Few fear reversal of break with Moscow

August 20, 1991|By Kay Withers in Warsaw

EASTERN EUROPE — The ouster of Soviet reformer Mikhail S. Gorbachev has reawakened fears deeply ingrained in East Europe, which only two years ago threw off Moscow's yoke.

But few Eastern Europeans -- either in the leadership or at grass-roots level -- think that history will be reversed in the region or that the new Soviet leaders would even try.

"They can't try to take over here again," said Maciej Chabowski, a Warsaw taxi driver. "Things have gone too far. This is a separate country now. It would be an act of war. They just want to get their own house in order."

The fears, born of 40 years as unwilling Soviet satellites, manifested themselves in the extreme caution of official statements, the news media's utter absorption with the Soviet drama and the popular preoccupation with news from Moscow.

Only in Bulgaria, which does not border the Soviet Union, was the coup explicitly condemned.

But in vulnerable Poland, President Lech Walesa issued a careful statement describing the events as "of fundamental significance for neighborly relations" and declared that Poland would continue on its sovereign road. Though he called on Poles to pull together "at this special moment," his statement contained no support for Mr. Gorbachev or condemnation of the coup.

Similarly, in Prague, Czechoslovakia's President Vaclav Havel announced that "the process of radical political and economic transformation" in Czechoslovakia "cannot be reversed."

In Hungary, the Defense Ministry described the situation as "very grave" but said that there was no special military alert.

In Prague, Alena Faltyskova said there was a "general feeling that the Russians have enough problems at home not to try anything here. But she added, "It was a bit of a shock. Our only relief is that all the Soviet troops are out of the country."

Though Eastern Europeans don't seriously fear a military or political takeover by the Soviets, they do see economic repercussions -- less trade, diminished supplies and the problem of supporting thousands of refugees.

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