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East Europeans Eclipsed by Gorbachev But Still Fighting

July 17, 1991

LONDON (AP) _ Two years ago, the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe were economic summit darlings. This time around they’re summit shadows, eclipsed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev but fighting not to be forgotten.

Long before Gorbachev arrived in London for today’s post-summit meeting with leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies, the Eastern European countries put their cards on the summit bargaining table.

Having cut their political umbilical cord to the Soviet Union, the Eastern Europeans are struggling to turn their centrally planned economies into free- market systems. But they are uncertain about finding new markets in the West and fear losing their traditional markets in the Soviet Union.

The leaders of Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary sent a joint letter to each summit leader with a simple message: help the Soviets by financing the purchase of Eastern European surplus food and textiles, rather than shipping goods from the United States or Western Europe.

″The key is to make a link between economic development in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe,″ said a Polish diplomatic source, speaking on condition he not be identified. ″It could be something like credits to the Soviet Union to buy our products, or other credit arrangements ... that would help our exports.″

Romania’s prime minister, Petre Roman, also sent a letter to British Prime Minister John Major, the summit chairman, asking for support for his country’s economic reforms. Romania offered to host a wider meeting on economic assistance for Eastern Europe in Bucharest this year, said Gheorghe Duta, press counselor at the Romanian Embassy here.

″We are very happy about the intentions of the summiteers to give support to the young democracies in Eastern Europe,″ Duta said.

On the eve of the summit, President Bush tried to assure Eastern European nations that the Soviet Union would not be helped at their expense.

In their political communique issued Tuesday, the summit leaders said they were happy with the new democracies’ progress toward reform.

″We have a strong interest in the success of market reforms and democracy in central and Eastern Europe and we commit ourselves to full support for these reforms,″ the joint statement said.

Still, there was no mention of any new aid package for Eastern Europe and the big question remains how much Gorbachev will get from his capitalist former rivals.

At their 1989 summit in Paris, the leaders of the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada agreed to set up an aid program for Hungary and Poland to help cushion the transformation from communism to capitalism.

This program, supervised by the 12-nation European Community, has been expanded to include Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia. Albania may be added soon.

Two-dozen nations have pledged $31 billion in technical assistance, financial aid and food aid. EC nations have promised $24 billion. The United States and Japan each have pledged about $2 billion.

The EC complained about the limited U.S. contribution and released figures showing its exports from Eastern Europe in 1990 totaled $23.7 billion compared with $2.2 billion to the United States.

The Americans criticized the community for not doing more to open its markets to Eastern Europe, a complaint reiterated Monday by Poland’s deputy trade minister, Andrzej Olechowski.

At a summit news conference Tuesday, EC Vice President Franz Andriessen promised to improve market access for Eastern European goods.

″The key is to concentrate on reestablishing trade flows not only between the region and the EC, but among East European nations and the Soviet Union,″ Andriessen said.

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