Jolt in Eastern Europe

August 21, 1991

The reactionary coup in the Soviet Union will not restore

Communist dictatorships in countries of Eastern Europe that Mikhail S. Gorbachev let go free. And while it might bring inspiration and hope to orthodox Communists in those countries, it is unlikely to come to their aid.

Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia have anti-Communist regimes that, whatever their own frailty, count for support on popular detestation of former Communist regimes. East Germany, a former enforcer of Soviet dictates, is no longer a country but a part of West Germany.

The nearly half-million Soviet troops and civilians combined in East Germany are no immediate threat to united Germany, except as potential refugees claiming asylum.

But Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia must nonetheless tread carefully. The Soviet Union is still the elephant in the next cot, capable of making a profound impression by turning over. Comments from Czech President Vaclav Havel and Polish President Lech Walesa were circumspect.

Romania and Bulgaria, where unreconstructed Communists calling themselves Socialists still rule, might find sympathies with Moscow's new junta. Yet President Zhelyu Zhelev of Bulgaria was the first Eastern European leader to condemn the coup in the same tones as Western statesmen. Bulgarians feel ethnic affinity for Russians, yet enjoy the luxury of having no common border.

Albania and Yugoslavia have Communists fighting to hang on to power but both are long hostile to Soviet influence. Serbian Communists driving events forward in Yugoslavia may feel themselves ethnic and ideological brothers to the Soviet Committee of Eight, but the latter are too busy with their own affairs for Yugoslav distractions.

The changes of the past two years in Eastern Europe look permanent, even where, as in Albania, Bulgaria and Romania, they are incomplete.

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