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Chapter 26

From the Prague Spring
to Solidarity

The failure of the Dubcek experiment in Czechoslovakia demonstrated once again that Eastern European leaders would be prohibited from deviating too far from the Moscow line, both in their internal affairs and more understandably in matters of foreign policy. In what became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine, Moscow considered intolerable any actions which might undermine socialism or the integrated system of defense established in 1955 by the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet troops stationed in Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring made it clear that this fundamental principle of Soviet policy was not to be compromised.


The international context changed in the 1970s, and the socialist world was compelled to change as well in its thinking, spawning new problems and new solutions. Internationally, trade between Eastern Europe and the capitalist countries increased considerably, but for certain socialist countries, this new growth translated into a chronic trade deficit with the West. intermediate or long-term loans covered the deficit, but created a sizable foreign debt in several countries. Poland led the Eastern bloc

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countries into the 1980s with a record-setting debt to Western countries on the order of $26 billion. The economic crisis affecting the Western world after the 1973-1974 energy shortage, along with the accompanying inflation and the sudden rise in the price of energy and certain raw materials, also affected the Eastern European countries. Equipment and supplies normally purchased in the West became more expensive, and oil prices on the Soviet market were raised to reflect OPEC prices. Inflationist tendencies infiltrated the socialist bloc. Prices rose despite government attempts to camouflage inflation with subsidies to keep the price-tags on certain products artificially low. Often, governments were forced to completely withdraw high-priced items from the market, replacing inflation with scarcity; the items would then resurface on the black-market at much higher costs. After a certain point, governments would be left with no choice but to adjust prices. The shock of sudden and drastic price increases on the people in the Eastern European countries, with their meager salaries, often created backlashes against the system. The most notable examples of these reactions were in Poland -- in 1970, 1976, and 1981. East Germany and Hungary, on the other hand, generally practiced a policy of true pricing, instituting gradual increases which did not provoke such adverse reactions.

Another major change in the 1960s was a relaxation of border restrictions for western tourists. Yugoslavia, Hungary and Rumania received the most tourists, but the other countries, with the exception of isolationist Albania, were also affected. Besides the foreign currency visitors brought in, western visitors exposed Eastern Europeans to different standards of living, different customs, ideas and freedoms. Inversely, Eastern European nationals from most countries began traveling to the West in growing numbers. These two-way exchanges brought new understanding to the peoples concerned, broadening perspectives for people who had lived in such isolation. The era of détente facilitated the opening of doors to the West, which led to certain changes in the behavior of the people in the socialist states. Younger generations of students and intellectuals often traveled to the West, or at least studied it. As a result, they became increasingly indifferent to the official ideology, at times challenging it openly.

Each Eastern European country developed its own body of dissidents. For some, the growing disaffection with the promises of the communist ideology led to violence, vandalism, or alcoholism; for others, disillusion compelled them to look elsewhere for answers, especially to more traditional beliefs. In all the Eastern bloc countries, whether of Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or even Muslim tradition, there was a tremendous resurgence of interest in religious ideology, especially among the young who had been educated to be atheist. Catholicism persisted in Poland, even when the church was persecuted, and was strengthened by Cardinal Wysynski's

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personal influence and the 1978 election of the Polish Pope, Wojtyla. Eastern Europe was experiencing a religious revival despite continuing harassment and persecution -- to the consternation of officials. Making every effort to appear indifferent, the impressive Eastern European delegations sent to the funeral of Paul VI and to the enthroning ceremonies for John Paul I and II in 1978 were nonetheless indicative of the importance Eastern European leaders actually gave the issue of religion.

The attitude shift among the policy makers in Eastern Europe also fomented a universal desire for greater freedom, especially after the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975. The Accords were signed by 35 nations, including t. e Soviet Union and all the Eastern European countries with the exception of Albania, with goals of strengthening European security, cooperation, and the promotion of "fundamental freedoms including freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief." In many Eastern European countries, intellectuals set up committees for the defense of human rights to keep vigil over the principles of Helsinki. The committee in Poland was named the KOR (Workers' Defense Committee); in Rumania and Czechoslovakia, the Charter 77 movement was formed after 500 people signed a document requesting freedom of expression and conscience. These committees were generally composed of intellectuals, writers and poets, philosophers and artists. Many members came from the ranks of the Communist party, including Ota Ornets, who signed the Charter 77, and the Rumanian writer, Paul Goma. The committees published regular appeals and circulated szamizdat literature, the Russian word for clandestine publications usually typed and circulated by dissident writers.

