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Czechoslovakia, which held its first free elections in more than 44 years last spring, could collapse economically if Western European countries and the United States do not send more economic aid, Czech Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier told a Kennedy School audience last night.
When speaking about last year's fall of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Dienstbier said, "we have not so many illusions as before." He said that the new Prague government faces many difficulties as it prepares for privatization and the transition toward a free market economy.
The Middle East crisis was mentioned as an element that is straining the Eastern European economies. "We are in danger to be strangled by oil prices and a very bad economic situation," Dienstbier warned a capacity crowd at a panel discussion about "Freedom in Czechoslovakia."
Although the "bad guys" who oppressed Czechoslovakia for 45 years are gone, Dienstbier said some Czechs have a simple mentality that now the "good guys" are going to make things right. The people themselves are "not so interested in taking in their hands the reins," he said.
"It is not so easy to be a free and democratic society," the minister said. "People grow used to a totalitarian system."
Shirley Williams, service professor of electoral politics at the Kennedy School and Graham T. Allison '62, former dean of the Kennedy School of Government, both criticized Western efforts to help former communist countries, saying that more aid is needed so that the new democratic governments can survive. Allison predicted "a very hard winter" for these new governments.
Dienstbier noted that in the last national elections 90 percent of the Czech people voted while too few people in the United States vote.
Introducing Dienstbier as a fellow journalist, Marvin Kalb director of the Barone Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy, began by saying that freedom is something everyone shares.
Michael Getler, editor in charge of foreign correspondents at the Washington Post, said the media could play a crucial role in Eastern European events.
"Television will be the greatest influence" on public opinion as it is in the West, Getler said. "Is the Eastern European reader ready for a new kind of press?"
Dienstbier acknowledged the need to "send people abroad to learn these new things" but said Czechoslovakian journalists are much more eager to report the truth than they had been before the fall of communism.
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