Eastern Europe cheered, relieved by failure of coup THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 22, 1991|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- "If they haven't arrested Yeltsin," said Warsaw University lecturer Danuta Chylinska when she heard of the Soviet putsch Monday, "then things can't be too bad."

When the coup collapsed yesterday, largely thanks to Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, Eastern Europe breathed a sigh of relief and acclaimed Mr. Yeltsin as a new hero.

"What a relief!" Ms. Chylinska said yesterday. "I never liked Yeltsin much because he was opposed to Gorbachev. But he made the greatest contribution to resolving the crisis."

"It's wonderful!" said Alena Faltyskova in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where there was jubilation in the streets. "We are celebrating, we are so happy."

"People were anxious," said Agnes Major in Budapest, Hungary. "There was just one question on everybody's mind: Will the Russians come?"

She saw Mr. Yeltsin as a man who had "risen above political differences" and shown a real commitment to democracy. "Yeltsin almost single-handedly resolved the crisis," she said. "Without him the coup might have succeeded."

"He will be president of the whole Soviet Union," said Irena Grodek in Krakow, Poland. "Gorbachev will step aside in a few months."

With Mr. Yeltsin's stock so high, Eastern European leaders made haste to be seen associating with him.

His telephone conversation with Poland's President Lech Walesa was shown in full at the end of the prime-time TV newscast. Hungary's Premier Jozsef Antall also informed the nation of his assurances to Mr. Yeltsin of Hungary's support.

Skepticism, though, is built into the East European psyche.

"We are suspicious that things are not what they seem," Ms. Faltyskova said. "It ended so quickly. Could Gorbachev have made some compromise?" And, she added, expressing the thoughts of several of those quizzed, "Why was Yeltsin not arrested? He was an obvious danger."

Several saw the Soviet putsch as amateurish, unlike Poland's martial law in 1981. "Either you have martial law or you don't," Ms. Chylinska said. "You don't bring out the tanks but keep the borders open and the radio functioning so as to be popular with the people."

The two-day brush with the past produced a welcome unity among the squabbling parties and ethnic groups that have succeeded the Communists in Central Europe.

In Prague's Wenceslaus Square, a rally to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Soviet's crushing of the "Prague Spring" turned into a multiparty demonstration in favor of Soviet democracy. A public opinion survey in the Czechoslovak capital showed that only 1 percent supported the Soviet coup.

In Budapest, all the Hungarian political parties -- except the hard-line heirs to the Hungarian Socialist (Communist) Party -- supported Mr. Yeltsin and democracy.

In Poland, President Walesa called for unity "in this special moment" and appeared to get it.

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