Alongside these activist committees, independent trade unions sprang up spontaneously, shadowing official unions which served the interests of the "working-class government" rather than the workers themselves. The Solidarity movement in Poland is the best-known example. Independent trade unions were formed in Rumania after the harsh repressions of the miner strikes in Transylvania, and also in East Germany and in Czechoslovakia. These "free" unions were greatly hindered by the authorities; most Rumanian independent union leaders were interned in psychiatric hospitals, while their East German and Czechoslovak counterparts were imprisoned.

In Hungary, Kadar maintained a conciliatory policy towards activist groups, despite the hardening of policy elsewhere. The official unions actually developed a role in defending the workers, interests. Hungary seems to have escaped the protest movements, with a few exceptions: the "leftist" writer Miklos Haraszti took the government to task in his book, denouncing the negative aspects of assembly line work in factories, and a few sociologists of the "Budapest School" tried without much success to begin a protest

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Hungary remained, despite foregoing reservations, a country without violent confrontations, primarily because its leaders were economically effective and politically flexible. The other Eastern European countries, however, protected themselves from internal violence through their firm-handed policy against dissension; Zhivkov in Bulgaria, Honecker in East Germany, Ceausescu in Rumania, and Husak in Czechoslovakia all maintained a hard line and an unconditional alignment with Moscow after the failure of the Prague Spring. Their success in suppressing internal strife was not matched everywhere, especially on the Adriatic coast and on the shores of the Baltic.



In the post-1968 era, Albania and Yugoslavia were the two particularly sensitive sectors within the socialist world. The two countries were similar in several ways. Both were led by men who had held power since 1945; Albania's Enver Hoxha and Yugoslavia's Marshal Tito had both been leaders in the resistance movements fighting the occupation, and had both managed to free their respective countries without aid from the Soviet army. Both Hoxha and Tito had been militant Communists since their youth, and both, through different circumstances, were led to reject Moscow's protection in favor of national independence. And both, after breaking with Moscow, looked for outside support. For a short time, Tito accepted aid from the Western powers, essentially to prepare for potential aggression by neighboring countries. After his reconciliation with the Soviets in 1955, Tito played the Third World card and became the champion of the "non-aligned countries" until his death in 1980. Hoxha turned to the Chinese after his break with the Kremlin, and with Chinese technical and military assistance was able to maintain Albania's political independence while modernizing the country. Both countries claimed to be authentic socialists, but each took its own nationalist road to socialism. Finally, both countries held the distinction of occupying strategic positions on the Adriatic coasts, able to offer excellent shelter to a friendly war fleet. Facing the Italian coast and in close proximity to the eastern Mediterranean, they offered a tempting advantage to any country with whom they were on good terms.

The major differences between Albania and Yugoslavia were equally significant, and remain sources of contention in the 1980s. A small country, Albania is poor in resources, isolated by its terrain but homogenous in its population. Yugoslavia, by contrast, is vast, open on all sides, with a multi-national population and varied, though unevenly distributed, natural

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resources. Politically, Albania continued to maintain the rigid structures of the Stalin era, to the extent that Stalin remained the object of official veneration. In contrast, the Yugoslavian regime adopted the principal of decentralization in the early 1950s and became progressively more liberal -- especially after the 1966 crisis eliminated the hard-liners from the Party. Economically, while decentralization perpetuated regional disparities and social inequalities in Yugoslavia, Albania's authoritarian and rigid planning led to economic development with an egalitarian society.

Albania's foreign policy began to shift at the end of 1976 just after the death of Mao Tse-tung, "the great friend of the Albanian people." The leaders in Tirana began to worry when the new Chinese leaders denounced the crimes of the "Gang of Four." Their anxiety increased when in September, 1977, Tito -- the distinguished adversary of the Albanian Communist party -- took a long tour of the USSR, China and Northern Korea. By the end of 1977, the Albanian press began to publish articles criticizing the dangerous policies of Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping -- labeled "opportunists" for the occasion. The tone of the criticism became more and more acerbic, and the Chinese leaders were soon denounced as "traitors and renegades of Marxism-Leninism." The Chinese took note of these attacks, and on July 7, 1978, the Beijing government announced that it was recalling its technicians immediately and was suspending all credit agreements with Albania. The Chinese technicians returned home by the end of the month, and Albanian trainees in China did the same. To the leaders in the Albanian capital, Tirana, China was "a revisionist, imperialistic and chauvinistic superpower."

