet Union, reformist elements gained the upper hand in Poland and Hungary. Czechoslovakia’s 1968 "Prague Spring" followed Soviet economic reforms in the mid-1960s. But in no case did these Soviet-inspired changes last long. In 1956 reformism in Hungary turned into a popular revolution that prompted Soviet intervention, while the initial gains of the 1956 "Polish October" gradually disappeared. In 1968, another military intervention—"justified" by the Brezhnev Doctrine—put an end to Czechoslovakia’s economic and political reform movement.

In the past, then, while reforms in the Soviet Union proved to be manageable or even reversible, the pressure for change in Eastern Europe proved to be uncontrollable. Will history repeat itself? Will the winds of Gorbachev’s glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) reach Eastern Europe—and with what consequences?


With East European officials showing signs of aversion to starting Gorbachev-style reforms or accelerating existing ones, most of the region is out of step with the Soviet Union. While in Moscow criticism and self-criticism are in vogue, in East Berlin the party leadership reaffirms its own "correct course," past and present. In Moscow the rehabilitation of Nikolai Bukharin, an early proponent of more tolerant communist rule, is under way; in Prague Alexander Dubcek, leader of the 1968 Prague Spring, remains a nonperson under virtual house arrest. In Moscow the self-management of enterprises is under consideration; in Bucharest President Nicolae Ceausescu asserts that "real socialism" has nothing to do with self-management. In Moscow intellectuals are beginning to be allowed to give voice to their concerns; in Budapest—even in Budapest—the

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