"Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."
- Sir Winston S. ChurchillAs regimes in some East European countries are discovering, there is no such thing as "just a little" reform. Trying to grant more freedom while still keeping the Communist Party in control is much like trying to dismount the tiger.
People who have been kept in veritable bondage since the end of World War II are pouring into the streets and demanding change. As they breathe the first whiffs of freedom, they are increasingly impatient - especially knowing that Soviet tanks are no longer going to back up their governments.
Events this week have shown how quickly once-impregnable and now-weakened regimes can crumble in the face of public outrage.
In East Germany, reformers removed Erich Honecker in October after rising public demonstrations. Then the Politburo resigned, the government had to knock down portions of the Berlin Wall, allow freedom to travel abroad and promised elections and political opposition.
Yet when news leaked out in recent days about the luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by many of the old leaders while the country struggled in near poverty, tens of thousands of outraged people poured once again into the streets, demanding arrests and trials. Some tried to storm secret police headquarters. At least one high-ranking official has fled the country.
The entire East German Communist Party Politburo resigned this week after only a brief time in office, taking new leader Egon Krenz along with them. A 25-member committee was named to "salvage" what it could of the party. At this point, the situation in East Germany is completely unpredictible.
Things are no less chaotic in Czechoslovakia, where the Communist Party has also promised reforms, opened the nation's borders and revamped the 21-member Cabinet to include five non-communist ministers.
But the inclusion of 16 Communist Party ministers, including control of the army and police, as against only five non-communists, brought a quarter million people storming in anger into the streets in Prague, demanding a more equitable sharing of power. A national general strike is threatened.
In Czechoslovakia as in East Germany, it is proving difficult to dismount the tiger while trying to continue to hold onto the tail.