The visit of Hua Guofeng to Yugoslavia in August, 1978, less than a month after the break between Albania and China, solidified Hoxha's position. For the Albanians, the Chinese, just like the Russians, were nothing but "villainous revisionists." Tito was still the object of the most virulent attacks; in a brochure distributed by the Albanian embassy in Belgrade just after the visit of Hua Guofeng, Enver Hoxha deplored the "dominating, expansionist and hegemonic tendencies" of Tito, whose experiment with decentralization had led his country to "anarchism", and who "was selling out completely" to foreign capitalists by granting them the right to invest in Yugoslavia. Hoxha also denounced Tito's policy towards religion, considered by the Albanians to be too tolerant.

Marshal Tito's death on May 4, 1980, momentarily quieted the customary attacks of the Albanian press on Yugoslavia. It was even possible to think that with the leadership in Belgrade, relations between the two countries would improve. This was the case until the end of the summer of 1980, when signs of unrest began resurfacing. Suddenly, in April, 1981, violent demonstrations by the Albanian minority in Yugoslavia escalated

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tension. A particularly prolific community of about 1,300,000 Albanian nationals were living in Yugoslav territory, primarily in the autonomous territory of Kosovo in the Federated Republic of Serbia. There, Albanians constituted nearly three-quarters of the population, while the Albanian minority in the Federated Republic of Macedonia numbered about 17 percent.

Until the 17th century, the population of Kosovo was exclusively Serbian, but after the Serbian population emigrated to Hungary to escape Turkish persecution, the country was repopulated with Albanian Islamic converts. In 1913, Serbia recovered Kosovo through the Balkan Wars and began to re-Serbanize the region by bringing in Serbian colonists. By the 1930s, however, the Serbs represented only 20 percent of the population. The Albanian population had provoked riots in Kosovo before; in November and December, 1968, they asked that Kosovo become the seventh republic within the Yugoslav federation, causing a commotion. Belgrade refused their demand, but made a few economic and cultural concessions. Calm returned for a period, but beginning in 1975-1976, tension rose again. In February, 1976, Albanian "Irredentists" were accused of plotting to undermine territorial integrity and were harshly penalized. Latent unrest took on a much more overt character in early March, 1981 . For over a month, the region of Kosovo was rocked with violence which peaked in early April at Prichtina, the capital of the region. According to Yugoslav authorities, demonstrators cried out for Albanian nationalism; they were in fact demanding that Kosovo become part of Albania. This agitation was accompanied by a general strike throughout the province. The official tally from the Kosovo riots cited nine deaths (eight demonstrators and one of the peace-keeping forces) and hundreds of wounded on both sides, but eye-witnesses speak of dozens of dead and thousands of wounded. The area was sealed off by the army and the militia, and order was re-established in mid-April. New demonstrations broke out again in the first days of May when the demonstrators went on trial. In total, over 2,000 persons were arrested and charged for participating in the riots. The Yugoslav authorities decided to hit hard; the judges, gathered on April 21 under Federal Prosecutor Goutchevitch, received instructions to "condemn the enemies of the country with vigor." In addition, the leadership of the League of Communists of Kosovo was purged "because of its incompetency and its inertia." At that point, over 500 persons "who had attempted to assault the constitutional order, the integrity and the sovereignty of Yugoslavia", had been sentenced to long prison terms.

The Kosovo affair had natural repercussions on relations between Albania and Yugoslavia. On April 8, 1981, the Albanian Communist daily, Zeri I Popullit rose to the defense of the Albanians in Kosovo, "who asked to

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be liberated from Serbian rule." Yugoslavia, on the other side, denounced Albanian interference in Yugoslavia's internal affairs and suspended cultural agreements between Kosovo and Albania. Belgrade blamed the Kosovo trouble on a clandestine Albanian Marxist-Leninist party founded in 1973 with the support of the Tirana government.

The effects of what had taken place in Kosovo extended beyond the Balkans. On July 14, 1981, an attempt was made on the life of the Yugoslav ambassador in Brussels, and other malevolent acts were directed at Yugoslav establishments in Belgium. Yugoslav officials blamed these acts on Albanian nationals, but no one was able to prove it.

