Published February 1977 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Growing Unrest in Eastern Europe From the Baltic Sea in the north to the Czechoslovakian border in the south, the East German communist government is erecting another "Iron Curtain" to keep its citizens from defecting to the West. This nearly impenetrable wall of mine fields, concrete walls, electronic sensors, and armed-guard towers is a further extension of the ugly and despised Berlin Wall built in 1961.
The construction of this great barrier reflects the growing insecurity of the East German and Soviet leaders who are fearful of the unrest in Eastern Europe. Many observers report that this unrest and discontent have reached crisis proportions and could erupt at any time.
Dissent and rebellion are nothing new in the Soviet satellites. Bloody uprisings occurred in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956.
Last year, food riots swept Poland and nearly toppled the government. Public opposition has not subsided, and the political climate remains tense.
In East Germany itself, the government was shocked recently when thousands of supposedly loyal and docile citizens boldly applied for emigration to the West under the terms of the Helsinki agreement. The government refused the requests and had to obtain extra Soviet secret police to quell disturbances.
Much of the current discontent in some parts of Eastern Europe stems from the bleak economic situation found there. The Soviets have drained the economies of satellite countries to bolster their own economy. Added to this is the new burden of a debt of more than $40 billion that the governments have built up "i:o purchase goods from the West. For the average Eastern European, this has meant higher prices and continued shortages with no relief in sight.
The forecast for Eastern Europe does not appear bright. The Soviets apparently are willing to maintain nearly one million troops in uniform in that area just to keep order. However, the problem is not one that troops can solve. The problem stems from a political and economic system and ideology that fail to take into account the popular will and genuine human aspirations. The result is another sign of the bankruptcy of communism.