What The Future Holds

A panel of TIME experts foresees East European instability -- and inevitable German unity in a reshaped Continent

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The most somber note at the session was struck in assessing the state of the Soviet Union. Soviet panelist Andranik Migranyan, senior research fellow at Moscow's Institute of Economics of the World Socialist System, warned that after five years of perestroika, "our economists say we have yet to hit the bottom. The people are acutely aware of the gap between words and deeds by the government. We feel we might be entering a period of chaos." Already, Migranyan warned, a loose coalition of forces -- disgruntled members of labor bureaucracies, ethnic Russian nationalists and members of the Communist elite, or nomenklatura -- can be discerned that might eventually seek Gorbachev's overthrow. "The longer Gorbachev's reforms are stuck," said the Soviet analyst, "the greater the opportunity for his adversaries to organize against him."

French analyst Dominique Moisi, co-founder of the Paris-based French Institute for International Relations, agreed. On recent visits to Moscow, he said, he was struck by gathering popular pessimism. Said Moisi: "The elite around Gorbachev sound like the aristocrats on the eve of the French Revolution. Even among the most devout Gorbachev supporters hopes have been replaced by fears."

According to Migranyan, the unsettling change in climate is partly due to Gorbachev's democratizing efforts. Those measures have permitted grass-roots resistance to unpopular reforms. "The Soviet Union," said Migranyan, "is acting like a democracy without really being one." Above all, said Migranyan, his country needed a model to make the transition from state-owned to free- market economy. "Nobody knows how to do it," he said, including Gorbachev, whose government lacks "conceptual ideas and clarity about what to do." Migranyan said the short-term remedy was either food or force. As long as there was sausage in the shops, the government had room for maneuver, but the sausage was running short, so perhaps it was time "to limit democracy in a period of autocratic rule."

Two outcomes were possible, Migranyan suggested: Gorbachev might become more authoritarian, "crushing all obstacles and imposing economic reforms," or a conservative regime might emerge that would jettison him along with his political and social reforms, even while seeking to modernize the economy. With Gorbachev's room for maneuver shrinking, Migranyan said, "maybe we need an authoritarian period of development . . . if democracy prevents market mechanisms from developing."

Henry Grunwald, U.S. Ambassador to Austria (and former editor-in-chief of Time Inc.), who expressed his personal views, acknowledged that there would be "a great temptation for the Soviets and others to have a little repression on the way to free markets," a process he called "perestroika without glasnost." But Grunwald doubted even that would have the desired result. He pointed out that while some Asian economies -- Taiwan's and South Korea's, for example -- flourished under authoritarian regimes, much of Latin America's had not. Said he: "There must be a degree of democracy and freedom for people to do their best, to take chances."

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