The events in Kosovo, whatever their origin, demonstrated the fragility of the Yugoslav Federation, a fragility which became even more apparent after the death of Tito. The problems facing the country had existed for a number of years, but the political void left by Tito only exacerbated them. Nationalism persisted within the country, primarily in Croatia, a region with a past tied to the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy and to Western tradition, and ill at ease in a Serbian-controlled state. The Croat problem had been latent since before 1945, during the interwar period, but sharpened noticeably after 1971. Croat terrorism intensified in 1971, both within and without the country. The most spectacular act was an assassination attempt on the Yugoslav ambassador in Stockholm on April 9 of that year; it was the first in a string of terrorist attacks on diplomats.

Terrorist activity within the country consisted primarily of Croat student agitation, and was much tamer. The 30,000 students at the University of Zagreb launched a general strike from November 23 to December 3, to protest Serbian imperialism in Croatia. They were supported by the Matica Hrvatska, an association led by a Catholic intellectual, Professor Marko Veselica, a defender of the Croat people's cultural rights who was later imprisoned. The authorities reacted to the protest by arresting strikers and purging the Croat Communist party, accusing it of being too lax in its treatment of the nationalists. Relatively popular local Communist leaders such as Tripalo and Eiremuj vere dismissed, but these actions did not pacify the student strikers. Although the revolt had not succeeded in bringing in the workers who had been given a few economic concessions by Tito, most of the Croat population and the Catholic church were solidly behind the students. Serbian control over the Croat people indeed became the rule; over 80 percent of the police force in Croatia was Serbian, and the proportion was even higher in the upper echelons. Similar proportions existed in higher administrations and in the army.

Macedonia, one of Yugoslavia's six federated republics, lies at the other end of the country from Croatia. With 1,700,000 inhabitants -- 1,200,000 of whom are considered "Macedonian" by the census -- Macedonia constituted

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another factor of instability in Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavs tried to create a Macedonian nation and to erase all vestiges of Bulgar tradition. At the end of 1978, the Memoirs of Madame Drogoitcheva, a member of the Bulgarian Communist party, were published, reviving the quarrel between Sofia and Belgrade because of her insistence that "Macedonians are Bulgarians." Inversely, in the name of Macedonian nationalism, the Yugoslavs accused the Bulgarians of assimilating the "Macedonians" living in Bulgarian territory.

The second serious problem Yugoslavia grappled with was its economy. The country was deeply affected by the economic crises in the West during the 1970s. The foreign trade deficit, always large, ballooned when the prices of oil and other raw materials increased. Disorganized decentralization, a policy of raising salaries, the reparation of currency spent by Yugoslav tourists outside of the country and the large budgetary deficit accumulated by the Tito regime, all contributed to inflation. The foreign debt grew to around 17 billion dollars by 1980. Devaluation and a policy of austerity entailed a lower standard of living for the population. These measures were undoubtedly necessary in order to recover an equilibrium lost during the years in which the country lived beyond its means, but risked provoking discontent. Unemployment was also high: over 800,000 were affected in 1980, and unemployment compensation was ridiculously low. Sending surplus man-power abroad was practically impossible since most West European countries closed their borders to foreign workers. Even West Germany urged their gastarbeiter (guest-workers) to return to their own countries, including several hundred-thousand Yugoslav workers.

Yugoslavia's economic crisis was compounded by regional disparities and antagonisms. Rich regions like Croatia and Slovenia became less and less disposed to share with the poorer republics in the eastern regions of the country.

The political void left by the death of Marshal Tito did not simplify matters. The position of the president of the republics was officially defined in the Constitution of 1974 specifically for Marshal Tito during his lifetime. On May 15, 1980, the system of joint leadership provided for in the constitution for the post-Tito period was established. The presidency was transferred from one person to a collective leadership of eight individuals, each representing a republic or an autonomous province. Each member of the presidency now serves for a year as the head of the "collective presidency of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." The rotation of politicians as head of state undeniably weakened the political power of the position. The League of Yugoslav Communists came under the direction of a group of hard-liners led by the Serb Dusan Dragosavac and the Slovene Stane Dolanc. The politically aware in Yugoslavia recognized the inconveniences of the joint system of

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leadership, and worked to substitute a more efficient organization.

After the death of Tito, the supporters of the hard-line -- afraid of the risks involved in a break-up of the federation and of smoldering social tensions -- were clearly in the process of taking over and making their own views policy. Slovene writers who asked for a little more publishing freedom were sternly reprimanded by the official press. Seven professors at the University in Belgrade, released in 1975 for ultra-leftist activities in collusion with outside enemies, were recalled. The Serbian poet Gojko Djogo was accused of having presented Yugoslavia in one of his last books "in a false and malevolent light" and of having "offended Tito's memory" he had written that Yugoslav society was a society without freedom. For these offenses he was arrested and sentenced to two years, but numerous Serbian intellectuals and academics petitioned for their colleague, and were able to obtain his release.

A religious revival in Yugoslavia did not please Tito's successors, and a new polemic developed between the Catholic church and the state. During a meeting of the leaders of the League of Yugoslav Communists, one of the presidium, Branko Pouharitch, violently attacked the Croatian hierarchy, declaring that "the highest dignitaries of the Catholic church of Croatia are turning the church into a refuge for dissidents and the politically desperate" and condemned all requests for the rehabilitation of Cardinal Stepinac. The Archbishop of Zagreb, Kouhanitch, had in fact just publicly demanded the rehabilitation of his distant predecessor. In response to these attacks, the episcopate replied at Easter time in a pastoral letter demanding that the freedom of worship be observed.

The state adopted the same rigid attitude toward the Muslim community. The religious revival was also widespread there, and the dozens of mosques in Sarajevo were visited with increasing frequency. Several Muslims were condemned for "war crimes" committed when Bosnia was part of Ante Pavelitch's Croatian state.

This hardening in interior policies coincided with a noticeable reinforcement of Soviet influence in Yugoslavia. Relations between Belgrade and Moscow became more steady: Soviet warships called more and more frequently at Yugoslav ports and a certain military cooperation developed between the two countries.


The whole world watched Poland after the summer of 1980, and the names of a few newsmakers in that country, Gierek, Jaruzelski, Kania, Walesa, Wysynski, and of course Pope John Paul II (Wojtyla), became household words. Several events took place in Poland which were then

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unique in the East European countries: several hard-fought strikes were successful; a cardinal spoke on equal terms with a Communist party chief; animated debate within the Communist party resulted in decisions taken without unanimous consent; and a Party first secretary was unsure for days whether he would be re-elected.

These unusual events were preceded by a long succession of political, economic and social crises that began with the 1956 workers, revolt in Poznan. It was thought that returning the national and so-called liberal Communist, Gomulka, to power would settle the country's serious problems, but this was not the case. Gomulka's term was marked by a progressive hardening of the regime, by a total alignment with the USSR during the events in Prague in 1968, and by the continuation, even aggravation, of the economic conditions underlying the crisis of 1956. In December, 1970, a new uprising of the worker class ended Gomulka's stay in power. The economic crisis had been provoked in the beginning by rising inflation and artificially

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low prices of certain commodities. A government decision on December 12, 1970, to sharply increase the price of food in order to halt inflation sparked the revolt. Although these measures were necessary, their sudden imposition just before the Christmas holidays provoked an equally sudden reaction from the public. On December 14, 1970, in the Baltic ports from Gdansk to Szczeczin, spontaneous strikes broke out. Thousands of workers from the naval shipyards gathered in demonstrations that quickly degenerated into riots; local Party headquarters were burned, and members of the militia attacked. Gomulka called in the army and asked General Korczynski to restore order. In the night, the entire coastal region was cut off from the rest of the country and occupied by Polish army tanks.

The country was unaware of what was happening on the Baltic. When the government gave its version of the events two days later, it blamed "bums" and "vandals," but these statements were not at all well received. Demonstrations began again in earnest. On December 17 at Gdynia, troops fired on workers in the shipyard who had returned to work after three days on strike; on the same day the police fired shots at Szczeczin. Officially, about 50 died and hundreds more were wounded. Unofficial tallies were much higher. Throughout the country -- n Poznan, in Warsaw, in Silesia -- people demonstrated their solidarity with the workers in the shipyards. In the Baltic ports, the workers went on strike again and occupied their work sites. Democratically elected representatives of the workers opened negotiations with the local authorities. It was under these circumstances that a young electrician by the name of Lech Walesa was elected president of the strikers, committee in Gdansk. Talks led to the withdrawal of army units, and work began again on December 22, 1970.

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